cat's meow sounds weird
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Has My Cat’s Meow Changed?

A meow is one of the most common and recognizable features of a cat. Understanding the sound and tone of your cat’s meow can alert you to several things. There are times when you might notice your cat’s meow changes quite quickly and suddenly. If so, you might wonder why.

Laryngitis, which is an inflammation of the larynx, is one of the most common causes of a cat’s changing meow. But there are many factors that can cause a cat’s voice to sound different. This includes cat flu, damage to the vocal cords, excessive meowing, and injury or pain. A cat will also change its meow to manipulate its owners. Cats can develop sore throats. This can be painful and will cause a cat to gag and swallow hard, ultimately affecting the meow.

When a cat’s meow changes, it can be alarming. But more often than not, it’s the sign of a common cold or a less serious respiratory infection. Stay attuned to your pet’s voice to detect when something might be wrong.

Why Does My Cat’s Meow Sound Hoarse?

There are many reasons why your cat’s meow might change from a chirpy, high-pitched sound to a hoarser tone. The most common reason is that your cat has put a strain on its voice box, which is most likely due to excessive meowing.

For example, if your cat got trapped somewhere and found itself in distress, it may have called out for attention to get some help. Or if it met a larger animal who posed a threat, your cat may have used sound to defend itself and scare the predator away. Both of these things, or anything similar, could lead to a sore throat or voice box strain that makes your cat’s meow sound hoarse.

Cats can also develop a hoarse meow due to laryngitis, which is an inflammation of the larynx. As described on MSD Vet Manual, vocal changes may be evident due to an upper respiratory tract infection or by direct irritation from inhalation of dust, smoke, irritating gas, or foreign objects. Trauma, excessive meowing, or a tumor of the larynx could also be causes of a hoarse meow.

Both laryngitis and its symptoms can be both painful and serious and will require veterinary treatment to put your path on the road to good health.

does a cat's meow change with age?

Cat’s Meow Changed to Low Pitch

A low-pitched meow can indicate that your cat is unhappy or upset. In a study reported by PeerJ, meows produced by stressed cats were recorded at a low average pitch. Cats who were discontent produced even lower-pitched meows. This shows that a cat’s mental state has a big part to play in how it produces sound.

If you notice a temporary low-pitched meow coming from your cat, look for factors that may be upsetting it and try to deal with the cause.

If the low-pitched meow doesn’t seem to be going away, more serious issues could be at play. Respiratory infections can affect a cat’s meow. They’re usually caused by a virus or bacteria and can be transmitted from cat to cat through sneezing, coughing, grooming, or sharing food and water bowls. 

Brachycephalic and flat-faced cats, like Persians, are more prone to upper respiratory infections because of their facial structure. These types of cats need to monitored closely for any signs of a changing meow, as it could indicate a medical problem.

Cat’s Meow Suddenly High Pitch

High-pitched meowing can indicate that your cat is in pain. Cats with tummy pain or arthritic joints may start meowing in a higher tone to vocalize that something is wrong. Medical problems like kidney malfunction or thyroid disease may also cause your cat’s meow to change. If your pet begins to howl or caterwaul, seek medical assistance to get your cat checked over.

However, more simply, your cat might be trying to make itself sound cute. Cats are highly intelligent animals and know what sounds to make to get what they want from their human owners. Your cat might adopt a high-pitched meow to do exactly that. By doing this, its chances of both attracting your attention and getting what it wants are increased. 

Cat’s Meow Sounds Weird

A sudden change in your cat’s meow can be worrying. Once you’ve become attuned to your cat’s natural sounds, it’s easy to tell when something isn’t right. If your cat’s meow sounds generally off, something might be affecting your cat’s voice and it might need immediate attention.

If your cat makes a deep, guttural sound, there could be a serious medical problem at play. Afflictions include kidney disease, blood clots, or a problematic mental state caused by increased stress.

A traumatic physical injury could cause a change in your cat’s meow, too. If it has been hit by a car, broken its leg, or injured itself from a fall, it could have sustained serious injuries that it is trying to hide from you.

Tumors involving the vocal cords and laryngeal paralysis can also cause your cat’s meow to change. This is a condition where the nerve that controls the vocal folds becomes damaged. This stops the larynx from opening properly and leads to a change of voice.

