Cleft palate is a birth defect caused by incomplete fusion of the two sides of the palate. 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. Affected dogs should not be bred.
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.
Treatment: Cleft palate and harelip can be corrected by plastic surgery. This usually is done at 3 months of age. This is a complex surgery and should only be done by a veterinarian with experience, because there is a high complication rate. For pups with severe cleft palate, euthanasia may be suggested.