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Cleft Palate in Dogs

Here at IndulgeYourPet, we like to discuss “all aspects” of pet ownership, which is why we sometimes find ourselves writing about medical conditions that affect not only our “four-legged” loved ones but also conditions that can affect the “human world” as well. This is precisely the case when discussing a cleft palate or a cleft lip in dogs.

And while…

In many cases, the actual condition may be the same in dogs as in humans; the “symptoms” associated with the disease in question and the “treatment” options of that condition may vary between human patients and canine ones. For this reason, we wanted to take a moment and discuss exactly what a cleft palate or cleft lip is and examine what it may be like for an owner of a dog suffering from this condition. If you currently deal with this issue with one of your pets, you’ll better understand what it will take to help them. So, what is a cleft palate in dogs?

Simply put, a cleft lip and palate is a congenital disability when the tissue separating the nose and the mouth does not grow together correctly. However, not all “cleft palates” will be the same, so you’ll generally see that most cleft palates will be referred to as either a primary or a secondary cleft palate.

A primary cleft palate…

Often referred to as a cleft lip or a harelip occurs when the left and right sides of the face don’t fully connect in the skin area beneath the nose and above the mouth. These “types” of cleft palates are typically considered less severe “types” and usually only lead to “cosmetic” issues for the affected canine.

A secondary cleft palate…

On the other hand, it occurs when an opening exists on the roof of the mouth leading to the nose. These “types” of cleft palates are often much more challenging to treat and can create a variety of symptoms that could negatively affect the puppy’s health.

Sadly, many cleft palate puppies are often euthanized before prospective owners ever have the chance to adopt them because they are seen to have defects, simply because the puppies are often considered “less desirable” to their owners.

Symptoms of Cleft Palate in Dogs

In most cases, a primary cleft palate will most likely be able to be seen “visually.” A secondary cleft palate is not always so easy to detect as the opening to the nasal cavity, or nasal passages, can be small and far back within the mouth of the affected canine.

For this reason, owners of dogs affected by a secondary cleft palate will often need to look for “symptoms” of the condition before they might think to make a “physical” inspection of their animal’s mouth.

Some possible signs of a secondary cleft palate may include:

  • Sneezing and Snorting (saliva and food is passing into the nose),
  • Constant runny nose (an infection will make it a steady stream),
  • Coughing and gagging while drinking,
  • Stunted growth as a puppy as a result of not being able to nurse properly,
  • Trouble breathing, especially when exercising.

What Causes Cleft Palate in Dogs?

The causation of a cleft palate is mainly genetic, occurring primarily in brachycephalic breeds of dogs and bulldogs. While it is true that “cleft palates” can happen in any dog breed, these breeds of dogs tend to be at a higher risk than most. This is mainly because brachycephalic dog breeds, including the:

One fascinating fact that researchers have been able to discover while researching cleft palates in dogs is that while certain dogs may be “prone” to developing a cleft palate in utero, only one dog, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever has been found to contain a genetic mutation called the CP1 mutation which is believed to help reduce the risk of developing a cleft palate.

And while…

Genetics is believed to be the leading cause of cleft palates in dogs; other possible causes that could lead to the development of a cleft palate may include issues with the mother while pregnant. Issues such as:

  • Nutritional deficits,
  • Viral infections,
  • Exposure to various poisons and toxins,
  • Administration of steroids,
  • Metabolic disorder.

Diagnosing a cleft palate in dogs

While a primary cleft palate is usually visible with a cursory look, a secondary cleft palate will require a visit to your trusted veterinarian for an oral exam. Most dogs will need to be anesthetized for this oral exam so that your vet can diagnose and determine the “severity” of the condition. While administering anesthesia to any animal is scary for its owner, it is the only way for the veterinarian to see the soft palate in your dog’s mouth(it’s far back inside the mouth).

Treatment Options

While a small primary cleft palate in dogs will rarely require surgery, and while they can be difficult for some to look at, it is up to the owner’s discretion. In such cases, we advise you to rely heavily on what your veterinarian recommends. Remember, all surgical procedures involve some risk, so we would hate to see any animal’s health put at risk to correct a “cosmetic” imperfection. Heck, many times, it’s these “imperfections” that make us who we are!

Now for more…

Severe primary cleft palates can affect the health of your loved one; often, surgery will be required to correct the deformity. In cases like these, you’ll want to ask your veterinarian all about the aftercare your pet will need due to their surgery.

Secondary cleft palates…

On the other hand, we will generally REQUIRE surgery to repair the palate so that the affected dog can avoid any long-term nasal and lung infections and ensure that the animal can get the proper nutrients it needs.


In most secondary cleft palate cases, owners must wait 3 to 4 months until the pup is old enough to attempt a corrective surgical procedure. These owners will likely need to learn how to feed these puppies with a feeding tube bypassing the affected areas. Or your primary veterinarian may elect to place an “esophageal” feeding tube into the neck of the dog so that the owner can add either the mother’s milk or a milk replacer with less difficulty.

The problem is…

When tube feeding, a young pup usually needs to be fed every two hours around the clock, which can be challenging for many owners for obvious reasons. On the positive side, as these affected dogs age, some can see a reduction in the size of the “cleft,” thereby reducing the affected area and making the surgical repair much more accessible.

This is why…

You’ll want to work closely with a veterinarian who is familiar with this condition so that you can create a “game plan” to ensure the best care for your loved one. And if that care means waiting for a few months so your pet is older and better equipped to handle the surgery, so be it, even if that means switching your puppy from a milk to a blenderized diet.

She had cleft palate surgery aftercare.

Like most surgical procedures, dogs and puppies like to “rub” the surgery site once performed. Unfortunately, techniques to avoid “rubbing” aren’t readily available in cases like these because the surgical procedure is performed within the mouth. Despite this, you should expect your veterinarian to have your pet wear an Elizabethan collar for at least a few weeks after his surgery to prevent him from “pawing” or clawing at this mouth.


It should be noted that the recovery time for these types of procedures can be a bit lengthy. Not only do you have to wait for the site of the surgery to heal, but the growth of the upper jaw as your puppy grows may cause the part of the repaired cleft to become thin and even break open again.

These openings are called an oronasal fistula and may need to be reclosed 4-6 weeks after the original surgery. Your dog will likely remain on a blended or “soft” diet.

Now, at this point…

We like to remind our readers that we here at IndulgeYourPet are not doctors, veterinarians, or medical professionals. All we are is a bunch of folks who care about animals and try to shed as much light as possible about ALL aspects of pet ownership because the last thing that we ever want to have happen is for someone to choose to adopt an animal that they are not fully prepared to care for. This brings us to the saddest part about talking about dogs who suffer from cleft palates, which is that many of these dogs are what we call: “financially euthanized” because treating and caring for these animals is too expensive for a lot of folks.

And while…

It’s difficult for us to say that people shouldn’t consider COST when determining the care of an animal; we understand that few of us have an UNLIMITED amount of money just sitting ready to be spent on anything. This is why we here at IndulgeYourPet encourage any pet owner to take a moment and consider purchasing a pet insurance policy for their furry little loved ones so they don’t ever find themselves in this situation.

Now, can a pet insurance policy help out a puppy with a cleft palate?

No, unfortunately, in cases like these, you would not be able to qualify for coverage, or you wouldn’t be able to qualify for coverage before their cleft palate was repaired. But that does not mean that there are at least a million other situations in which owning a pet insurance policy could save you from burdening the total cost of your medical bills in the future.

So, if you want to learn more about how pet insurance policies work and what it might cost to own one, we encourage you to check out our Best Pet Insurance article, where we discuss many of the pros and cons of these insurance policies.

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