Cleftlip & Cleftpalate are birth defects that occur when a puppy’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. A newborn dog can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both ! The word “cleft” pertains to split or partially divided in two.

Cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy. The result is a defect between the mouth & the nasal sinus area. Cleft palate may involve any part or all of the palate. The cleft, or opening, can extend along the bony portion (hard palate), the flexible portion used in swallowing (soft palate), or both.

Clefts occurs more commonly in purebred dogs & brachycephalic breeds with short stubby faces, such as Beagle, Dachshund, English bulldog & Shih Tzu.

Symptoms of cleft palates can include sneezing, passage of milk through the nostrils when nursing, coughing, chronic sinus infections & failure to grow or “thrive”.

Diagnosis of clefts is with direct observation & soft palate evaluation may require anesthesia. X-rays may be needed to check for pneumonia.

Large clefts can result in an inability to eat & a failure to grow & develop. They often result in chronic nasal infections, sinus infections & pneumonia. Surgical repair is indicated but difficult in young & tiny patients. Feeding is best accomplished using a feeding tube.

The only effective treatment for clefts involving the lips & palate is surgery. Depending on the extent of the cleft it may be relatively simple or complex. If possible, puppies should be supported by tube feeding until 3-4 months of age.

Genetics is the main cause of this problem but nutritional deficiencies, viruses, excess Vitamin A & poisons that affect the pregnant mother may increase the risk. Cortisone drugs should also be avoided during pregnancy. Because of the likely genetic involvement in this condition, affected dogs should not be used for breeding.