Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats

Key Takeaways

The larynx, or voice box, is the part of the throat located at the entrance of the trachea (windpipe). Laryngeal paralysis can cause partial or complete upper airway obstruction, which can lead to breathing difficulties.

• The acquired form is more common and can be a result of injuries, tumors, nervous system diseases, and surgical complications

• The congenital form is likely genetic, but may result from infections or injuries at birth

• Typical symptoms of mild laryngeal paralysis in cats are voice changes, rapid breathing at rest, and a stop in purring

• More severe cases can lead to signs of heatstroke and acute respiratory crisis

• Diagnostics include a physical examination, bloodwork, diagnostic imaging, and specific tests such as endoscopy and laryngoscopy

• Treatment depends on the severity of the case

• Definitive treatment usually consists of surgical correction

A Closer Look: What is Laryngeal Paralysis in Cats?

Although some cases of laryngeal paralysis in cats may be mild and not require treatment, more severe cases often have a poor prognosis. 

Although cats presenting with voice change may not require urgent care, cats undergoing  respiratory distress with signs such as harsh and noisy breathing, increased respiratory rate, and a blue or purple tongue (cyanosis), require emergency veterinary attention. 

Laryngeal paralysis can be categorized as congenital or acquired. Congenital forms are present at birth and acquired are usually the result of injury or secondary to an underlying disease.

Risk Factors

Laryngeal paralysis may lead to complications such as heatstroke or acute respiratory crisis. Symptoms of these complications include:

Cyanosis (blue gums)


• Elevated body temperature (not a fever)



Laryngeal paralysis can be associated with other diseases including aspiration pneumonia and polyneuropathy with megaesophagus

Laryngeal paralysis is rare in cats and much more commonly seen in dogs. The most common form in cats is acquired laryngeal paralysis and it usually affects cats over the age of ten. The congenital form is very rare and is typically diagnosed in kittens or very young cats.

Possible Causes

Laryngeal paralysis in cats can be acquired or congenital.

The congenital form is very rare and likely related to genetic makeup. Factors such as infections or injuries can also be responsible for this defect at the time of birth. 

The acquired form is more common but still rare overall and can have a variety of causes. Most cases are idiopathic with no underlying cause that can be identified.

It can be a secondary condition of polyneuropathy or polymyopathy (diseases of the nervous and muscular systems). The cause can be iatrogenic (from previous medical treatment), if the nerves controlling the larynx are damaged during surgery, for example.

Other associated causes include

• Cancer

• Tumors

• Injuries

• Some reports connect laryngeal paralysis with tick paralysis

Main Symptoms

Symptoms of laryngeal paralysis present differently between cats and dogs. Cats rarely show noisy breathing and are also less prone to overheating.

The most common signs in cats are:

Voice change • Stop in purring • Rapid breathing at rest

Other possible symptoms include: 

• Noisy breathing • Difficulty breathingCoughing

Lethargy • Weakness • Exercise intolerance • Regurgitation

Testing and Diagnosis

The diagnostic process includes:

• A complete physical examination

• Bloodwork

• Diagnostic imaging such as chest X-rays

• Endoscopic examination of the throat under sedation

Steps to Recovery

Treatment varies according to the severity of the case. Definitive treatment for more severe cases is surgical correction. Surgery comes with complications and it is almost impossible to restore 100% of previous laryngeal function.

Mild cases without severe symptoms might not need any treatment or might benefit from conservative therapies such as:

• Weight control

• Avoiding strenuous activities

• Keeping the cat indoors

In cases of acute respiratory crisis, life-saving therapies might be necessary, such as:

• Intubation

• Sedation

• Oxygen therapy

• Tracheostomy

In the case where laryngeal paralysis is caused by tick paralysis, tick removal and supportive therapy are required.

Laryngeal paralysis is a very rare condition in cats with little data about the prognosis. 

The prognosis varies according to the severity of the case, but is overall poor. Surgical treatment can be effective but the risk of severe complications is high.


Laryngeal paralysis is not contagious. There are no specific preventatives for laryngeal paralysis in cats.

Is Laryngeal Paralysis Common in Cats?

No, laryngeal paralysis is rare in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Surgical correction

• Weight control

• Maintaining indoor lifestyle

• Avoiding strenuous activity

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