Soft Palate Disorders in Dogs

Overview of Canine Soft Palate Disorders

Soft palate disorders are usually congenital defects of the fleshy tissue at the back of the throat that separates the oral and nasal cavities. The most common disorders are a defect or “cleft” in the palate or an elongation of the palate. The soft palate can be traumatized and lacerated, such as following a penetrating stick injury.

Puppies born with palate defects, as in the case of cleft palate, may have problems early on in their development. Dogs with elongated palates frequently do not have clinical signs until 2 or 3 years of age.

Cleft soft palate and elongated soft palate are predominantly seen in brachycephalic, short-faced breeds of dog such as English bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs. There is no sex predilection.

Untreated cleft soft palate can cause difficulty nursing, failure to thrive, pneumonia and death. Untreated elongated soft palate causes increased airway noise, difficulty breathing when excited and in hot weather, and secondary upper airway diseases such as laryngeal collapse.

What to Watch For

Signs of soft palate disorders in dogs may include:

Diagnosis of Soft Palate Disorders in Dogs

Treatment of Soft Palate Disorders in Dogs

Home Care

Preventative Care

In-depth Information on Soft Palate Disorders in Dogs

Clefts of the soft palate should be distinguished from clefts involving the hard palate alone (although they can be in conjunction with hard palate clefts) and clefts involving the lips and nostrils, a primary cleft or harelip. The latter is usually easy to define on physical examination.

Traumatic clefts should be distinguished from congenital clefts. Traumatic clefts may not have a defined history of trauma, but they usually occur in older, active, outdoor animals.

Since congenital clefts of the soft palate are frequently associated with nasal discharge, other causes of rhinitis, or inflammation of the mucus membrane of the nose, should be considered, such as bacterial or viral disorders or inhalation of a foreign body.

Dogs suspected of having an elongated soft palate must also be evaluated for concurrent airway problems such as stenotic or narrowed nostrils, everted laryngeal saccules and laryngeal collapse.

In theory, upper airway noise from an elongated soft palate may be similar in nature to the noise associated with the disorder of laryngeal paralysis. For the most part, the affected breeds of dog and age groups are quite different, with laryngeal paralysis being uncommon in younger brachycephalic dogs and most common in geriatric medium to large breeds of dogs such as Labradors and golden retrievers.

The presence of a mass like an abscess or tumor on the soft palate, the larynx or the trachea can mimic the noise of an elongated soft palate and should be considered, especially in an older dog or non-brachycephalic breed.

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a cleft soft palate is usually made from the history, signalment and physical examination. A defect may exist between the two sides of the palate leading to a split down the center of the soft palate. The cleft may be asymmetrical and off to one side. Anesthesia or sedation may be necessary to adequately visualize the tissues in a young squirming puppy.

Diagnostic Tests

In-depth Information on Treatment

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Soft Palate Disorders

Your dog will need to stay quiet and rested for the next few weeks, avoiding too much exercise and excitement. Monitor feeding and drinking carefully. For some animals a canned type of pet food is more easily consumed, but for others, dry food is fine. Be prepared to experiment to see what works best for your pet.

In the case of a congenital soft palate defect, break down of sutures may occur. This normally takes place around three to five days following surgery. If nasal discharge occurs around this time, or you happen to see a break down, perhaps when your pet yawns, consult your veterinarian.

Recheck with your vet in 10 to 14 days following surgery, so that he or she can try to evaluate the surgical site, or at least check that your pet’s recovery is on track.

Prevention of Soft Palate Disorders in Dogs

Most puppies and kittens with a cleft soft palate are put to sleep or they die instead of receiving surgery. It is uncommon to purchase a puppy with this defect and then want to nurse the pet to a point at which surgery can be performed. Then, too, the procedure itself is costly.

Some less than scrupulous breeders may euthanize the affected animals before selling the remaining animals in a litter and not alter their breeding program to avoid breeding from the dam and sire of affected offspring.

Because untreated elongated soft palate can contribute to other airway disorders, in particular laryngeal collapse, early surgical intervention with elongated soft palate is recommended. The prognosis for this surgery is good, when undertaken before two years of age.