But be rest assured that these issues are uncommon and only occur in extreme cases. Less serious conditions like cat herpes or calicivirus, which is a virus that causes infection in cats, can easily alter the sound of a cat’s meow. Other symptoms include runny eyes, a snotty nose, and excessive sneezing. You might know both conditions better as the common cat cold, which is highly treatable and rarely life-threatening.

Cat’s Meow Sounds Squeaky

Squeaky, bird-like meows are used by mother cats when teaching her kittens to pay attention. These utterances sound like chirps and are used by cats to try and get their human owners’ attention. They’re described in the National Center or Biotechnology Information as a high-pitched sound with a rise of the tone near the end of the vocalization.

Squeaky sounds also indicate when a cat is excited, happy, or happy to see you. These aren’t permanent meow sounds though; they’re used specifically to communicate with humans.

In more serious cases, a constant squeaky meow could signify that a cat has sustained damage to its vocal cords. While damaged vocal cords usually result in impaired vibration and vocal power, they can in some circumstances cause a squeaky meow. Surgery is normally required to repair the level of sound.

While extremely rare, some cats also suffer from a birth defect where their vocal cords don’t develop properly. Instead of a meow, an affected kitten will only be able to let out a squeak. This is likely to continue for the remainder of its life and will become part of its unique personality.

Cat Can’t Meow and Is Gagging

Gagging can be a serious cause for concern. The most common reason for a loss of voice is laryngitis, which we’ve already highlighted as an issue that often affects a cat’s meow. Because laryngitis is painful for your cat, it can encourage your pet to gag in an attempt to eliminate the pain.

Laryngitis also leads to chronic coughing and excessive vocalization – both of which will put a large strain on a cat’s vocal cords. This can cause a cat to lose its voice.

Another more common reason for gagging in cats is because a foreign object has started to interfere with the vocal cords. This includes hairballs. If your cat has swallowed something that has become stuck in its throat, it will gag to try and remove the object from its body. Larger objects or objects that have been stuck for an extended period will eventually cause your cat to lose its voice as it becomes sore and the airways become more restricted.

Cat Vocal Cords

Cats have two vocal cords, which are also known as the larynx. They meow by creating vibrations of vocal cords or folds. These cords are fibrous and work in conjunction with the trachea, epiglottis, and cartilage in the throat. The vocal cords open and close the opening of the trachea. This causes the purr or meow sounds in cats.

A cat’s vocal ford cords also feature an additional membrane used for purring. This is called the ventricular cords. Meows can be made when nerve signals from the brain are sent to nerves in the larynx.

A change or loss of voice in cats is caused by two things. The first is that something is stopping the vocal cords from vibrating. This includes:

  • A cold virus, which causes inflammation.
  • Injuries, whether inside or outside the throat, can cause swelling. This can affect a cat’s vocal cords and stop a cat from producing sound.
  • An abscess. If your cat is prone to fighting with other animals, it’s more likely to develop a painful abscess that can become enlarged and interfere with the vocal cord function. 
  • Tumors and cancer. Whether benign or malignant, tumors can grow and apply pressure on the tissue, resulting in voice change or complete sound loss.

The second reason is because of decreased activity of the nerves. Many issues can cause this, including:

  • Tumors and cancer. Tumors of the vocal cord nerves work in a different way to those that grow against the tissue. These pinch the laryngeal nerves, causing a loss of stimulation that can stop a cat from making a sound.
  • Muscle disorders or damage. Whether cats have sustained injuries of the nerve or develop a disorder that causes the muscle to waste away, a cat’s meow will either change or stop.
  • Infections. Severe infections cause swelling that affects the nerves.
  • Autoimmune conditions. If an animal’s white blood cells attack the nerves, the sound it makes will be affected as the nerve function becomes weaker and more diminished.

Cat Deep Voice

Laryngeal paralysis is the malfunction of the muscles in the windpipe. It’s caused by damage to the larynx or poor nerve function of the nerves that control your cat’s vocal cords. This can result in noisy breathing noisily and a deep, raspy meow.

The sounds are usually quite subtle, however, so if your cat already has a naturally deep voice then it will appear even deeper.

