Q: I’m thinking about buying a sweet boxer puppy who has a cleft palate. It’s a small cleft, and she’s had no trouble nursing or eating. Should I expect her to have any problems in the future? What can you tell me about cleft palate?
A: A cleft palate is an abnormal formation of the roof of the mouth, often with a fissure or hole in the palate. Sometimes the opening extends from the mouth into the sinuses above it. Often the upper lip and upper jaw are split in the center.
The pup you’re considering may have inherited her cleft palate, so she shouldn’t reproduce. The breeds most commonly affected are flat-faced dogs, such as the boxer, Boston terrier, Pekingese, French bulldog and English bulldog. The condition is more common in females than males.
Alternatively, the abnormality may have been caused by fetal trauma, viral infection or drug exposure midway through pregnancy. Maternal drugs that can induce fetal damage in dogs include griseofulvin, anti-seizure medications, steroids, excess vitamin A and insufficient folic acid.
The result is that the bones of the palate don’t fuse properly during fetal development. Additional abnormalities involving the inner ears, nasal passages and teeth may be present.
Ask your veterinarian to do a pre-purchase exam and advise you about the severity of the pup’s cleft palate and any likely problems. Some dogs do fine, but others develop problems that require surgery.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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