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Cleft Palate in Dogs

Here at IndulgeYourPet, we like to talk about “all aspects” of pet ownership.  Which is why we sometimes find ourselves writing about medical conditions that not only affect our “four-legged” loved ones but also conditions that can affect the “human world” as well.

Which is exactly…

The case when it comes to discussing what a cleft palate or a cleft lip is in dogs.

And while…

It is true that in many cases, the actual condition may be the same in dogs as it is in humans, often times the “symptoms” associated with the condition in question and the “treatment” options of that said condition may vary between it’s human patients and its 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.  This way if you currently find yourself dealing with this issue with one of your pets, you’ll have a better idea of what it’s going to take to help him or her out.

So, what is a cleft palate in dogs?

To put it simply, a cleft lip and/or palate is a congenital birth defect that occurs when the tissue separating the nose and the mouth do not grow together correctly.

That said however…

Not all “cleft palates” will be the same, which is why you’ll generally see that most cleft palates will be referred to as either a primary cleft palate or a secondary cleft palate.

A primary cleft palate…

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

A secondary cleft palate…

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


A lot of 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 actually 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 a genetic one occurring primarily in brachycephalic breeds of dogs and bulldogs.  And while it is true that “cleft palates” can occur 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:

  • Pug
  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Boxer,
  • Boston Terrier,
  • Pekinese,
  • Shih Tzu,
  • Etc, etc…

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 actually 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 main 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/or toxins,
  • Administration of steroids,
  • Metabolic disorder.

Diagnosing a cleft palate in dogs

While a primary cleft palate is usually visible at with a cursory look, a secondary cleft palate will require a visit to your trusted veterinarian for an oral exam.  For this oral exam most dogs will need to be anesthetized so that your vet will not only be able to make their diagnosis, but also be able to determine the “severity” of the condition as well.

And while that thought…

Of administering anesthesia to any animals is scary thing for his or her owner, it is the only way for the veterinarian to see the soft palate in the mouth of your dog (it’s really far back inside the mouth).

Treatment for Your Dog with Cleft Palate

While a small primary cleft palate in dogs will rarely require surgery.  And while they can be difficult for some to look at, thus it is up to the owner’s discretion.  In cases like these, we would advise you to rely heavily on what your veterinarian recommends.  Because remember, all surgical procedures do involve some risk, so we would hate to see any animal’s health put at risk simply 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 which can affect the health of your loved one, often times surgery will be required in order to correct the deformity.  In cases like these you’ll want to be sure to ask your veterinarian all about his after care your pet will require as a result of his or her surgery.

Secondary cleft palates…

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


In most secondary cleft palate cases, owners will need to wait 3 to 4 months until the pup is old enough to attempt a corrective surgical procedure which is why these owners will likely need to learn how to feed these puppies with a feeding tube bypassing the affected areas.


Your primary veterinarian may elect to place an “esophageal” feeding tube into the neck of the dog so that the owner will be able to 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, it is possible for some of them to see a reduction in the size of the “cleft”, thereby reducing the affected area making the surgical repair all that much easier.

This is why…

You’ll want to work closely with a veterinarian that 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 that your pet is older and better equipped to handle the surgery so be it.  Even if that means having to switch your puppy from a milk to a blenderized diet.

Cleft palate surgery after care.

Like most surgical procedures, once performed, dogs and puppies alike tend to like to “rub” the site of the surgery.  Unfortunately, in cases like these, because the surgical procedure is preformed within the mouth, techniques to avoid “rubbing” aren’t readily available.

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.  Because not only do you have to wait for the site of the surgery to heal, growth of the upper jaw as your puppy grows, may cause the part of the cleft that was repaired to become thin and even break open again.

These types of openings, are called oronasal fistula, and may need to be reclosed 4-6 weeks after the original surgery.  All the while, your dog will most likely remain on a blended or “soft” food 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 really 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 care for.  Which brings us to saddest part about talking about dogs who suffer from cleft palates, which is that many of these dogs are what we call: “financially euthanized” due to the fact that treating and caring for these animals is simply too expensive for a lot of folks.

A 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 us have an UNLIMITED amount of money just sitting ready to be spent on anything.

This is why…

We here at IndulgeYourPet try to encourage any pet owner to take a moment and consider the idea of purchasing a pet insurance policy on their furry little loved ones so that they don’t ever find themselves in this type of situation.

Now will a pet insurance policy be able to 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 his or her cleft palate was repaired.

But that does not mean…

That there are a least a million other situations in which owning a pet insurance policy on your pet could save you from having to burden the full cost of his or her medical bills in the future.


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

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