Cat’s lack of meowing might indicate a health problem


Q: Our cat Raven never meows. He never has. He sometimes opens his mouth like he’s going to, but nothing comes out except maybe a click or a squeaky sound. Our vet wants to anesthetize him to be sure he doesn’t have something wrong with his throat, but I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. What do you suggest?

A: While Raven’s case or permanent voicelessness would be atypical for any cat, it’s entirely possible there’s nothing at all wrong with him. Given that he’s always been at a loss for meows, it could simply be that he’s one of those cats who doesn’t have much of a voice and, what’s more, doesn’t have much to say.

As with humans, vocalizations in cats will vary along genetic lines. That’s why some cat breeds are distinguished by their loud, hoarse voices and their solicitous way with them (Siamese cats, for example, are notorious for this) and others by their more delicate meow.

Indeed, as anyone who’s ever heard two different cats meow knows, no two feline voices are ever exactly the same. Cats can meow at varying frequencies, pitches, tones, volumes, and lengths. It might just be that Raven is naturally very soft-spoken.

Then there’s the human factor to consider: Some cats live in households where its people are easier to train. Evolutionarily speaking, cats have learned that meowing is a great tool to get what they want. And in some households where humans are more apt to give in to feline demands, more forceful meowing simply gets better results. If yours is a strict household, that too might explain Raven’s quieter nature.

Despite all these normal possibilities, it’s still feasible that Raven has a significant health issue that’s well worth looking into. To wit, consider the most common causes for feline voice changes:

• Upper respiratory infections (viral, bacterial or fungal)

• Laryngeal paralysis

• Polyps or tumors in the pharynx or larynx

• Hyperthyroidism (may result in hoarseness)

All of these pathologies, however, are acquired disease processes. In other words, cats who suffer them will have been normal meowers in the past. Still, it’s possible that Raven may have some sort of congenital issue (present from birth) or one that he acquired early in life (before he found you).

So should you let your veterinarian check him out under anesthesia? Probably. After all, most causes of feline voice change are eminently treatable.