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Cleft Palate Puppies

"They Are Worth Saving"

Above is "CP" my last cleft palate youngster at a year of age.  He has a full length midline cleft palate, runs from just behind the front gum line to the very posterior portion of the soft palate. I did not do any surgery and he requires no special care, other than "dry" food, "dry" treats, and plain water. He doesn't get to eat canned food, etc. as he has the cleft opening. Otherwise he does anything a Lab would do that didn't have a cleft.  In the above photo he weighs 80# and is 24" at the shoulder.  So even the "lag behind"  (he weighed 3.5# at 6 weeks) that most clefts do, it didn't keep him from reaching likely his genetic potential.

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Click on this link to go to the  Instructions     

 Also most parties need someone to tell them, yes  THEY ARE WORTH SAVING, as that is not what they usually hear from their vet or other breeders.  Please do read on, as unfortunately some clefts are severe enough that saving them now will just lead to heartbreak later.  Slowly more individuals and veterinarians are getting to see how well a cleft pup can do without attempting repair.
Most veterinarians have not had experience with cleft pups being raised successfully. Due to such they are limited to what they have learned in training and unfortunately I have found that the recommendation I received over 14 years ago with my first cleft is the same today, euthanasia.  

Now there are hundreds of cleft palate canines worldwide running around living full quality lives and most without any attempted repair.  Surgery for clefts when undertaken tends to require numerous expensive surgeries which unfortunately frequently do not ultimately end up successful. There are on occasion clefts, usually the very minor ones that are totally repaired after a few surgeries, but from the feedback I have received over the years since posting this, very few are successful.  The clefts I have raised and others that I have helped with, none were repaired.  They ranged from a minor cleft, that by 6 months had essentially closed on its own. A flap of skin grew over the opening, preventing passage of fluid up into the nasal passages. Other, the majority were moderate clefts which as long as kept on DRY FOOD and plain water "for life" did fine. Sticking the that diet is of utmost importance, as anything of a moist or liquid consistency will travel up through the cleft and set up an infection.

  I have received numerous letters in from parties that had attempted repair, only to have numerous unsuccessful surgeries at "significant" expense.  My thought on one of the reasons the cleft repairs are usually unsuccessful, are they are attempted on growing pups and the suturing tends to pull back apart as the pup grows. University of PA I have been told is experimenting with attempting repair "after" 6 months of age as to allow the majority of rapid growth to be completed.

I personally have gotten to see how well nature can do on her own if the cleft is left alone, and the diet restriction mentioned above is followed.  The majority of clefts will eventually go through a close down to some degree on their own if surgery is not attempted.

 I have raised and helped (in person) raise a dozen cleft pups, mine and a pups belonging to friends. 5 of the pups had large full length midline clefts, others were partial midline clefts and one was a small off center hard palate cleft.  The small cleft as I mentioned above formed a complete skin flap over the cleft opening by the time he was 6 months.  The other full midline clefts which were all open fairly equal from front to back, "ALL" did a close down in the center of the cleft, to the point of the palate touching or nearly touching. Those close downs did not happen until after 6-7 months and some not until 10-12 months.

I have gotten TONS of feedback in from cleft raisers that have also noted the same progression.  The cleft openings tend to vary in the degree of changing, when and how much.  "Most" of the larger clefts and some of the smaller clefts actually enlarge initially, up until roughly 6 months of age time of the most rapid growth on a pup. Then that process stops and the cleft will start the close down.  The smaller the cleft the more reports I get in on total or near to total closure of the cleft on its own.

 Instructions These instructions will help guide you through the process if you choose to undertake it. I guarantee you it will be a tiring journey. Sleep when you can as these guys are a lot of care in the beginning.    

For some raising a cleft pup is not going to be feasible, and that is totally understandable.  Your vet will help you let the pup go peacefully.  For those parties that cannot take on the care of a cleft pup, think of it as this was not meant to be. That is just how life is at times, I think we can all identify with that.

**Please note- The instructions and information are for parties working with a cleft pup. They are not for further reprint in any form without my express written permission.  Legal recourse will be used against any violators.

I am making the information available free of charge for individuals to save their cleft pup.  The cleft pup raiser may save the instructions to their computer and then print them off for "their own use only". You may carry a copy for your vet to read on how you are raising the cleft pup.   

***For BREED CLUBS  wishing to put information from these pages into their newsletter, that is fine. One party that contacted me the day after delivery of a cleft Lab pup was Margo Carter of McNeil Labs.  She later wrote a story for the NLRC (National Labrador Retriever Club) about her journey with raising this special little boy named Christopher Robin, CR for short.  It is a heartwarming story and does cover some of the how-to that I shared with her.  CR has since gone on to be part of the Guide Dog program which Margo helped found.   So that little guy was given a chance at life and now he is giving to someone else.  Just reinforces my statement-
They Are Worth Saving!

 Below is info on what a cleft is, along with some photos.  The care instructions are contained on the
Instructions Page.

Also note that the majority of cleft pups are healthy, other than the cleft. I have heard over the years the belief that if there is a cleft palate, there are likely other health issues. While I am sure that is the case for some, it is evidently not the case for the majority.

The first several weeks in the life of the cleft pup are crucial, and time consuming for the 2-legged caregiver that takes on their care.  But if one is willing and able to give the extra time and care that is required they will have a wonderful special companion which won't need to ask much of them after the first 6-7 weeks.   So if you feel you have the time and desire to devote to the care of this special pup, then the instructions will give you what you need to succeed.  They are living, breathing creatures, so unfortunately nothing can be 100%, but these instructions will help you give the little guy or girl the chance they need.  
Believe me it is well worth the effort, the bond created is the closest possible bond I think that can be made between us and these 4-legged wonderful creatures.

