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What is Cleft Palate?

This condition is most often discovered as a birth defect in very young puppies who may show a round belly just as healthy puppies do, but are failing to thrive and gain weight. It is imperative to visit a veterinarian if you suspect that your puppy is becoming malnourished. A cleft palate may cause the newborn pup to have an inability to suckle the mother’s milk. It may appear that he is able to drink and gain nourishment, but he is actually taking in air only. This is the reason for the round belly you may see. Older puppies with a mild cleft palate may show less distress, but a visit to the veterinarian to determine the extent of the cleft is crucial to your pet’s well being.

A cleft palate is an opening between the mouth (oral cavity) and nose (nasal cavity), which occurs when the tissues forming the palate do not fuse together properly. The result of this is an opening that remains which can allow for food and fluid to enter the nasal cavity during feeding, potentially leading the way to serious complications for your pet.

Cleft Palate Average Cost

From 117 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,500

Average Cost

$1,200

Symptoms of Cleft Palate in Dogs

A newborn pup with a severe opening of the palate will unfortunately die of starvation if the defect is not detected early on. The pup will not be able to get adequate nourishment from nursing, and there is the possibility that any liquid he is able to take in will be aspirated, leading to pneumonia and death.

Puppies that have a less acute cleft palate can continue to grow, albeit slowly. However, issues with the health of your dog may be seen with the following symptoms:

  • Stunted growth due to poor weight gain
  • Breathing difficulties upon exertion
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Nasal discharge that may include food
  • Infection or pneumonia due to food aspiration.
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Causes of Cleft Palate in Dogs

Studies have shown that the cleft palate is most often caused by a genetic malformation. It is also believed that the palate may be formed in an abnormal way due to nutritional deficiencies, drugs, viruses or poisons to which the mother may have been exposed when pregnant. Excessive doses of vitamins A and D are thought to cause cleft palate also.

Brachycephalic breeds, who have small faces (such as Pekinese or French Bulldogs) are most commonly affected by cleft palate. Nonetheless, purebred dogs and cats have a higher incidence of the malformed palate.

Types

A cleft palate in your dog can be described as a primary cleft palate (found on the lip and also known as harelip) or a secondary cleft palate, which is what we are describing here, whereby the palate does not form together in a normal fashion, leaving a hole between the cavities of the mouth and nose. A hard cleft palate is found in the bony section of the roof of the mouth. A cleft in the soft section is described as a hole in the swallowing portion of the mouth. The cleft may be found in both the hard and soft areas of the mouth concurrently.

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Diagnosis of Cleft Palate in Dogs

If your dog has a primary cleft, or harelip, the diagnosis is very straightforward based on the appearance of your pet’s nose and mouth, with teeth possibly showing, or an oddly shaped nostril.

You may have decided to bring your pet to the veterinarian to determine the reason for a constantly running nose or because of an odor emanating from the nasal cavity. Perhaps you have noticed that your dog has difficulty breathing when exercising. There are numerous reasons to suspect a cleft palate in your dog. A visit to the veterinarian for a diagnosis is key to ensuring your pet continues to be healthy.

During the examination, your veterinarian will examine the palate of your dog. A cleft of the hard palate will be easily seen as one can clearly view the fact that a hole is present. To properly observe the soft palate, your dog will be put under anesthesia so the veterinarian can look deep into the oral cavity. Thoracic x-rays may also be done to check for signs of pneumonia due to the aspiration of food.

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Treatment of Cleft Palate in Dogs

Treatment for the hard or soft palate cleft varies depending on the severity of the impairment and the age of your pet.

If you have a newborn puppy in a young litter, the treatment can be extensive. As a pet owner you must be willing and capable to undertake a comprehensive feeding and care regimen prior to surgery taking place. Your puppy will need to be fed with a tube every three or four hours around the clock for two to three months. After the puppy is old enough to undergo surgery, he will enter the hospital for a repair of the cleft. Because your puppy will still be young and quite possibly still underweight, anesthesia and surgery can be risky. The technique of cleft palate closure can be successful, though more than one surgical procedure may be required to achieve complete closure.

