Cleft Palates in Dogs and Cats


Up to 25% of all puppies are born with cleft palates. However, the risk can increase up to 30% for dog breeds with shorter snouts, such as the American Bulldog. Similarly, Siamese cats and other certain purebred cat breeds are also at higher risk to develop this genetic issue.

Thankfully, vets can successfully treat many dogs and cats with cleft palates. In fact, many of these puppies and kittens can lead full, happy lives after their cleft palates are and corrected. This article provides an overview of what a cleft palate is, signs and symptoms that your pet may have a cleft palate and potential treatment options.

What is a Cleft Palate Dog or Cat?

Similar to humans, cleft palates in cats or dogs occurs when the soft tissue on the roof of the animal’s mouth does not close properly while it is in the womb. There are varying degrees of severity for this condition. Some puppies and kittens have only a small hole in the roof of their mouth.

Other kittens and puppies have much more severe cases where teeth may be showing outside of their lips or where one of their nostrils may be deformed. In these instances, there may be little to no barrier between the animal’s mouth and its nasal passageways.

A number of different issues can potentially cause cleft palate while the puppies or kittens are forming in the womb. In these cases, the condition is genetic. If both the mother and father dogs and cats have the gene for this condition, then there is a 25 percent chance that one or more of their puppies or kittens will have cleft palates.

Additionally, folic acid can potentially play a role in the development of cleft palates before these babies are born. If the mama dog or cat does not get enough folic acid, then the kittens’ or puppies’ heads may not form correctly during gestation.

Fortunately, the required amount of folic acid is rather small. For example, large dogs only need 200 micrograms (mcg) in their diet during pregnancy. Small dogs and cats may need only 50 mcg or less to help foster healthy offspring.

Lastly, certain medications may increase the likelihood that your dog or cat could give birth to puppies or kittens with cleft palates or other birth defects. Steroids, medications to treat seizures and even aspirin could potentially cause this issue. It is important that you work with your vet or other qualified medical professional to ensure that your pet’s medications do not put their litters at risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Cleft Palates in Dogs and Cats

Newborn kittens or puppies with cleft palates may exhibit several symptoms or signs. First, a physical hole may be visible in the roof of your pet’s mouth. In more severe cases, one of the kitten’s or puppy’s nostrils may be oddly shaped. Your furry friend may also have difficulty breathing on his or her own due to the deformity.

While nursing kittens or puppies with cleft palates will often lose milk out of their mouths. In situations that are more significant, you may see milk coming out of the puppy’s or kitten’s nose while feeding. These feeding problems will prevent the puppy or kitten from gaining weight. As a result, they may appear smaller and lighter than their litter mates.

If a vet does not identify the condition early on, then your dog may begin to show other signs and symptoms. Your pet may be prone to infections in his or her nose or mouth. In addition, your furry friends may cough or sneeze when they try to eat or drink. These issues occur because the food and water go up into the nasal cavity rather than down into the stomach.

Treatment for Cleft Palates

Fortunately, there are treatments available for cats or dogs with cleft palates. The best course of action depends heavily on how significant the cleft palate is. For less severe cases, it may make sense not to perform surgery.

In those instances, vets often suggest keeping your cleft palate dog or cat on a strict diet of dry kibble and water. Dry food is preferable because your pup or your cat can swallow the nuggets whole. If any kibble becomes stuck in the nasal cavity, then the water may flush it out.

In certain cases, surgery may be the only option. As part of this procedure, your vet may try to physically close the hole in your pet’s palate and correct the nasal deformities.

However, this operation can only take place once the cleft palate dog or cat is old and strong enough. Typically, that means that your pet needs to be at least four and six weeks of age. However, successful rates are low at that young age. Some vets recommend feeding affected puppies or cats with an IV until they reach three to four months of age.

You should also know that there are some very severe cleft palates where treatment is not an option. Normally, these situations occur when the cleft not only spans the entire length of your pet’s mouth but also involves a significant portion of its width as well. When faced with these cases, many vets recommend euthanasia as the most humane option to end the puppy’s or kitten’s suffering.