Why Does a Cat's Meow Change?

If your cat's meow sounds strange, a trip to the vet is needed.
i Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Buster’s meow can tell you something about his state of health. A change in the way your kitty vocalizes, such as a hoarse, raspy, or high-pitched tone, indicates a health problem. A veterinarian must determine whether the cause is relatively benign and temporary, or something more serious.


Feline calicivirus is a common cause of upper respiratory infections in cats. Cats with calicivirus may exhibit a number of symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose. Your little Buster may also develop conjunctivitis, which is inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids; and ulcers on the tongue, gums, hard palate, nose, or lips. The upper respiratory infection symptoms may cause a raspy, hoarse meow.


Feline herpes infections cause the same symptoms as other upper respiratory infections, including watery eyes and nose, sneezing and congestion. Also referred to as feline viral rhinopneumonitis, this virus can bring on sneezing, eye ulcers, drooling, and lesions around the eyes. The flu-like symptoms can cause a temporary change in your cat’s meow. Because the immune system is weakened, cats with feline herpes are at risk for developing secondary infections.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Laryngeal paralysis is a rare but dangerous condition that causes severe breathing problems. This malfunction of the muscles in the trachea, or “wind pipe,” causes your kitty to breathe noisily and have a deep, raspy-sounding meow. Laryngeal paralysis is caused by poor nerve function or by damage to the structures of the larynx. Nerves control your cat’s vocal folds. Any abnormalities of those nerves can prevent the larynx from opening properly, changing your cat’s voice.


Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx, often resulting in harsh breathing, painful cough and hoarseness, or loss of voice. Vocal strain from non-stop meowing or chronic cough could be to blame. Tumors of the throat, throat infections, pneumonia, allergies and tonsillitis can also cause laryngitis. As mucus builds up in the larynx, your cat may constantly clear his throat to dislodge the gunk and regain easier breathing.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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