Concerning Cleft Palate

Note: According to Carlson and Giffin, DVMs, in the Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook,  cleft palate is "a birth defect of the nasal and oral cavities...caused by a failure of the bones of the palate to form completely.  It results in an opening from the oral to the nasal cavity, allowing food and liquid to pass between."  The vets note that many puppies with this condition cannot adequately nurse, and survival becomes dependant upon hand feeding.

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I had raised a cleft palate puppy from birth a few yrs back.  Brother in litter was completely normal. This breeding was out of some of the top lines in the country.  According to our vets, this kind of birth defect does not always have a genetic predisposition.  Not all CONGENITAL (present at birth) defects are heredity. Something just goes awry while the fetus is forming.  It was the opinion of several vets involved in Phoebe's raising, that the anomaly may have occurred from medications given the mother early in the pregnancy for a bladder infection.  She was not diagnosed until about her 3rd day when she was not gaining as the brother was.  A more thorough check up revealed her soft palate had not closed and was split.  You could see the midline defect all the way along the roof of her mouth.  I decided to try and raise the puppy after getting several medical opinions about her chances of survival and the possibility of surgical repair at a later date.

She was tube fed for 5 1/2 weeks, which at that point she had enough of shoving that feeding tube down her throat!  In the mean time, at about 4 weeks, she, too, had learned to drink water from the rabbit bottle.  With the head up like that, the water would go down her throat and not out her nose.

After she fought the feeding tube so badly, we started hand feeding her soft food, morsel by morsel. If left to her own devices, she would eat it to fast and it would also go up the opening and come out the nose.  Things went much better when she got teeth.  She could crunch up kibble and did just fine.  Her veterinarian had us wait until about 6 months to attempt a repair since she did so well converting from tube feeding to eating dry.  In the mean time, a small opening had appeared in the hard palate, just behind her teeth.  We were informed this kind of repair was much more difficult as it involved grafting skin over the opening.

Surgery was performed at 6 months.  The soft palate was "roughed" up and sutured shut.  The graft was done on the hard palate.  This involved loosening skin from either side of the opening and pulling it over the affected area. The soft palate closed, no problem.  The skin graft did not.  The graft died and left her with a bigger opening behind the teeth than before.

She is now 3 1/2 yrs old.  You would never know anything was wrong.  Her mouth has to be checked daily for matter that may have gotten into the opening.  We have found bugs, sticks, leaves just to name a few.  She lives with a wonderful family that adores her.

To finalize this long post, if faced with the decision again, I don't know that I would do it again.  Not if there were hard palate involvement.

If your puppy is just soft palate, and the vet feels surgery would work, go for it.  I don't think you will be sorry.

Chris K
Shangri-La M S
N E FLA Schnauzer Rescue