The larynx is the part of the throat often called the “voice box” in humans. Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx. It may result from upper respiratory tract infection or by direct irritation from inhalation of dust, smoke, irritating gas, or foreign objects. It can also be caused by a tumor of the larynx. Laryngitis may accompany infectious rhinotracheitis and calicivirus infection in cats. Fluid buildup and swelling of the mucous membranes is often a key part of laryngitis; if severe, the upper airway may be obstructed.
A cough is often the first noticeable sign of laryngitis. The cough is harsh, dry, and short at first, but becomes soft and moist later and may be very painful. Fluid buildup and swelling of the larynx may develop within hours, causing an increased effort to inhale and high-pitched breathing arising from the larynx. Vocal changes may be evident. Bad breath and difficult, noisy breathing may be evident, and the cat may stand with its head lowered and mouth open. Swallowing is difficult and painful. While death due to suffocation may occur, this is extremely unlikely unless a mass, lesion, or swelling is severely obstructing the larynx.
The veterinarian can make a tentative diagnosis based on the clinical signs and physical examination of the cat. A definitive diagnosis requires examination of the larynx with an endoscope; in cats, anesthesia is usually required during this procedure. If the larynx is obstructed, an opening will be made in the neck to allow a tracheotomy tube to be placed; this tube enables the animal to breathe while the problem is being corrected. Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce obstruction caused by swelling. Diuretics may be used to relieve fluid buildup in the larynx and lungs. Control of pain with medication, especially in cats, allows the animal to eat and thus speeds recovery.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by Ned F. Kuehn, DVM, MS, DACVIM; Stuart M. Taylor, PhD, BVMS, MRCVS, DECVP; Neil W. Dyer, DVM, MS, DACVP; Joe Hauptman, DVM, MS, DACVS