Older dogs that are diagnosed with cleft palate can experience complete resolution, particularly if the opening between the oral and nasal cavity is not too large. If there is the presence of pneumonia, this illness must be completely cured before an operation to correct the problem can take place.

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Recovery of Cleft Palate in Dogs

Because cleft palate surgery often requires the suturing of mucosa from the dental cavity, the proper healing of the wound influences the recovery and management. Follow up with your veterinarian will be necessary in order to monitor the healing process, which involves checking for the correct fuse of mucosa over the palate. Antibiotics will be prescribed if your pet had a previous infection or a case of pneumonia prior to the surgery.

In some cases, your pet will need to be fed by tube for seven days after the operation. Your veterinarian will then discuss the best way to proceed; a soft diet for the next six weeks minimum is the usual protocol.

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Cleft Palate Average Cost

From 117 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,500

Average Cost

$1,200

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Cleft Palate Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Katy

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toy poodle

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7 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Snorting, Unable To Eat Soft Foods

I was bedridden after an auto accident and my now 7 month old toy poodle chewed on an electrical cord. She lost her left side lips and skin and has a large horizontal valley across her tongue. She had debride surgery and after several weeks, she was happy, eating, squeaking toys, and carrying them everywhere. We thought all was to be fine, but discovered that a large ravine of bone across the roof of her mouth had died and that she has an open palate. She drinks and easily eats cubed food that is neither too soft, nor too hard. My vet has been unable to find a specialist to see her and give us a prognosis. She is happy, gaining weight, and doing agility tunnels and hoops like a pro. Is there any long-term hope for her?

Sept. 23, 2018

Katy's Owner

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Sweet Pea and Freda

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French Bulldog

dog-age-icon

2 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Cleft Palets
Cleft Palets, Small Bodies

We have two cleft pallet cleft lip puppies we took on when the owners of litter decided it was too much. French bulldogs...the litter was 8. We are now at two months and have being using step two puppy formula from store. They are playful and loving. They are still fairly small though. We try expanding the ounces to give them more but the regurgitate is significant. 20 oz to 22 seems to be amount for their bodies. Should we be feeding them one of these other combinations or adding regular food and blending it up? We are not breeders so our knowledge is minimal. Specialist did think they looked like good candidates for surgery once old and big enough. May sound silly, but we lost our three year old daughter last year and all of our kiddos are involved in caring for pups knowing they may pass, but it's brought some type of healing this holiday season so I want to make sure I am giving them the right protein combo for their bodies.

Dec. 20, 2017

Sweet Pea and Freda's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for contacting us about Sweet Pea and Freda. They are actually old enough that they should be able to eat small kibble, and the dry food has less of a chance of causing aspiration pneumonia or of them swallowing more air than food. You may need to soften the food for them, but they should be able to eat on their own, and the drier the food, the better. If you are not sure that they are able to eat on their own, or eat kibble vs formula, please have them examined by a veterinarian who will be able to see the pups and assess their abilities as well. Good luck with these babies!

Dec. 20, 2017

On the cleft groups I'm in your pups would be eating by themselves now. Royal Canin starter babydog /pediatric is tiny kibble easily crushed. Search Facebook for cleft pallet group's. Many dogs never have surgery unless severe .

April 18, 2018

Gillian S.


I am confused...the doctor here said he had done the surgery over a dozen times...he is the only specialist around here. He said we would tube feed them until 3-4 months and then do surgery if there was enough tissue on the palet. I had read other places about kibble which would be great. Different info from different sources. I also heard I should be making a thick gruel. Does anyone have hands on experience with pups growing that have both cleft palet and lips? We have tube fed them for over two months so I don't want to jeapordize anything. They are very small compared to their siblings at the house they were born at. Those pups look four times as big. Reaching out for more info if you have it or anyone else who has dealt with similar situation. Thank you!

Dec. 21, 2017

Sweet Pea and Freda's Owner


I currently have a 6 week old cleft palate pup and he is on kibble soaked in water, he is doing so much better since we stopped the bottle feeds ☺️

Jan. 2, 2018

Hyland B.

