Speechless Cat

Temporary Laryngitis is possible but may be caused by more serious disorder

I have a 10 year old male orange tabby. He has always been a very vocal cat and enjoys “talking” back and forth with you. A week ago he lost his voice. He seems healthy otherwise, but is a bit sad and perplexed about not being able to speak. Is this something that you have seen resolve itself over time? We hesitate to take him to the veterinarian. He gets upset and becomes quite loud when being transported. He goes outside in his protected backyard, and I wondered if seasonal allergies might be a culprit.

Dr. Nichol:
Mum’s the word from your kitty but you are smart to inquire about his predicament. Being well informed will help you avoid the serious mistake of watching and waiting as a potentially deadly problem steals this boy’s life. His aphonia (inability to produce a voice) could be caused by any one of several problems, some of which would resolve with the help of Mother Nature alone.

Just like in people, temporary loss of a cat’s voice could result from laryngitis, in this case due to a bout with an upper respiratory virus like calici or feline herpes. The latter, known as FHV-1, is a lifelong, often latent, infection that your cat may have contracted as a kid. A passing flare-up would probably improve on its own in about 7-10 days. Allergies would be unlikely to cause a kitty’s failure to communicate.

There are more serious possibilities. I consulted on your cat’s symptoms with board certified veterinary neurologist Dr. Scott Schatzberg. He explained that a disorder of the nerves that supply the voice box, its muscles, or a lesion in the brainstem could be at fault. Cancer or foreign material lodged near the vocal cords may also need to be considered.

If your cat develops additional signs or if he’s still missing his voice in another week or so I would advise having him examined – despite the threat of feline protestations. On the other hand, if he’s like many humans silence wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. Never sticking his paw in his mouth could improve his marriage or at the very least he might appear more intelligent.