Cleft Puppies | Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip in Puppies | Difficulty of Raising These Hopeful Pups

By: Danielle Harris

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cleft palate puppy
Cleft Puppies

Causes of Cleft Palate Cleft Lip – Cleft puppies

Studies have shown that 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.

These are also frequently paired with other defects such as hydrocephalus.

What Is Cleft Palate in Dogs?

The palate is the roof of your dog’s mouth. A cleft palate is an opening along the middle of the palate. This opening can range from small (a few millimeters) to severe (the entire length of the hard and soft palate). This results in a lack of tissue connection between the mouth and nasal passages, creating problems for the dog that include eating, difficulty nursing, and poor growth.

Cleft "Feather" Lip
Cleft “Feather” Lip

What is Cleft Lip in Dogs?

Cleft lip is a defect of the lips, underlying bone, and/or front area of the roof of the mouth, also known as a hard palate. Oftentimes, part of the lip will be missing or misshapen. Sometimes, one or both nostrils appear to connect directly to the mouth. Cleft lip may also be called a harelip because the face appears similar to that of a hare’s or feather lip.


Signs are not always obvious, especially if the defect is minor. An abnormal appearance to the lip may be visible, or you may not even see any problems because they are so far back in the mouth.

Animals with severe defects where the mouth connects to the nose may have nasal discharge. Milk, saliva, and/or food may come out of the nose during or after feeding. If food material gets lodged in the nasal passage way, nasal discharge may be green or mucus-like.

If severe, symptoms of cleft palate/lip in dogs can be easy to notice.

These symptoms can include:

Difficulty nursing: Puppies with a cleft palate are unable to create enough suction when nursing because the oral cavity is open to the nasal cavity. The milk or food the dog does manage to get travels from the mouth to the nose, causing sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal irritation, regurgitation, and aspiration.

Poor growth: Without the ability to nurse and eat normally, many puppies and dogs with cleft palate do not get proper nutrition and can be lethargic, with a poor rate of growth. They will always need to be tube fed until no longer nursing on mom. They will need to be monitored while eating.

Aspiration pneumonia: Breathing in food and water can cause an infection of the lungs. Depending on your dog’s age, this may result in a cough and a fever, then develop into lethargy, difficulty breathing, and possibly death.

Facial deformity: Occasionally, dogs with cleft palate will also have a facial deformity, such as cleft lip. Like the cleft palate, the lip will be split. It can be small or it can be large, running up into the nasal cavity, causing even more problems.

Other issues: Though they are not always apparent at first, and depend on the cause of the cleft palate, problems with the inner ear, middle ear, swallowing apparatus, nasal septum, sinuses, and teeth may develop.

There are two types of cleft palate in dogs:

Congenital cleft palate is present at birth if the palate fails to fuse properly during days 25-28 of gestation.

This can occur for a variety of reasons:

Genes: Most congenital cleft palates are genetic. Therefore, dogs with any level of cleft palate should be spayed or neutered and not used for breeding purposes.

Oxy Mate Meat Treats Prenatal Supplement
Oxy Mate Meat Treats Prenatal Supplement

Nutrition: Cleft palates can occur with too much dietary vitamin A or a lack of folic acid during pregnancy.

Oxy Mate Meat Treats are an amazing supplement to give to your breeding bitches once the breeding is complete. Make sure mom and puppies receive everything they need to thrive and grow into perfect puppies!

Medications: Most notably, steroids, aspirin, griseofulvin, and some anti-seizure medications during pregnancy can cause cleft palate in puppies.

Viruses: If the mother is exposed to certain viruses at a specific time during pregnancy, her puppies may be born with cleft palate.

Acquired Cleft Palate: is caused by things like cancer and trauma.

French Bulldog
French Bulldog

Dog Breeds That Are Prone to Cleft Palate

Purebred dogs, especially brachycephalic breeds (dogs that have short muzzles and flat faces), are more likely to have a cleft palate. Some common brachycephalic breeds predisposed to cleft palates include Boston terriers, Pekingese, Boxers, and Bulldogs.

While there may be a genetic link in some of these breeds, there are other causes, and cleft palate can happen to both purebred and non-purebred dogs. There is no genetic test to screen your breeding stock.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Cleft Palate in Dogs

Most commonly, veterinarians diagnose a cleft palate based on a physical exam, especially in newborn puppies.

In older puppies and adult dogs:

Other abnormalities will be evaluated at this point, paying special attention to the lungs for signs of pneumonia or infection.

Your vet may use radiographs to check for abnormalities of the skull, nasal sinuses, membranes, and oral and nasal cavities, as well problems with the inner and middle ear and the teeth.

Treatment of Cleft Palate in Dogs

Some cases of congenital and acquired cleft palate require surgical correction by board-certified veterinary dentists and surgeons.

Some dogs with cleft palate will require numerous surgeries, but the first is the most important because scar tissue can affect future surgeries. There are a variety of techniques surgeons use depending on the size, location (hard vs. soft palate), and severity of the cleft.

The goal of surgery is to re-establish separate oral and nasal cavities and to reconstruct the nasal cavity floor. This is most commonly done using a flap technique, which involves relocating existing, healthy tissue in the mouth to cover the deformity.

Tube for Tube Feeding Puppies
Tube for Tube Feeding Puppies

Management of Cleft Palate in Dogs

Newborn puppies with cleft palate commonly require tube-feeding before they are old enough for surgery, usually past 8-12 weeks.

Cleft Nipples fit for Dr. Browns Bottles
Cleft Nipples fit for Dr. Browns Bottles

Special Nipples have also been made for cleft palate puppies. Message us to order.

This will decrease the chance of aspiration pneumonia and ensure that the puppy receives adequate nutrition.

Older dogs should eat small, meatball-sized dog food to decrease the chances of aspiration pneumonia.

Surgery Complications

Dehiscence, the surgical site breaking down, is a common post-surgical complication.

Many surgical sites break open due to tension at the surgery site, lack of space in the mouth, trauma during surgery, and trauma after surgery from eating or chewing.

Hard food and chew toys must be avoided for a few weeks after surgery to allow proper wound healing.

Dogs should be fed a diet with a thick liquid consistency during this time. Postoperative rechecks should be scheduled with the surgeon, typically at 2 – 4 week intervals.

Dogs that suffer from chronic rhinitis may still have flare-ups and require medications to manage the condition, even after surgery. However, with a successful surgery and a healed palate, the prognosis for these dogs is positive.

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French Bulldog
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2 thoughts on “Cleft Puppies | Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip in Puppies | Difficulty of Raising These Hopeful Pups”

  1. Hello I was interested in the cleft pallet nipple , and wanted to purchase or see where I can get one if you can please send me more info that would be. great thank you.

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