Hereditary diseases

My Puppy Has a Cleft Palate and Lip

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 5, 2020
My Puppy Has a Cleft Palate and Lip

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When a puppy is brought into the world, we will need to perform a general examination of their well-being. While the mother will take care of feeding, defecating and other care elements, reviewing their facial region may not be a priority. If we see one of the puppies in the litter has a lip which looks different to the others, it is understandable we may be concerned.

If your puppy has a cleft palate and lip, we need to know that this congenital defect doesn't need to permanently hinder the puppy's well-being. However, they do have some specific requirements which may not affect an otherwise healthy puppy.

You may also be interested in: The Most Common French Bulldog Health Issues
  1. What is a cleft palate?
  2. Consequences of a puppy's cleft palate and lip
  3. Causes of cleft palate in dogs
  4. Treatment and surgery of a cleft palate in puppies
  5. Cleft palate puppy surgery cost

What is a cleft palate?

The scientific term for a cleft palate and lip is palatoschisis, but it is also sometimes referred to as an orofacial cleft. While a cleft palate and lip are very similar, there is a difference in terms of the extent of the condition. They affect the oral cavity and structures in dogs, something which can affect various elements of a puppy's life. How much they affect this depends on the type of cleft palate affecting the puppy. The main types are:

  • Cleft lip: the cleft refers to a ‘gap’, as if there had been a cut into the tissue. A cleft lip is when this affects only the lip part of the dog's mouth. This can be unilateral or bilateral or in the middle, meaning it can be on one side or the middle of the lip. This defect is not as concerning as a cleft palate and may not require any medical intervention.
  • Cleft palate: the palate is the term we use for the roof of the mouth. With a cleft palate, the roof of the mouth has a gap just as may occur in the lip. Since the palate joins the two plates of the skull, a cleft palate can be dangerous for the puppy. The cleft can be of varying degrees. A complete or full cleft palate affects both the puppy's hard and soft palates. An incomplete cleft palate usually only affects the soft palate, but there are varying degrees of an incomplete palate's severity.

Since the cleft can affect the sinuses and other parts related to the nose and mouth, there are certain specific dangers. While it is possible to have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, it is also possible there is a cleft in the palate which can only be seen when we look into the dog's mouth.

Consequences of a puppy's cleft palate and lip

Since the cleft can exist in varying stages, the extent of its symptoms also vary. One of the biggest problems is its affect it can have on the respiratory system of the puppy. This may not be something which is problematic at the beginning, but as the puppy begins to develop, the deformation can lead to issues. It is unlikely you will see an adult dog with a full cleft palate since it will usually need to be treated for them to survive.

One of the reasons for this is that a puppy with a cleft palate cannot close their mouth over properly. Since air escapes through the gap in the cleft, the puppy cannot create suction to feed from their mother's teats. By compromising their diet, the cleft palate causes dehydration and stunted growth.

Other symptoms and problems associated with a cleft palate and lip in puppies include:

  • Coughing
  • Strange vocalizations
  • Runny nose
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Rhinitis
  • Weight loss
  • Slow growth
My Puppy Has a Cleft Palate and Lip - Consequences of a puppy's cleft palate and lip

Causes of cleft palate in dogs

The causes of a cleft palate in dogs are multifaceted and not completely understood. In some cases, it is clearly a genetic inheritance. In cases where dogs are being bred, breeders should not continue breeding lines from dogs with genetically inherited cleft palates. Brachycephalic breeds are more prone to cleft palates than other dogs[1]. These breeds include the Pug, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, Boxer and others, although mixed breeds can also be born with them. Females are more likely to have it than males.

Conversely, it is also known that various teratogenic agents (agents causing congenital malformations) can influence the possibility of a cleft palate. When these agents are exposed to a pregnant dog they may affect the outcome of their pregnancy:

  • Toxins
  • Medications/drugs
  • Nutritional deficit
  • Infections
  • Parasites
  • X-rays

Treatment and surgery of a cleft palate in puppies

The first treatment of a cleft palate and/or cleft lip in puppies is not direct. Since the puppies cannot suckle from their mother, they will need assistance when feeding. This means the puppy will be on a liquid diet, but it cannot even bottle feed. A syringe with alternative puppy formula can be introduced into the mouth and swallowed.

However, the puppy may not always be able to swallow even with a syringe. In these cases, they will need an orogastric tube or intubator which feeds them directly in their stomach. This may remain until the puppy is old enough to have surgery. in some cases, a temporary prosthesis may be used to help the puppy feed[2].

Cleft palate surgery in dogs is a complicated operation and there are several techniques a veterinary surgeon may employ. The aesthetic protocol they follow will depend on the age and other factors with the individual puppy.

After surgery, the puppy will need an intensive recuperation period. This will involve controlled rest, an Elizabethan collar, prescribed medications and dietary treatment which will change as the puppy recovers. In some cases, the puppy will continue to be fed by an intubation tube and may progress with soft food when possible.

It is essential that careful checkups are carried out to ensure the area is healing properly. This is especially important to ensure the sutures are still intact, otherwise recovery may not happen. If the area doesn't scar over properly, the cleft may remain. If this does not happen, further surgical intervention may need to be carried out.

Cleft palate puppy surgery cost

Unfortunately, cleft palate surgery in puppies is not available to all dog guardians. The problem is that the cost of the surgery is prohibitive to many and may not be included in their insurance. For others, the region in which they live may not have the resources or skilled technicians to carry out the surgical intervention. When the cleft palates is severe enough, it is likely that the dog will be euthanized.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Puppy Has a Cleft Palate and Lip, we recommend you visit our Hereditary diseases category.


1. Roman, N., et al. (2019). Incidence patterns of orofacial clefts in purebred dogs. PLoS ONE, 14(11), e0224574.

2. Conze, T., et al. (2018). Management of Cleft Palate in Puppies Using A Temporary Prosthesis: A Report of Three Cases. Veterinary Sciences, 5(3), 61.

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My Puppy Has a Cleft Palate and Lip