What is a cleft?

This photo shows a mild midline cleft palate on a 4 week old Lab pup.  What looks like a dark line along the middle of the posterior portion of the roof of the pups mouth is the actual opening or cleft. This pup was actually able to do quite well with bottle feeding, and kept up pretty well with litter mates.  The actual opening is mainly through the posterior soft palate, with some lining and slight opening in posterior portion of the hard palate.  

Photo is compliments of a wonderful family in Australia that adopted this little guy.

A cleft palate is an opening in the palate, or roof of the mouth.  It is an opening from the mouth to nasal passages.  Cleft palates can vary greatly in the placement and size of the opening.  The problem lies in that due to these openings, puppies cannot make a suction which is necessary for normal nursing, and secondly, it does allow anything entering the mouth to potentially pass into the nasal passages and sinuses-of main concern is liquids or moistened foods.  These will subject the pup/dog to sinusitis and possibly pneumonia.  

I will say it may not be in the best interest of some cleft palates to attempt to save
them.  If the cleft palate is severe enough that "a good portion of the palate is missing", length isn't an issue, but width is.  If not only the *full length of the palate is open, (*looks like a line down the whole roof of the mouth) but also a lot of the width of the palate is missing, then I do recommend euthanasia.  Please don't allow these pups to starve to death, that is what happens since they cannot make a suction to nurse adequately.   I have successfully raised clefts in which the cleft opening ran the full length of the palate, front to back, and roughly 1/4 to 1/3 inch in width.  There was intact palate on each side. That is on a roughly one pound newborn pup.  

As mentioned above, mother nature has a way of helping these guys if we just intervene in the early portion of their lives.  The only issue a cleft-(not repaired) has through the course of a normal life is the restriction to "dry food" and plain water. Dry food they normally swallow whole or almost whole and the plain water is necessary of course and is beneficial in another way.  Water up through the cleft "rinses" the nasal passages of anything that may have found its way up through the cleft.  Amazingly after a few drinks of water they get so water up their nose doesn't bother them!

Once out of little puppyhood and are on dry food and plain water if they get into things that they shouldn't they will have an odorous nasal discharge for a few days, which if allowed to drink plenty of water from a floor level bowl, the rinsing will normally take care of the issue without further treatment.

As mentioned I have raised and helped raise a dozen cleft kids. Other clefts have been around the world, coast to coast in the US, Canada and numerous foreign countries.  The feedback from other cleft raisers has been invaluable.  

  When I raised my first cleft pup, Red, over 14 years ago, there wasn't any positive info to be found anywhere. Everyone said to euthanize, period.   One party told me how she did save her pup, and starting at 6 weeks the vet attempted surgery. Ultimately she had to put the pup down after unsuccessful surgeries, as its condition had worsened.  So I was determined my outcome was going to be different, and it was and has been for many many more since.

More on determining if there is a cleft palate.

I recommend all breeders or anyone delivering a litter check each pup after birth.  The clefts, at least the most obvious ones, are the ones that run the length of the palate.  They look like a dark line down the middle of the roof of the mouth.  If one wants to feel to see if there is a cleft, using a little finger, with palm side up, run your finger on the roof of the mouth.  If it feels like there is an upward indentation in the palate the pup likely has a cleft.  

If you are unable to look, or don't see anything abnormal, or are not sure of what you are feeling, or seeing, it is very easy actually to tell if the pup has any cleft just using your finger.  If the pup is able to make a GOOD suction on your finger then he or she likely does not have a cleft.   I'm not talking about a "gum grip" on your finger while you are checking. Most pups have great gum grips, but that doesn't help with suction.   

Even if no cleft is seen or felt, do watch the pups for nursing ability and weight gain.  
Many cleft pups will look like they are nursing, but they are actually just going through the motions trying to nurse. They likely are not getting any or much milk. They will however
get a belly, a round look as a nursing pup does. That belly is an air belly, so that is where daily weights are important. On a healthy, noncleft pup there should be weight gain every day.

There will be some cleft pups that when trying to nurse will tend to "chew or mouth" the nipple, I remember thinking Red didn't know how to nurse.  Have found that is what others think also. They just are not able to make a suction, so do check for a cleft.

 If a pup is not gaining or is losing weight, suspect a cleft and intervene.  The earlier one intervenes with the pup, the better they do.  Suggest at minimum have your vet check the pup and if you don't have the ability, time or desire to put in the time (roughly 4 weeks of feedings-syringe or tube) to raise a cleft, please euthanize instead of letting them starve to death-that takes a couple to several days, terrible days at that.

The pup has a cleft, so now what?

They require dietary intervention since they cannot nurse, or nurse adequately.  Please
read and reread my detailed instructions on the how to of raising these special pups.  


 Unfortunately no one is available for questions. The instructions are pretty thorough.
They are not meant to be a replacement for veterinarian care, so please contact your vet if you have issues that are not addressed in the info, or you have any questions.  
About me: I am an RN, have 27 years in all areas of nursing, many years in critical care
units, etc.  Then add on over 18 years of "vet care" knowledge-have found there are very few differences between human and canine medicine, diagnosis, treatments and even the medications used are very similar  My vet wanted me to go back to school for veterinarian medicine, but instead I preferred to do as I am, take care of my many kids and help others with theirs.

I wish you all the best!~


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