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I've looked all over for an explanation. Surprisingly, there's not much information about this (most being theories).

Are there any cat experts that can explain this? I've heard "the sound is too high pitched for humans to hear", which would be neat, but seems as if it would be testable and confirmed by now.

My Question

Only one of my cats silently meow, most of the time giving no sound at all. Why does her meows give no sound?

Extra Details

She is around (estimated) 10 years old. In her early years, she wasn't very talkative. She was an outside cat until she got injured, which we had to amputate her tail. She has been an inside cat ever since. She has become very affectionate since then, which has brought on the meowing, which most of the time give no sound.

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From what my vet said when discussing my silent meower (who was perfectly healthy and lived to 21), there are several reasons a cat would meow but not make any noticeable sound.

  • The most common according to my vet is that the cat's vocal cords are deformed so it has no "voice". My old cat usually made no noise beyond something a bit like heavy breathing, but when she was stressed or in pain there'd be voice. Her purring was also almost silent. If your cat rarely/never had voice as a kitten, this is probably the cause.
  • Illness or accident can also cause problems, particularly if there's nerve damage. This is more likely if a vocal cat stops making noise when meowing.

If your vet says your cat is healthy, there's nothing to worry about (except possibly the cat getting trapped somewhere and you not being able to hear it - although my experience says the cat will develop other ways to let you know there's a problem).

  • 1
    To add another possibility: my girl's volume ranges from silent (when I "meow" silently at her she sometimes replies in kind) to quiet mews to conversational meows to rattle-the-dishes arias when she thinks I' unfairly ignoring her. It may just be that this is what that cat wants to say at this time. Since I talk to them, and to myself, frequently, and since I find conversations with them amusding, I really can't complain about their having learned that this attracts attention. – keshlam Apr 15 '16 at 1:52
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I realize I'm coming super late to this conversation but I wanted to add my own experience with my cat because I've yet to come across anything that explains or sounds like the situation with my cat.

I adopted her when she was already a year old and she actually can't meow. She makes a noise, but it sounds more like a puff of air that sounds like "key." It's not a chirp, there is no tone or variation. When people first it, they think it's a hiss, but it's not. She can hiss but it sounds and she looks very very different when she hisses vs when she "keys." You also can't hear her purr at all: I have to feel her throat to know if she's purring.

I've only ever heard her make one other sound, and it's when she sees birds, but still it just sounds like air being pushed out and more guttural than her key. She doesn't vocalize often though, usually just when I come home.

The vet said he wouldn't be able to explain it unless he investigated while she was under anesthesia and I didn't feel like putting her through an unnecessary procedure just to find if her vocal box is damaged.

I'm bringing this up because I don't think a quiet meow is always psychological as another post suggested, but physical. Granted my cat has never been able to meow so it could be a different scenario.

  • That sounds like my (alas, now passed) silent meower. According to the vet, her vocal cords were probably deformed, so she had to be under extreme stress to make any sound beyond a breathy noise. And yes, there was definitely a difference between her hiss and her "meow". I also had to touch her throat to know if she was purring. – Kate Paulk Nov 1 '16 at 11:38
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Our ten year old female bi-colour tabby gives silent meows 99% of the time. She has many other peculiar traits that I have never witnessed in lots of other cats.

Why the silent meow? I think that she has learnt from our responses to her demands that she can get our attention to open a door, feed her, etc., simply by not going to the extra effort of having to make an audible sound. In other words "Why go to that extra effort when I don't need to?" That is a sign of a really clever cat - and she displays such cleverness in many other ways.

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I've experienced this with our oldest cat, Cassie, a calico that adopted us over 18 years ago. We have sine added a few more cats to our family and one of thsm is a very large alpha Maine Coon male. They all get along fine, but Cassie is very skittish and always on her haunches, like she don't trust the other cats not to pounce on her (they never have that I know about). She has developed a silent meow and I think its because she is afraid to beg for something, or draw attention. Maybe in the social cat heirarchy in our home, she feels she "has no voice". She is not always silent, but mostly when wanting attention

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Thanks for opening the discussion. I have a Silent Moewer. He's healthy in every other way. The only thing unusual is I noticed that as a kitten he had faint bad breath and still has it. He moews in a way that sounds like breath. I thought when he was a kitten that he was adorably hissing at me. Over time I realized the slight hiss of his breath is his only sound. Every now and then he tries very hard and makes a precious squeak that kinda scares him. I worried he was deaf but he responds, sometimes too sensitively, to sound. After reading all the suggestions here, I think it seems coincidental he's a tabby with other rare traits like a Bob tail. He may have a genetic situation that makes him unable to vocally make the average range of sounds. Or he may have a mental stimulus associated with sound that is sensually overwhelming, like cat autism. Not sure. I'm happy all these cats sound healthy. Just unique!

