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Pet Owner Version

Pharyngitis in Cats


Jan F. Hawkins

, DVM, DACVS, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Purdue University

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2018 | Modified Oct 2022

Pharyngitis is inflammation of the walls of the throat (pharynx). It accompanies most upper airway viral and bacterial respiratory infections. Calicivirus infections in cats may cause lesions of the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat. Mouth pain and resistance to having the mouth opened may indicate an abscess (pocket of pus and infection) at the back of the throat or the presence of a penetrating foreign object or growth in the mouth or tonsils. Cats are prone to eating linear objects (such as thread or string), which can get stuck under the tongue and partially swallowed. Pins, needles, or bone fragments can also penetrate the tissue of the throat.

In general, cats with pharyngitis have a normal desire to eat and drink but may have difficulty swallowing. As a result of inflammation and abscesses, an emergency situation can develop because of airway obstruction. The diagnosis is based on complete physical examination; this may include oral examination, x-rays, and endoscopic examination of the throat along with cultures of fluids and sites that are draining.

The primary treatment is to identify and control or eliminate the factors leading to the disease. Antibiotics are often necessary. If pharyngitis has been caused by a foreign object (a relatively uncommon situation in cats), surgery to remove the object and any dead tissue may be required. Abscesses, if present, need to be drained under anesthesia. Cats that cannot eat or drink properly due to throat sores may require pain medication and fluid and nutritional support via intravenous fluids or feeding tubes.

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