Most cat owners enjoy the vocalizations of their pets—both the cozy moments snuggled up with the cat purring away, as well as the more expressive meowing that communicates a broader range of messages. Everyone by now has probably watched a ton of internet views full of cute kitten squeaks and adorable cat meows.
But what if your cat isn't really a talker at all? Is not meowing a sign that something is wrong with your feline or is it just normal cat behavior? Could it be a sign of unhappiness or ill health?
Is It Unnatural for a Cat to Be Quiet?
If a normally vocal cat suddenly falls quiet for extended periods of time, some concern might be warranted. Especially if your pet seems lethargic or depressed, a vet visit is a good idea. However, if your pet has always been on the quiet side but otherwise seems happy and healthy, then it's probably the cat's nature and is perfectly normal. Cats are individuals, just like humans, and there are quiet types as well as avid talkers. Cat vocalization also tends to be breed specific. Siamese cats are notoriously loud and harsh in their plentiful meows, for example, while a Birman is quiet by nature. When a loud breed suddenly falls quiet, it's more likely to be cause for concern.
Cat's usually aren't very vocal with each other, except for a female cat and her kittens. Many scientists actually believe that house cats verbalize with their humans in the same way that they do with their kittens. They believe that meowing directed at humans is a trait of domestication—a way for cats to communicate with their owners. Because adult cats don't meow at each other, it's not uncommon for your kitten to gradually get quieter as it ages. This is not something you need to worry about.
If you miss you kitten conversations, though, there are some tips you can try to get them meowing. Keep in mind, though, that all cats are all different. Don't try to force behavior if your cat really doesn't seem interested.
Tips to Encourage Meowing
- Try "talking it up" with your kitty to see if she responds. Quite literally, just try talking to your cat the way you would a friend. Pause in your conversation the way you would in human-to-human conversation to see if you get a response.
- Looking in your cat's direction as you talk can also encourage meowing. Make sure your cat knows you're trying to interact with it for best results.
- One pet owner even went so far as to check out a CD with the sounds of cats meowing from the library and played it repeatedly for her cat. A week later, the cat marched right up to her and gave a clear and vocal "meow."
Sometimes cats (like people) just need a bit of encouragement. If your cat remains silent, just enjoy your pet for who it is. Cats are naturally quiet animals. If you're unable to get your cat to vocalize don't feel too bad about it—adult meowing may not be in its nature. You might even count your blessings, as other people are troubled with excessive vocalization in their cats.
More Serious Reasons Why a Cat May Not Vocalize
While most instances of cats not meowing are simply "personality" issues, it's sometimes the case that a more serious physical problem can cause a cat's silence.
- Upper respiratory infection. As in humans, an upper respiratory infection (URI) can cause hoarseness and laryngitis in cats. If your pet also is showing symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, lethargy, or a discharge from the nose and eyes, the lack of meowing may be a symptom of a respiratory infection. Take your pet to the vet to determine if antibiotics or other medication might be indicated.
- Hyperthyroidism. In older cats, overactive thyroid glands can cause hoarseness as well as weight loss. If you suspect this, have your vet run blood tests and suggest therapy.
- Laryngeal paralysis. Although rare, nerve damage to the larynx (voice box) can not only prevent meowing but also interfere with a cat's breathing. It also may cause coughing, weight loss, and difficulty eating. This is a serious situation that requires immediate medical attention.
- Tumors or polyps. Growths of various types in the throat and vocal chords of your cat may cause it to stop vocalizing. These can range from entirely benign polyps to very serious cancerous growths. If your cat exhibits hoarseness along with a changed sound in its voice, sneezing, coughing, and repeating ear infections, take it to your vet for examination and treatment. The vet may take a biopsy sample to check for cancer.
In most cases, a cat's silence is simply a choice or an expression of its nature and isn't anything to worry about. But when its silence is accompanied by other symptoms, it's time to seek a professional opinion.