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Dr. Kristin Walker, WestVet’s board certified veterinary dentist, has successfully treated numerous cleft palate deformities; she has details about how it can affect a pet’s health and general treatment options in today’s veterinary blog.

A cleft palate is a birth defect, often diagnosed in very young puppies, that creates an opening between the mouth (oral cavity) and nose (nasal cavity). Treating a cleft palate in pets with a board certified veterinary dentistThe cleft palate may affect the lips, hard palate, soft palate or a combination of those locations. The opening can prevent puppies from properly nursing and allow for food and fluids to enter the nasal cavity and airway, potentially leading to serious complications.

Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short noses such as Pugs, Pekinese or French Bulldogs) are most commonly affected by cleft palates. While purebred dogs and cats have a higher incidence, the malformation can be possible in any puppy or kitten.

Symptoms of a cleft palate can vary depending on the age of the puppy, but can include:

  • Difficulty nursing
  • Stunted growth/failure to thrive
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing/gagging
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pneumonia due to food aspiration

Your family veterinarian can diagnosis a cleft palate through a visual examination. Young puppies often require dedicated care and tube/hand feedings until old enough for surgery (usually 4-5 months of age) to repair it. Treatment varies depending on the severity of the defect but typically involves creating tissue flaps within the mouth that are sutured over the defect. Surgery is best performed by a veterinarian with advanced training in oral surgery, such as a board certified dentist or surgeon.

If you have any concerns about your pet’s dental health, whether or not you suspect a cleft palate, it is always appropriate to consult with your family veterinarian right away. If your veterinarian is unavailable, WestVet is open and able to address your concerns 24 hours a day. 

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