Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

icon May 31, 2024

Laryngeal paralysis is a relatively rare but serious condition in cats that affects the larynx, or voice box. This article will explore what laryngeal paralysis is, its symptoms, causes, treatment options, prognosis, and whether it can heal on its own.

What is Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats?

Laryngeal paralysis in cats is a disorder where the muscles and nerves controlling the larynx fail to function properly. The larynx, located at the top of the trachea, is responsible for regulating airflow into the lungs and protecting the airway during swallowing. In healthy cats, the muscles of the larynx open the vocal cords during inhalation and close them during swallowing. In cats with laryngeal paralysis, these muscles are weakened or paralyzed, leading to compromised airflow and increased risk of aspiration (inhaling food or liquid into the lungs).

Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Symptoms of Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

The symptoms of laryngeal paralysis can vary in severity and often progress gradually. Common symptoms include:

1. Voice Changes

Cats with laryngeal paralysis often experience a change in their voice, such as hoarseness or loss of vocalization. Owners may notice their cat's meow becoming weak or silent.

2. Breathing Difficulties

One of the most prominent symptoms is difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity or in hot, humid weather. Cats may exhibit noisy breathing, wheezing, or a high-pitched sound known as stridor.

3. Coughing and Gagging

Cats with laryngeal paralysis may cough or gag frequently, especially when eating or drinking. This is due to the inability of the larynx to protect the airway adequately during swallowing.

4. Exercise Intolerance

Affected cats often show signs of exercise intolerance, becoming easily fatigued or breathless after minimal physical exertion.

5. Cyanosis

In severe cases, cats may develop cyanosis, a bluish discoloration of the gums and tongue, indicating inadequate oxygenation.

6. Difficulty Swallowing

Some cats may have trouble swallowing, leading to weight loss and decreased appetite.

Causes of Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

The exact cause of laryngeal paralysis in cats is often idiopathic, meaning it arises spontaneously without a known cause. However, several potential factors and underlying conditions can contribute to its development:

1. Trauma

Trauma to the neck or throat area can damage the nerves and muscles controlling the larynx. This could result from accidents, surgeries, or physical abuse.

2. Neurological Disorders

Neurological conditions, such as polyneuropathy (a disorder affecting multiple nerves) or myasthenia gravis (a condition causing muscle weakness), can lead to laryngeal paralysis. These conditions disrupt the nerve signals necessary for proper muscle function.

3. Tumors or Masses

Tumors or masses in the neck or chest can compress the nerves controlling the larynx, leading to paralysis. These growths may be benign or malignant.

4. Congenital Defects

Some cats may be born with congenital defects affecting the laryngeal nerves or muscles, leading to paralysis from a young age.

5. Hypothyroidism

Although less common in cats than in dogs, hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) can contribute to the development of laryngeal paralysis.

How to Treat Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Treatment for laryngeal paralysis in cats focuses on managing symptoms, ensuring adequate airflow, and addressing underlying causes when possible. The approach may include medical management, lifestyle changes, and, in severe cases, surgical intervention.

1. Medical Management

  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Steroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce inflammation around the larynx and improve airflow.
  • Antibiotics: If there is a secondary infection in the airway, antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • Bronchodilators: These medications can help open the airways and improve breathing.
  • Sedatives or Anxiolytics: These can be used to calm a cat experiencing anxiety or distress due to breathing difficulties.

2. Lifestyle Changes

  • Weight Management: Keeping the cat at a healthy weight can reduce the strain on the respiratory system.
  • Environmental Control: Ensuring a cool, stress-free environment can help manage symptoms. Avoiding hot and humid conditions is crucial.
  • Feeding Adjustments: Feeding the cat smaller, more frequent meals and elevating food and water bowls can reduce the risk of aspiration.

3. Surgical Intervention

In severe cases where medical management is insufficient, surgery may be necessary. The most common surgical procedure is a "unilateral arytenoid lateralization", commonly known as a "tie-back" surgery. This procedure involves permanently suturing one side of the larynx open to allow better airflow. While effective, this surgery carries risks, including aspiration pneumonia, and requires careful postoperative care.

How Long Can Cats Live with Laryngeal Paralysis?

The prognosis for cats with laryngeal paralysis varies depending on the severity of the condition, the underlying cause, and the success of treatment. With appropriate medical management and, if necessary, surgical intervention, many cats can lead relatively normal lives.

1. Early Detection and Treatment

Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving the prognosis. Cats diagnosed and treated early may have a better quality of life and longer lifespan.

2. Chronic Management

Laryngeal paralysis is typically a chronic condition that requires ongoing management. Regular veterinary check-ups, monitoring of symptoms, and adherence to treatment plans are essential.

3. Surgical Outcomes

Cats that undergo successful surgery generally have a good prognosis, although they need careful monitoring for potential complications like aspiration pneumonia. Postoperative care is critical to ensure a positive outcome.

Can Laryngeal Paralysis Heal on Its Own?

Laryngeal paralysis in cats does not typically heal on its own. The condition often requires medical or surgical intervention to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

1. Chronic Nature

Laryngeal paralysis is generally a progressive condition. Without treatment, symptoms can worsen over time, leading to severe respiratory distress and potentially life-threatening complications.

2. Medical and Surgical Intervention

Effective management usually involves medical treatment to alleviate symptoms and, in severe cases, surgical intervention to restore adequate airflow. Early and proactive treatment is essential for preventing the progression of the disease and maintaining the cat’s quality of life.


Laryngeal paralysis in cats is a serious condition that affects the function of the larynx, leading to breathing difficulties, changes in voice, and other related symptoms. Understanding the signs, causes, and treatment options is crucial for cat owners to ensure timely and effective care for their pets. While laryngeal paralysis does not typically heal on its own, proper medical management and surgical intervention can significantly improve a cat’s quality of life and longevity. Regular veterinary consultations and careful monitoring are key to managing this condition and providing the best possible outcome for affected cats.

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