Does a Cat’s Meow Change with Age?

Cats often suffer from a decline in cognitive functioning as they get older. Their eyesight and hearing will usually get worse. They can also become more anxious and irritable, which can cause them to vocalize more often and urgently. And because they struggle to hear, their meow might become more plaintive as they feel more distressed by their deteriorating functions.

Naturally, as a cat’s voice box weakens, its owner will likely notice some kind of change in sound. Whether it’s subtle or significant depends on several factors – including the cat’s overall health – but is just a part of the aging process and isn’t usually a cause for concern.

These are some other common issues that can lead to a change in a cat’s meow:

Thyroid

Hyperthyroidism is another term to describe an overactive thyroid gland. The thyroid is a thumb-sized gland that sits on top of a cat’s throat. It regulates the metabolic rate but can produce too much of the thyroid hormone if a growth occurs on the gland.

Cats with hyperthyroidism will usually develop a bulging mass on the front of their neck. This mass is benign but will cause pressure to build on the larynx, resulting in a slight change to the sound your cat makes.

Operation

For a vet to administer oxygen and anesthetic gas, a tube is usually placed in a cat’s windpipe. This can cause irritation of the throat and a mild cough post-surgery. While usually harmless and will only last a few days, this could alter the sound your cat makes while it recovers from surgery.

Hairball

Hairballs are a common problem for cats, especially long-haired breeds. They can cause changes to a cat’s meow if the hairball gets stuck in the throat or is large enough to obstruct the airways.

It’s actually quite rare for a hairball to get stuck in the throat as they pass through to the stomach quite easily. However, it will be extremely irritating for your pet if it does become lodged. Your cat will gag to try and remove the foreign object, which can lead to mild irritation of the throat. This is what is likely to cause a change in your cat’s meow, with the sound becoming dry or hoarse.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx. It causes a painful cough, harsh breathing, hoarseness, or a complete loss of sound. Laryngitis usually develops from excessive meowing. It can also be caused by chronic coughing if it starts before the inflammation.

Laryngitis is also linked to tonsillitis, throat infections, allergies, pneumonia, or tumors. Fluid build-up and swelling is often a key part of laryngitis, which can obstruct the upper airway and prevent sound from coming out.

Neck Injury

With a neck injury, there are two reasons why a cat’s meow might change. The first is because the cat is in pain, so it will develop a high-pitched meow to alert its owner that something is wrong.

The second is because damage has been sustained to the throat or larynx. If the injury is significant enough, your cat’s voice box may become damaged. Your cat’s meow will change as a result and will need to undergo urgent veterinary treatment to fix.

cat’s meow changed to low pitch

Feline Calicivirus

Feline calicivirus causes upper respiratory infections that lead to an array of cold symptoms, including nasal congestion, sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, and conjunctivitis. Feline calicivirus can be unpleasant and often produces a raspy, hoarse meow as your cat fights off the infection.

Feline Herpes

Feline herpes (or feline viral rhinopneumonitis as the infection is known) produce flu-like symptoms that can cause a temporary change in your cat’s meow. Like with upper respiratory infections, your cat may suffer from sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes.

Severe symptoms include eye ulcers, drooling, and lesions around the eyes. Feline herpes often causes a weakened immune system, leaving cats vulnerable to other infections.

Do Cats Get Sore Throats?

Cats get sore throats. They’re commonly caused by cat flu or bacterial and viral infections. Your cat will swallow more often and gag as it tries to cope with the pain. As a survival instinct, cats will try to hide their pain. This makes it quite difficult to tell when your cat is suffering from a sore throat.

The meow is often a tell-tale sign – it will sound quieter, raspier, or thinner than usual. Your cat might also stop meowing altogether as it’s too painful.

Sore throats will usually get better without treatment, with the cat’s meow returning to normal after a week or so. Monitor your cat’s meow for any changes in sound that concerns you – instinct can be a powerful tool.

Understanding your cat’s meow will help you notice the small changes that can indicate bigger problems. Most changes in sound are because of minor issues and are no cause for concern. Sometimes, your cat is manipulating the sound of its meow to get what it wants. But on very rare occasions, a change in sound indicates that your cat needs treatment.