What are Laryngitis?
When vets explain laryngitis to cat owners, they tell them that the cat’s larynx or voice box has become inflamed as the result of illness, irritation, a blockage in the throat, or a sudden paralysis of the nerve controlling the laryngeal folds.
Laryngitis in cats may be one symptom of several illnesses such as calicivirus or infectious rhinotracheitis. When a cat develops laryngitis, it loses its meow for a few days. Pet owners may notice other symptoms, such as a cough, bad breath, or discharge coming from the cat’s eyes and nose. Even though the cat may try to hide signs of illness, it won’t be possible for very long. The cough can become painful. The cat’s owner may notice the loss of voice almost immediately, especially if the cat is normally communicative.
Symptoms of Laryngitis in Cats
Symptoms of laryngitis in a cat may make themselves evident fairly quickly, especially if the cat has developed an upper respiratory infection (URI). These symptoms may include:
- Dry, harsh cough that becomes moist and painful
- Lowered head while standing
- Open mouth
- Vocal changes
- Difficulty swallowing
- High-pitched breathing and obvious efforts to inhale
- Noisy breathing
- Bad breath
If the laryngitis is the result of a URI, the pet owner may also notice:
- Watery eyes with discharge
- Runny nose
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Laryngitis in Cats
The causes of laryngitis in cats can range widely from a simple URI or irritant all the way up to an obstruction in the larynx or even a growth that affects the movements of the vocal cords. This condition is vague enough that it can be difficult for vets to determine the exact cause of the cat’s lost voice:
- URI (upper respiratory infection, calicivirus or infectious rhinotracheitis)
- Inhaled irritant, such as smoke or dust
- Obstruction in the larynx
- Object lodged in the throat
- Paralysis of laryngeal nerve
- Growth in the throat (benign, cancerous, or eosinophilic granuloma complex)
- Throat cancer
Sometimes, cats lose their meows for unknown reasons. Here, pet owners need to watch their cats for other, more troubling symptoms. If the underlying cause is mild, the cat should have its voice back within a few days.
Diagnosis of Laryngitis in Cats
When a cat comes into the vet’s office with laryngitis, the vet performs a head-to-tail physical on the cat. A significant part of the exam includes an endoscopic examination of the larynx, which means the cat will need to be anesthetized. During this part of the exam, the vet will attempt to insert an endotracheal tube down the cat’s throat to see if there’s an obstruction or mass that makes meowing difficult.
If the vet does find an obstruction, they will take X-rays to see if they can find the mass. A swallowed object that has lodged itself near the vocal cords can also be spotted with an X-ray.
Treatment of Laryngitis in Cats
Once the vet has diagnosed laryngitis, as well as its cause, they will begin treating the cat’s symptoms. For a buildup of fluid in the larynx, the cat will take a diuretic medication. This can also help with any fluid buildup in the lungs, if this has contributed to the cat’s laryngitis.
When a cat has a sore throat along with laryngitis, it’s hard to swallow, much less eat or drink. A mild pain medication can help the cat to swallow more easily, which means it will be able to eat and make a faster return to good health.
Foreign bodies stuck in the cat’s throat are removed, which allows the larynx to return to normal. When this happens, the cat will soon begin to meow audibly again.
Other obstructions, such as a significant swelling, tumor, or eosinophilic granuloma complex can be treated, leading to eventual recovery and a return of the cat’s voice.
When an eosinophilic granuloma forms, the cat’s immune system releases substances that should fight an invasion of parasites. These substances induce an allergic response, such as swelling and inflammation of the cat’s throat. A course of steroids allows the granuloma to disappear, unless it has become infected. In that case, the cat also needs antibiotic medication.
At home, the cat’s owner can increase the humidity inside with a humidifier, running hot water in a closed bathroom and keeping the house warm (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.). Cleaning the cat’s nose with a soft, damp washcloth helps it to breathe more easily.
Veterinarians may recommend diet changes or adding supplements to the cat’s food to strengthen its immune system and help fight viral illness.
Recovery of Laryngitis in Cats
Once the cause of the cat’s laryngitis has been identified, prescribed treatments and simple at-home care should allow it to return to full health. If the cat had a URI, once the symptoms have resolved, the cat should have a good recovery.
If the cat has an obstruction caused by a tumor or eosinophilic granuloma complex, this needs to be treated immediately. A tumor can be cancerous and, if caught early, the cat should have a good prognosis.
If the larynx is severely obstructed, immediate treatment is necessary so that the cat has a chance of recovery. If the cause of the obstruction isn’t detected and removed immediately, the cat may not recover.
Laryngitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my 12 year old male cat who is VERY talkative has developed a "raspy" voice. He acts no different other the change in his voice quality. Eating, drinking, running, playing with the other cats in the house. All are in-door cats 100% of the time. How long should I watch the change before bringing him to m vet
A raspy voice may be indicative of many different causes including infection, small foreign bodies, narrowing of the airways, laryngeal paralysis, allergies and other causes. With a change in voice, it would be best to have Oscar checked to ensure that the cause isn’t the start of something more serious. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
My cat Hazel is less than two years old and she can't meow. I'm trying to figure out how and see if I can help her, get her meow back. She did have a upper respiratory infection which she had antibiotics to treat.
Am taking care of a feral cat (female) that I've had fixed and given shots. She's not to the point of my touching her; has had laryngitis for a couple of days, and didn't eat as much yesterday. No other signs like runny eyes or nose. Should I give her a small amount of aspirin in her food? How much? Don't know how much she weighs, but is very small.
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