This Week’s Question:
Is surgery for treating an elongated palate dangerous and how well do dogs recover after surgery?
Dr. Debra’s Answer:
Thanks for your question about risks and recovery associated with canine elongated soft palate surgery.
As you may know, an elongated soft palate is a common congenital problem in brachycephalic dog and cat breeds, and is commonly part of brachycephalic airway syndrome. Brachycephalic breeds have broad, short skulls with adorable squished-in faces that result in physical problems like stenotic nares, extended nasopharyngeal turbinates, laryngeal collapse, hypoplastic trachea, everted laryngeal saccules, and/or an elongated soft palate. All of these abnormalities are considered a normal part of brachycephalic breeds, causing mild to severe respiratory tract symptoms. Brachycephalic breeds include the French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Chinese Pug, Shih Tzu, and Pekingese.
The palate is the roof of the mouth, made up of both a hard and soft palate. The hard palate is the bony part of the mouth’s roof and the soft palate is the muscular part located at the back of the mouth. When the soft palate is too long, it is referred to as “elongated.”
Symptoms of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome
Excess length essentially blocks the back of the throat, causing loud and/or labored breathing with additional symptoms like snoring, stridor, wheezing, reverse sneezing, trouble swallowing, and gagging. When the soft palate is long, symptoms can be substantial, putting dogs at higher risk for heat stroke.
When symptoms interfere with airway flow, surgery is the treatment of choice. Surgery for an elongated soft palate involves cutting the soft palate to a normal length so it doesn’t impinge the airway. The excess tissue is removed using a scalpel and scissors and closed with a suture. Laser surgery reduces hemorrhage and eliminates the need for sutures.
In general, many of the brachycephalic abnormalities are best corrected before secondary abnormalities develop (by two years of age). Swelling is a post-op concern, since it can interfere with breathing. Careful monitoring, drugs to control swelling, oxygen, and possible intubation may be required until swelling improves. Many dogs with multiple brachycephalic-related defects often need surgery to correct more than one problem. Although there are possible postoperative complications, surgery can improve quality of life considerably. Surgery should “cure” the underlying defect.
Other ways to help brachycephalic pets include:
- Keeping them at a healthy weight
- Using a harness, instead of a neck collar, to minimize pressure on the airway
- Minimizing exposure to heat and humidity
- Minimizing stress as much as possible
Please note: Dr. Debra’s guidance should not be considered veterinary advice like that provided by your veterinarian, since she is unable to personally examine your pet. If you have an immediate concern or emergency, contact a veterinarian or local veterinary hospital about your specific situation.