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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Cleft Palate




Condition Overview

Cleft palate is a birth defect caused by incomplete fusion of the two sides of the palate. Harelip is the result of incomplete development of the upper lip. It can occur independently or along with cleft palate. The problem is mainly cosmetic.


This results in a passageway between the oral and nasal cavities that enables food and liquids to pass between them. Newborn puppies have a discharge from both nostrils and may find it impossible to create enough suction to nurse. Survival then depends on tube feeding. Many puppies do not thrive due to inhalation pneumonia and may die fairly young.


Cleft palate occurs sporadically in all breeds, but is most common in Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Beagles, Miniature Schnauzers, Pekingese, and Cocker Spaniels. In these breeds, the defect is hereditary.


Diagnosis is made by physical examination.


Cleft palate and harelip can be corrected by plastic surgery. This is usually done at 3 months of age. The is a complex surgery and should only be done by a veterinarian with experience, due to the high complication rate. For pups with severe cleft palate, euthanasia may be suggested.


Affected dogs should not be bred.


Please contact your veterinarian to discuss the best options for this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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