Cleft palates in dogs and cats: 21 facts breeders need to know Part I

We did several talks on canine and feline neonatology lately. And each time we spent some time discussing cleft palates in newborn kittens and puppies. These are indeed from far the most common congenital defects reported in dogs and cats. I also often receive questions about it, so I thought it would be good to write a post about it. Here are therefore the 21 facts I believe breeders should know concerning this disease.


  • Cleft palates: the most common congenital defect in puppies and kittens

Fact #1: Cleft palate is an anatomic defect that can be found in both newborn kittens and puppies. The soft palate (=the upper part of the mouth) is not closed, leading to a direct access to the above anatomic compartment, the respiratory tract.

Fact #2: Clef palate is a congenital defect, which means it is present at birth. As a matter of fact, breeders should always check all their newborns for presence or absence of this defect asap after they’re delivered.

Fact #3: Keep in mind that there are various degrees of cleft palates. Most of the times the defect is easy to detect, but sometimes it might just be a very small opening at the back of the soft palate which can be easily missed. If you have a doubt, show the puppy/kitten to your vet.

Fact #4: Cleft palates can sometimes be due to a trauma (falls, hit by a car,…) but then obviously this form of the disease will usually only affect older animals, and not newborns.

Fact #5: Clef palates are defects of an embryological structure called the neural tube. Its development stops at 30 days of gestation.


  • Predisposition and risk factors

Fact #6: There is a predisposition for the development of this disease in brachycephalic breeds.

Fact #7: Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Schnauzers, Shetland Sheepdogs and Siamese cats also show increased incidence.

Fact #8: In most cases, cleft palate is a genetic disorder. The genetic determinism of the disease however varies from one breed to the other. In the Brittany Spaniel, cleft palates is thought to be autosomal recessive (1 defective allele carried by the two parents and passed on to the offsprings). In Westies, it is however thought to be polygenic. In most cases, the genetic determinism remains unknown.

Fact #9: Exposure of the bitch/queen to teratogenic drugs during pregnancy can also lead to the development of the defect. Before administering anything to your animal during its gestation, speak with your vet to be sure it will do no harm to the developing fetuses.

Fact #10: Folic acid participates to the neural tube development of the canine and feline embryos during gestation. Its needs are increased in pregnant mothers. In case of folic acid deficiency in the mothers, cleft palates can occur.

The 11 remaining facts will be published in our next post!

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Comment by Kimiri Cockers on August 20, 2020 at 1:02pm

Very interesting.Still not clear though if this is a fluke of nature or a genetically carried issue. From the informsation, this really isn't a clearly understood issue.

Comment by Catherine Betts on June 23, 2014 at 7:30pm

Thanks for the great information.  Looking forward to the rest of the information!


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