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kevin

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Pomeranian

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5 Days

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

hi dr. turner, my pup is 5 days now we just started tube feeding him because at first we didn’t know that theres something wrong with him. almost all of the pomeranian owners said its a cleft palate issue so we began to ask for advices, hence, we are tube feeding him now. i have 2 questions if you dont mind. 1st, people keep on saying my pup might have pneumonia, how do you know exactly? 2nd, if im going to tube feed the pup should i separate him from her mom from now on? the problem is if i return back the pup, the pup tends to suck milk from her mom therefore the lungs will flood again, right? do you advice not to return the pup back?

Nov. 4, 2017

kevin's Owner


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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Normally pups with a cleft palate will develop aspiration pneumonia due to inhaling milk through the defect in the palate; you will know if there is aspiration pneumonia due to respiratory symptoms (coughing, increased respiration etc…). It would be best to separate the pup from the mother since we don’t want the pup to be nursing from its mother; tube feeding is best but ensure that the tube is placed correctly. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 4, 2017

do i give my pup antiobiotics for the pneumonia? i read from all the articles that i should. if yes, what antibiotic do you recommend dr?

Nov. 5, 2017

kevin's Owner

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Hope

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English Bulldog

dog-age-icon

2 Weeks

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

I have a 2 week old puppy with a cleft palete hard and soft and a double harelip. She is being sponge fed and gaining weight everyday. I am worried about pneomonia. Can this be fixed with surgery

Nov. 3, 2017

Hope's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Surgery is the treatment of choice but you would need to have your Veterinarian examine the cleft to determine Hope’s suitability for surgery; aspiration pneumonia is the most common complication and tube feeding is the most common way around this risk. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 3, 2017

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Josie

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Bulldog

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11 Weeks

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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I have a puppy who just had her second cleft palate surgery, she is 11weeks and the surgery was 24 hours ago. She won't/can't walk, looses balance, eliminates on her self and it is foul in odor and this condition seems neurologic in origin (ataxic movements/shaking/ difficulty tracking with eyes) the vet is closed and not calling me back. She has a pain med and is on a antibiotic which I've given after I had to force feed her to eat and my question is, is this normal recovery? Should I be concerned? She's not acting like herself or really woken up since. Please help :(

Sept. 20, 2017

Josie's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Given the severity of the symptoms you have listed and the recent surgery I would highly recommend you visit an Emergency Veterinarian immediately to check Josie over; there should be not this level of neurological impairment this long after surgery. This is not normal and there is no ‘at home’ treatments I can offer for you as an examination needs to be done to determine the specific cause of the symptoms. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Sept. 20, 2017

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Tink

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French Bulldog

dog-age-icon

5 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Runny Nose
Low Body Weight

Our little pup was born in a litter of 5 and had a cleft palate. We fed tubed her and she’s been okay. She’s very skinny now and is able to eat solid food once I soak it in water. I feel bad because everytimw I try to give her water she has these cough attacks because of her cleft palate. Is there anything else I can do to give her water. She runs outside and gets tired and I don’t know another way for her to get water in her system.

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Cleo and Zeus

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French Bulldog

dog-age-icon

3 Weeks

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

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2 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Nasal Discharge

My french bulldogs had a litter of 5 puppies , two of them had a secondary cleft palate . As I had a c-section done , the vet noticed the cleft palates right away. I have never had any experience with cleft puppies , so started doing a lot of research. Both puppies kept on trying to nurse on mom ( even though I have started tube feeding them the very first day with Esbilac). By nursing on the bitch , they have been swallowing a lot of air , and milk was coming out of their nose. After consulting multiple veterinarians , we have started a round of antibiotics on both pups, gas-x (few drops a day) and subcutaneous fluids injections once daily . Both puppies are 3 weeks old now, and doing great (even though they weigh hal of what their siblings do). The cleft opening in one of them is half the size now (almost closed). I have the surgery planned with my veterinarian once the puppies are old enough .My question is , can they live and thrive without having the surgery done ?

Cleft Palate Average Cost

From 117 quotes ranging from $500 - $4,500

Average Cost

$1,200