The molding of the body during embryonic development is a complex process. A plethora of factors can influence this process, and if a particular factor manages to interrupt the process’ natural course, deformities are likely to occur. An example of a particularly common congenital deformity is the cleft palate.
Why Are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Puppies Born With A Cleft Palate?
Why are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppies born with a cleft palate? It is recognized that this particular breed inherits this congenital disability.
For other breeds, it’s when a puppy is developing inside the mother, an opening is formed on the pup between the mouth and the nose. Cleft palate occurs if the tissues fail to fuse properly, thus leaving an open connection between the two cavities.
As the puppy continues to develop, the tissues that separate the oral from the nasal cavity should grow together and eventually close the opening, but they don’t.
The embryonic development is much like making Italian pastry, ravioli. The tissues are the dough, and the filling, while in the embryonic development stage, is responsible for molding the tissues (or, in this case, the ravioli dough).
When making ravioli, the first step is to mold the dough into flat pancakes. The tissues develop similarly – they are flat and shapeless until further molding. Then you put the filling on the flat pancake – the surrounding tissues grow and slowly start to connect mutually. To prevent the filling from leaking, you need to fold the pancake’s edges.
The same process occurs during embryonic development. Namely, the flat and unmolded tissues start wrinkling, and their edges eventually fold. Ultimately, to ensure no filling leakage will occur, you need to pinch the ravioli’s edges and ensure proper fusion. If the palate tissue fails to fuse properly, cleft palate occurs.
Are There Different Types Of Cleft Palate?
Yes, there are two types of cleft palates in dogs:
- Primary cleft palate: (also known as cleft lip or harelip) This is when the defect affects the upper lip.
- Secondary cleft palate: This is when the defect goes along the roof of the mouth. Inside the mouth, the opening may affect:
- The bony portion of the palate (also known as hard palate).
- The flexible portion of the palate (also known as soft palate).
- Both the hard and the soft palate.
Puppies with primary cleft palate are diagnosed immediately after birth because the defect is way too obvious.
Is Cleft Palate Hereditary?
Cleft palate was first observed in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Today, it is a well-known fact the condition is inherited among members of this breed.
Namely, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers have a genetic mutation in their gene responsible for proper palate development. This genetic mutation is known as CP1 mutation, and it is unique for this breed.
However, cleft palate has an autosomal recessive inheritance. These fancy words indicate that in order to manifest the defect, pups must have two copies of the mutation.
To make things easier to understand, if the condition had dominant inheritance, only one mutated copy would be enough to cause the defect.
In a nutshell, if either the mother or the father has a cleft palate, the newborn puppies may or may not inherit the defect. To further clarify this thought, in a litter of six puppies, five may be normal, and the sixth may be born with a cleft palate. Alternatively, all pups may turn out without congenital disabilities.
Is Cleft Palate Specific To A Particular Breed?
Purebred dogs are much more likely to be born with cleft palate than mixed breeds and mutts. The incidence of cleft palate is exceptionally high among brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short and stubby faces).
Generally speaking, according to veterinary reports, cleft palate is most commonly diagnosed in the following dog breeds:
- Boston Terriers
- French Bulldogs
- Pekingese Dogs
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Cocker Spaniels
- Portuguese Water Dogs
- Spanish Pointer Dogs
- Pyrenees Shepherd Dogs
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers.
Environmentally-Induced Cleft Palate
It should be emphasized that genetics and breed are not the only factors contributing to the condition’s development. Environmental factors may also contribute to the pup having this condition, or even a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
For example, the risk of cleft palate is higher than average if the mother experienced some form of nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Studies suggest that a vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to the development of cleft palate in a pup. Vitamin A imbalances, whether too much or too little, could also be a risk factor.
The risk also increases if the mother was exposed to certain drugs, toxins, or poisons or contracted a viral infection during pregnancy. For example, the administration of high doses of antihistamines during early pregnancy is likely to cause birth defects.
Mothers who have diabetes are at higher risk of birthing pups with cleft palate than mothers without blood sugar imbalances.
Last but not least, cleft palate is a steroid-provoked birth defect. This means that high doses of corticosteroids, either natural or synthetic, can trigger the defect. When it comes to using synthetic corticosteroids, the first three weeks of the pregnancy are most critical. Sometimes the mother may produce excessive amounts of corticosteroids as a result of experiencing severe fright.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cleft Palate
Puppies with primary cleft palate will have:
- One irregularly shaped nostril.
- Visible gums and teeth of the upper jaw.
Puppies with secondary cleft palate will have:
- Nasal milk reflux during nursing (milk bubbling from the nose).
- Runny nose after nursing that may progress to constant drip.
- Coughing and gagging when drinking water.
- Frequent sneezing and snorting (since food and saliva enter the nose freely).
- Slow and improper growth (due to the impaired ability to nurse and eat).
- Difficulty breathing and exercising (because of the fluids accumulated in the nose).