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There is, in fact, a book by that title (The Silent Meow) purporting to be a manual for training your human, which mentions this as a particularly effective tool -- so it's certainly nothing new. Some cats do this. It amuses the humans, which encourages them to do it more often. I don't think there's any more consistent meaning to it than any other meow -- or indeed than most of my muttering to myself.

There are medical reasons why a cat would stop meowing as well such as FCD or illness. It is never a bad idea to bring this up to your vet during your normal check-up.

[Thanks to whomever added that second paragraph; valid points I wasn't aware of.]

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    Sorry, downvoter, but I really think the answer is "because this cat happens to meow silently." One of mine purrs so low you can't tell except by putting a finger on her throat; I don't think that has any particular meaning either. Every cat, like every human, is an individual and has its own quirks, and as long as they don't indicate illness I think we have to accept that some of them do not have or need any rational explanation. Heck, I can't explain some of the actions of this ape I'm riding around in, but since they're harmless it isn't usually worth trying to train him out of them. – keshlam Jul 30 '15 at 1:04
  • I didn't downvote, and I can see where you're coming from (some people have quiet personalities). But I was personally hoping for information from someone such as a vetenarian or someone who has gotten information from such, which is why I have yet to accept. Although, I will check out the book and get back to you, since I'm sure the authors are credible sources. A quote (including the author's name) would be a bit more satisfying, but now I feel as if I should read the book before confirming, so I'm definitely going to check that out now – Vince Emigh Jul 31 '15 at 18:17
  • Sometimes mine sounds more like a dog and I'd swear she occasionally loses her voice. It's like she's too lazy to pronounce the second syllable. – Mazura Aug 6 '15 at 13:24
  • One of mine muttered at me last night, just loud enough to be heard. My mostly-siamese spoke with the siamese voice most of the time but would occasionally utter a more standard mew. Checking with vet is always a good idea when in doubt, but Cats Is Weird; that's part. Of why we like them. ... Pardon me, Harrycat is trying to tell me something. – keshlam Aug 6 '15 at 13:34
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Apart from apparent diseases of the vocal cords, the most likely reason is psychological; meowing is one of the methods of ascertaining terrain dominance, and a cat which does feel secure and is not in a fighting mood will often meow much quieter, up to silent meows.

Try to observe if your cat feels like a leader or is more docile and subjected to other creatures around. If he's a leader, visit the vet just to make sure. If he's the more docile type, it's most likely psychological and not much to worry about.

Past injury and loss of tail might explain psychological reasons, your master feels not at his/her prime.

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I think Alan had it almost correct. Between my personal experience and a documentary I watched explaining some cat behaviors, I think its not a lack of effort, but a tailored response to get us to perform an option. My cat isn't super vocal most of the time. If he wants someone to play with him at 3:30am he can be very loud and heard all over the house. Over the last year or two, he's started meowing very quietly. It'll be high pitched. It may even sound like a squeaky toy or make no sound at all.

According to the documentary, humans anthropomorphize their cats (no shocker there, right?!). They say that when the cat mooshes your stomach or kneads dough, whatever you call it, people think they're showing affection. In reality, this is a behavior that stimulated milk to flow when they were kittens. Humans think it's cute, so they pet them when they do it. This encourages it to continue. However, they'll do it without encouragement simply because we don't correct them. It's like a kid sucking on his thumb or drinking from a bottle at 12yrs old.

The documentary also said that when people think cats are bringing them presents of dead birds, snake (maybe not so dead), or leaves we think they're bringing us gifts. Instead, the documentary claims that they feel like we're poor hunters and they're bringing food back to the other members of their clowder to ensure their survival. There is nothing in my own experience that contradicts this for me. I can totally see my cat thinking I'm the one that needs looking after.

As for vocalization, they said that cat's aren't very vocal with each other after kittenhood. Yes, they yowl at each other, especially when fighting or looking to mate, but they said that the vast majority of cat vocalizations we hear are specifically made for humans. The cats meow and get a reaction out of us. Therefore, they continue to meow. The meow can easily evolve. If they meow and we don't respond, they can meow harder or softer.

In the case I my cat, I believe that when his meow was whinier and quieter, my family thought it was funny and paid more attention to him. They still do, by petting him and/or picking him up and saying his meower is broken. They usually do what he wants, such as going to check his food bowl to make sure he can't see the bottom or letting him outside. Either way, his meow has gotten almost silent. However, when he's ignored it gets louder. Try that with your cat. Ignore the quiet meows, not even looking over and if they get louder, then you can see what the cat wants.

protected by John Cavan Nov 14 '16 at 18:07

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