Q: I have a question which several veterinarians could not answer for me. My cat, Sylvester, seems to have lost his voice. What would be the cause of this? Could an illness be involved?
A: Loss or change of voice is one of those vague problems that drives vets crazy. In most cases that I’ve encountered, I could not attribute the voice change to any particular cause. There are some instances, however, for which the cause is readily apparent. The most common cause I’ve seen is a viral upper respiratory infection, with the herpes virus and/or the calicivirus being the main culprit. Most viral upper respiratory infections result in runny eyes, a snotty nose and lots of sneezing. Occasionally, they result in laryngitis — a sore throat — and the cat will develop a hoarse or lost voice.
Also, I’ve seen cats with oral tumors involving the throat or the vocal cords that resulted in a voice change or loss. Finally, there is a condition called laryngeal paralysis, in which the nerve that controls the vocal folds becomes damaged, causing the larynx not to open properly, resulting in a change of voice. This is much more common in dogs than cats.
Even though most cases of altered voice are due to upper respiratory infections, which are fairly benign, a change in voice should be evaluated by your veterinarian. He of she may want to sedate the cat and perform a thorough oral exam, looking at the back of the throat, and even trying to pass a tube down the trachea to see if there is a mass or other obstruction. X-rays may be necessary to look for masses that are in the trachea or in the neck that cannot be detected simply by feel.