Can A Pup With Cleft Palate Survive?
Cleft palate is not just a cosmetic deformity. Because of the opening, affected puppies cannot make enough suction when nursing. To give you a sample of how difficult it is for a pup to nurse, imagine yourself using a straw to draw liquid, but the straw has a hole in it, and no matter how hard you suck on that straw, you’d never get any liquid to your mouth.
Consequently, they do not nurse properly; however, with the proper care and support, cleft palate pups can survive.
If a pup is born with a cleft palate, the first thing you need to do is to remove it from the mother and start feeding the baby. To do this, you will need a catheter feeding tube (available in different sizes and can be easily found at your vet’s office), syringes, feeding formula (homemade or commercially purchased), and a good scale (to monitor the weight progress). The feeding ritual should be repeated every 3-4 hours for at least 2-3 months until the puppy is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.
It goes without saying that supporting these puppies is a challenging and time-consuming process, but the goal is quite rewarding.
Are Most Cleft Lip Pups Euthanized?
Sadly, in the past, most cleft lip pups were euthanized, and some old school vets may still recommend this. Today, it is well-accepted that the best approach is surgery. Affected dogs should be appropriately supported until strong enough to undergo surgery.
See and read about the happy ending story for this cleft palate pup “Abandoned Newborn Puppy With Cleft Palate Ends Up In A Loving Home!”
Can Cleft Palate Heal Over Time Without Treatment?
As with any other birth defect, cleft palate cannot heal on its own. If left untreated, cleft palate does not progress, but it will present additional challenges for the puppy, such as problems with the feeding, dental development, and vocalization.
Simply put, it is highly recommended to have the defect surgically corrected as soon as the puppy can endure the anesthesia and surgery.
Surgical Correction Of Cleft Palate
The primary cleft palate is more of a cosmetic defect and can be left without treatment. However, a secondary cleft palate always requires surgical correction.
To achieve maximum success and resolve the problem, there are two critical factors to consider:
- Surgical technique – all techniques involve flaps that must be performed by a veterinary specialist or veterinary dentist. In some cases, correcting the problem will require multiple surgeries. However, the first surgery is the best shot, after which the surrounding tissues change, and their manipulation becomes harder. During the surgery, the tissue must be handled gently and carefully. Making a tension-free flap closure is the key to success.
- Right timing – the timing is equally important as the technique. It is not advisable to have the surgical correction performed before the age of 12 to 16 weeks. It is advisable to wait until the permanent teeth of the pup are fully grown because the older the dog, the more abundant tissue it will have.
How Much Does Cleft Palate Surgery Cost?
The expense of the surgery can depend on several factors, such as the pup’s age, the type of the cleft palate, and the area where you live. More specifically, the cost of a cleft palate surgery varies between $500 and $4,500. The average price of the cleft palate surgical treatment is $1,200.
Cleft palate surgeries are risky and often accompanied by certain postoperative complications. The most frequently reported complications include:
- Partial surgical site opening – in simple words, this means re-opening of the corrected defect due to tension caused by the pup chewing or continuous pawing at the face.
- Constant nasal discharge and sneezing.
- Continued gagging and coughing as a result of the short soft palate.
Do not be scared by the complications mentioned above. With proper postoperative care, the risk of potential complications can be, if not eliminated, at least reduced to a minimum.
Taking Proper Postoperative Care
Following surgery, several rules need to be respected. Respecting these rules will promote faster healing and will minimize the risk of complications.
Rule #1 – In pups with pneumonia or nasal infections, oral antibiotics should be administered. The antibiotic can vary, as well as its dosage, frequency, and duration, which should all be determined by the vet based on the severity of the infection.
Rule #2 – To prevent further injuries and complications, the patient must wear an Elizabethan collar for at least 1 to 2 weeks post-surgery.
Rule #3 – The patient must be put on a special diet consisting of soft and well-blenderized foods for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. In more severe cases, the feeding process will be managed through a feeding tube.
Rule #4 – Hard foods and hard toys must be avoided for at least a month after cleft palate surgery.
Although cleft palate is inherited, breeding dogs that already present the deformity is highly inadvisable. As a responsible dog breeder, one should think ahead and plan for a healthy litter; if either the mother or the father has a cleft palate, the chances of producing a healthy litter decrease significantly.
When you come upon a cleft palate puppy or dog, consider seeking agencies that can support these loveable creatures so they can thrive. One example is this one “The Cleft Pup Brigade”, that welcome and treat cleft palate dogs in your area before you decide to end a life.
Adoption Sites To Consider
Locate adoption sites in your area through these sites or just obtain information on cleft palates.
- Adopt a Pet
- Best Friends
- Facebook: Save the Clefts Rescue
The Bottom Line
All in all, a cleft palate puppy can grow into a completely normal and loving companion. Rearing a pup by hand is an extremely difficult, time-consuming, and responsible task. Nevertheless, knowing that your effort saved a life is enough to overcome the potential challenges.
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