What are Soft Palate Disorders?
The most common congenital disorders affecting the soft palate are elongated palate and a cleft palate that extends into the soft palate. Cleft palate is a common congenital defect that occurs when the palate does not fuse together, leaving a gap in the tissue. When this gap extends to the soft palate at the back of the mouth, nasal and oral cavities are not separated as they should be, creating a cleft of the soft palate. An elongated palate occurs when the soft palate overlaps the windpipe. Elongated palates are more common in certain flat-faced breeds (brachycephalic) that have short facial bones making them prone to structural abnormalities. This blockage can cause breathing problems and result in brachycephalic airway syndrome.
Traumatic injuries also occur to the soft palate and can include puncture from a stick or other foreign object, injury from hard food ingested, or split from an accident or fall (acquired cleft palate).
The soft palate is the soft, fleshy tissue towards the back of the roof of the mouth. The hard palate is in the bony front of the roof of the mouth. Disorders of the soft palate are usually congenital but trauma or injury to the soft palate can also occur.
Symptoms of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
The main types of soft palate disorders are cleft palate, elongated palate, and trauma to the soft palate.
Cleft palate symptoms usually appear in kittens with the congenital defect, although they may not be obvious until the cat is older.
- Cleft in lip or an abnormality in nostril may be visible if it extends that far
- Trouble nursing
- Failure to thrive
- Dribbling milk
- Bubbling of milk through nose
- Breathing problems
- Pneumonia from aspiration, which can result in death
Symptoms of trauma to the soft palate include:
- Trouble eating
- Trouble breathing
- Fever if infected
Symptoms of elongated palate include:
- Stunted growth
- Trouble breathing/noisy breathing
- Snoring or snorting
- Exhaustion after exercise
- Proneness to heatstroke
- Brachycephalic airway syndrome
Causes of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
Soft palate disorders can be congenital in nature or acquired.
- Cleft palate is a congenital disorder that occurs during the embryonic stage of the fetus. The primary cause is genetic, however, there is thought to be an association with maternal exposure to poisons, viruses, the hormone cortisone, or vitamin A, which is found in foods such as liver.
- A cleft or gap in the soft palate can also occur as a result of an accident or fall causing a split in the palate.
- Flat faced cat breeds such as Persians and Himalayans (also referred to as brachycephalic breeds) and Siamese cats are more prone to the congenital defect of elongated palate because of short facial bones which can result in structural anomalies that make this condition more common. An elongated palate can result in airway blockage as the palate tissue blocks the airway.
- Trauma to the palate can also occur as a result of puncture or accident.
Diagnosis of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
Your veterinarian may need to sedate your cat to properly examine the soft palate, as an active and alert cat will usually struggle too much to allow a thorough examination. Any information you can provide your veterinarian on symptoms such as breathing problems, trouble ingesting food, inability to exercise, incident, or accident may prove helpful in determining the cause and extent of the issue. Physical examination of the soft palate will usually be adequate for your veterinarian to diagnose a soft palate disorder.
Chest xrays may be ordered if pneumonia from aspiration is suspected as well.
Treatment of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
Depending on the cause and type of soft palate disorder, your veterinarian will provide painkillers, anti-inflammatories, steroids, oxygen therapy and supportive care necessary to relieve your pet's discomfort and ensure they are hydrated and breathing well.
Most palate disorders are repaired surgically. When the palate disorder occurs in a young kitten it may be necessary to tube feed the kitten until they are old enough at around three months of age to surgically repair the soft palate.
Surgical repair of a cleft palate involves closing the gap in the palate. Usually, a flap of tissue is used to do this, but when the hard palate is affected, bone grafts may also be required. On occasion, this may require more than one surgery. Sutures will be required and follow-up to remove non-dissolving sutures will be required
In cases which trauma has resulted in a gap in the palate, your veterinarian may wire the canine teeth together in order to pull the palate back together.
Surgery on an elongated palate involves removing the tissue that is blocking the airway and does not usually require sutures.
Antibiotics may be prescribed post-surgery as the oral cavity in a cat is a high infection area.
If severe palate disorder occurs in a kitten euthanasia may be recommended.
In the case of elongated palate when airway blockage is not pronounced and symptoms are not severe, a non-surgical solution involving managing weight with special diet, and avoiding heat, exercise, and stress may be recommended.
Once repaired, soft palate disorder does not relapse and prognosis is good.
Recovery of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
After surgical repair of the soft palate your cat may need to be tube fed for a period of time and eventually will start back on a soft food diet. Your pet should be kept quiet and allowed to rest postoperatively. If sutures were used you will need to follow up with your veterinarian for removal and to ensure healing has occurred. Monitor your cat for fever or abnormal bleeding that may indicate your cat has a postoperative infection or has opened their incision. Seek veterinary care immediately in such cases.
If congenital defects resulting in soft palate abnormalities occur, the parents of these kittens should be removed from a breeding program. It is also advisable to avoid foods high in vitamin A and other harmful exposures in pregnant females.