Cleft palate in brachycephalic dogs
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Cleft palate in brachycephalic dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

A cleft palate is a physical birth defect that most people have heard of, because it is something that babies can be born with – but not everyone knows that dogs too can have a cleft palate, and that this is actually more common in certain breeds and types of dogs than it is in others.

Additionally, whilst most of us would expect to recognise a cleft palate in a dog or a baby, there are actually two different types of cleft, one of which isn’t obvious from the dog’s outer appearance.

A cleft palate might have little to no impact on a pup’s wellness and growth, and may simply look a little unusual – but a more severe cleft might prevent the pup from feeding normally, and cause other problems too.

Cleft palates in dogs are more common in brachycephalic dog breeds than in those with longer muzzles, and because the condition is caused by a hereditary conformation defect, dogs with a cleft palate of their own should not be bred from later on as they may pass the trait onto their own young.

Whether you are considering breeding from a brachycephalic dog and want to learn more about the risk factors for a cleft palate or if you are thinking about buying or adopting a dog or puppy with a cleft palate, it is important to learn about the condition before you go ahead.

In this article we will talk more about cleft palate risk factors for brachycephalic dogs, explain what a cleft palate is, and consider the various options that may be viable to correct the deformity. Read on to learn more.

What is a cleft palate?

A cleft palate is an abnormal gap or opening between the nose and the mouth, which is caused by tissue separation that prevents the tissues closing together in the normal way.

There are two different types of cleft palates, which are known a primary and secondary cleft palates respectively.

Primary cleft palate is the type that most people are familiar with and may have seen, as this type of cleft occurs visibly on the top lip. Dogs with this type of cleft palate can swallow normally, but may not be able to latch onto a teat to suckle, or eat food from a bowl normally.

A secondary cleft palate, on the other hand, develops within the roof of the mouth – inside of the mouth – and may not be visible without examining the inside of the dog’s mouth. This type of cleft palate can affect either the soft or hard palate (or both), which makes it hard for the dog to swallow.

In some extreme presentations of cleft palates, a dog may display both primary and secondary cleft palate together.

What causes a cleft palate?

A cleft palate is a birth defect, which means that it is present from the pup’s birth (forming before birth whilst the pup is still in the womb) and it is a hereditary health defect that causes an abnormal confirmation of the muzzle.

Cleft palate is usually a hereditary birth defect, making it something of a genetic lottery, but a range of other problems with the dam’s pregnancy or exposure to risk factors whilst pregnant can also cause a cleft palate in a pup that might otherwise have been born with a normal conformation.

Malnutrition, exposure to toxins, viral conditions and other health hazards can potentially cause a cleft palate in a pup, even if there were no prior warning signs that something was amiss.

What sort of dogs are most likely to be born with a cleft palate?

Brachycephalic dog breeds are more likely to be born with a cleft palate than dogs with longer muzzles, although this is still very rare. Dogs with very exaggerated features and flat muzzles are those most likely to be affected, which is just one of the many reasons why extremely brachycephalic dogs should not be bred from.

Some of the dog breeds that have higher than normal risk factors for cleft palate include the Boston terrier, Pekingese, and English bulldog.

How does a cleft palate affect a dog?

How badly a cleft palate affects any given dog depends on what type of cleft they have and how pronounced it is. A primary cleft affects the dog’s physical appearance whilst a secondary cleft isn’t visible from the outside, but both types of cleft palate can cause problems for the dog when it comes to eating and swallowing, and may make the dog unable to nurse or eat.

If you have a litter with a pup with a cleft palate, or if a pup who appears normal can’t suckle or eat normally, contact your vet immediately for assessment, otherwise the pup may not survive.

Can anything be done to correct a dog’s cleft palate?

Both a primary and a secondary cleft palate can usually be corrected surgically, although this is not always necessary. However, even if the cleft isn’t affecting your dog’s ability to eat, many owners will prefer to have the cleft corrected anyway to improve their appearance.

It is important to note that a dog with a cleft palate should not be bred from, due to the increased risk factors of their passing the condition on to their own young.

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