Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Disorders of the Pharynx 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
Topic Resources

The upper throat is called the pharynx. Pharyngeal paralysis refers to paralysis of the upper throat (pharynx) that makes swallowing difficult or impossible. It may be caused by a nervous system disorder or other disease or trauma that causes collapse, obstruction, or malfunction of the pharynx.

Throat and pharynx, cat

Throat and pharynx, cat

Pharyngeal paralysis results in severe problems with swallowing; food and saliva can come back out through the mouth and nose. Affected cats are at risk of pneumonia from inhaling food and liquid (aspiration pneumonia), dehydration, and circulatory and respiratory failure. Signs of pharyngeal paralysis include fever, drooling, trouble breathing, coughing, gagging, and choking. This condition may be fatal. In many cases, emergency surgery to provide an airway (tracheostomy) must be done before any more detailed analysis of the condition can be performed.

In general, treatment for pharyngeal paralysis is directed toward alleviating the signs of the disease. Treatment may include drugs to control inflammation, antibiotics to control the complications of aspiration pneumonia, draining of abscesses (if they are present), intravenous fluids, and providing alternative routes of nutrition. A feeding tube (a soft plastic tube inserted through the mouth or nose into the stomach) may be required to provide nutrition and water. In many cases, the outlook is poor. The welfare of the cat should be considered when determining what course of treatment to follow.

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