Why Does a Cat Sound Raspy? 10 Reasons Your Pet is Hoarse

Written by Sharon Parry
Published: December 1, 2023
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It can be very alarming when your cat’s meow sounds different or appears to be hoarse! So, why does a cat say raspy? The part of their throat that produces sound (the voice box) is called the larynx. Air passes through the larynx as it travels in and out of the lungs. Anything that causes the larynx to change shape or become inflamed (laryngitis) can make their voice sound different. Some causes of laryngitis need immediate treatment, and some will clear up by themselves, but they should all be checked out by a vet. Here, we look closer at the ten reasons your pet is hoarse.

Upper Respiratory Infection

Cute cat Scottish Fold is about to sneeze, so she has a wrinkled nose and a funny muzzle.

Viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections in cats.

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Several different viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections in cats. Viruses cause more than 90 percent of infections; the most common is the feline herpesvirus type-1. The most common bacteria that cause this condition are Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila felis. As well as sounding hoarse, your cat will probably be sneezing, have nasal congestion, and have a discharge from their nose and eyes. Upper respiratory tract infections are picked up from other cats through direct contact or exposure to infected articles such as water bowls. The symptoms last around 10 days; some infections may be treated with antibiotics. Some cats may also need support for dehydration, so you must consult your vet.

Nasopharyngeal Polyps

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Nasopharyngeal polyps can cause snorting breath in cats.

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Polyps are small benign masses – they are not cancer. Cats can develop in the middle ear and then spread along the tube connecting with the back of the throat. Eventually, this can cause a blockage, which affects your cat’s breathing. Cats with nasal pharyngeal polyps have a distinctive snorting breath. They may also develop secondary bacterial infections, which produce nasal discharge and sneezing. You may also notice that your cat paws at their ear and shakes their head. Cats with these symptoms need to be seen by a vet. Surgery may be required to remove the polyps or treat them with corticosteroids. Once the polyps are treated, most cats lead a perfectly happy life.

Hyperthyroidism

cat biting

Hyperthyroidism can make cats aggressive and cause voice changes.

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Cats have two thyroid glands located in the neck. Older cats, in particular, can develop a condition called hypothyroidism, where the glands produce too much of the thyroid hormone, and there is an increase in the cat’s metabolic rate. At the same time, the thyroid gland can increase in size. A cat with hyperthyroidism typically loses weight, appears restless or aggressive, drinks more water, and pees more often. They are also more like me to meow, especially at night. Your vet will be able to diagnose this condition and suggest appropriate treatments, including medication, a special diet, or even surgery. The outcome of most hypothyroidism treatments is very good, and cats can lead a happy life.

Paralysis of the Laryngeal Nerve

Closeup of a black and white cat grimacing with his mouth open

Cats with laryngeal paralysis cannot swallow properly.

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The larynx is the scientific name for the voice box. The laryngeal nerves are the nerves that are connected to the voice box. If something goes wrong with these nerves, the larynx can become paralyzed. This means the cartilage does not open and close as usual, obstructing the airway. As well as noisy breathing, you may notice that your cat has a cough, is lethargic, and has trouble swallowing. This condition usually progresses into more serious symptoms, including aspiration pneumonia. It is a medical emergency, and your cat needs medical treatment straight away. They may be given steroids or may require surgery depending on the cause of the paralysis.

Too Much Meowing

A long-haired brown tabby cat standing on a hardwood floor meowing

There is usually a reason behind excessive meowing!

©iStock.com/Svetlana Popova

Cats can lose their voice from meowing too much! They have overused their larynx and caused local inflammation, making their voice sound raspy. Understanding why your cat is meowing so much is important, as this may indicate another underlying issue. Cats sometimes meow when they are in pain or discomfort when peeing. It also happens when they lose their hearing or sight. They may also be trying to tell you something, for example, that they are hungry, their water bowl is dirty, that they are lonely, bored, or stressed! You must take your time to work out what your cat is trying to say and seek help from your vet if needed.

Foreign Body

funny cat

Cats investigate things by licking them, and this can lead to them getting things stuck in their throat!

©Nils Jacobi/iStock via Getty Images

Any foreign body stuck in your cat’s larynx can change their voice. Often, it is an object (such as part of a toy) stuck in the throat. They may also have inhaled smoke or dust, which is irritating. Because cats investigate the environment using their tongue and mouth, your cat can have tried to swallow something that got stuck!

This is a medical emergency and needs to be checked out by your vet right away. You may also notice that your cat is salivating more than normal, gagging, or pulling their mouth. You may be able to see the obstruction in your cat’s mouth, but do not attempt to remove it yourself because you may end up pushing it further in. In most cases, the vet can retrieve the offending object, and the cat completely recovers.

Injury to the Neck

Abscess on the cats neck. Animals walking on the street are more likely to become infected. Scratches from fighting with other animals lead to inflammation.

Cat fights can lead to throat and neck injuries, which alter the voice.

©Elen11/iStock via Getty Images

Trauma to the throat and neck area can cause a raspy voice. This is most likely to happen during a fight with another cat. Therefore, cats that go outside or live in multi-cat households are more likely to have this. Provided the injury is not severe, your cat may be able to recover from this by themselves. However, it is always best to get it checked out by a vet if there is another underlying cause.

Intubation During Surgery

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Many cats are hoarse after surgery due to the breathing tube used.

©iStock.com/LENblR

Intubation is where a breathing tube is placed into your cat’s windpipe so that gas anesthesia can be delivered. This is often used for routine surgery, including spaying. The tubes can cause minor irritations of the throat. It is not unusual for cats to have a dry cough following such surgery. Their meow can also sound raspy, or they may lose their voice altogether. The throat area is delicate and can take some time to heal, so you may notice these symptoms lingering for up to three weeks. This is nothing to be worried about. However, you can always mention it to your vet during your pet’s post-surgery check-ups.

Throat or Larynx Cancer

Veterinarian in the office examines the cat. Veterinary clinic services concept

Cancer is a rare cause of a raspy meow.

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Throat and larynx cancer are quite rare in cats. When they do occur, they are usually a type of lymphoma, and the tumors can be very painful. They change the sound of your cat’s voice but make it difficult for your cat to swallow. Therefore, you may notice that they are not eating normally, and they will probably be losing weight. If this happens, you should always book an urgent appointment with your vet. If throat cancer is diagnosed, it can sometimes be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medication. The long-term prognosis for this condition is very variable.

Rabies

Cat getting a vaccine

Cats should have a rabies vaccine.

©Tom Wang/Shutterstock.com

Rabies is a disease of the central nervous system caused by a virus. These days, wild animals, particularly bats, are the main reservoir of infection in the US. However, it can be carried by domestic animals, including cats. Many states require that all cats receive a rabies vaccine. Even if it is not legally required, it is recommended by the authorities. This is to protect you and your cat. Even indoor cats can contract rabies – often by hunting for bats in the house.

Rabies in cats can cause several symptoms, including loss of appetite, aggression, and sounding horses. Eventually, it causes paralysis and seizures. Unfortunately, this disease is always fatal in cats. Therefore, your cat must be taken to a vet to be euthanized.

Summary of the 10 Causes of a Raspy Meow in Cats

NumberCause
1Upper respiratory infection
2Nasopharyngeal polyps
3Hyperthyroidism
4Paralysis of the laryngeal nerve
5Too much meowing
6Foreign body
7Injury to the neck
8Intubation during surgery
9Throat or larynx cancer
10Rabies

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Ivan Zhaborovskiy


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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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