Feline Cleft Palate
Cleft palate is an abnormal opening in the roof of the mouth. It is caused by failure of the two sides of the palate (roof of the mouth) to come together and fuse during embryonic development. A cleft palate results in an opening between the nasal passages and the mouth.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms expected with a cleft palate include:
- Runny nose
- Aspiration pneumonia (pneumonia caused by milk and food contents entering the cleft and infecting the lungs)
- Respiratory difficulty (caused by aspiration pneumonia)
- Difficulty sucking and nursing (in the kitten)
- Slow growth
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
Cleft palate is most often a congenital disorder, likely inherited, and there is a breed predilection in Norwegian forest cats, ocicats, Persians, ragdolls, savannahs, and Siamese.
Cleft palates can also be caused by exposure of pregnant female cats to teratogenic chemicals (chemicals that interfere with normal embryo development). These chemicals include griseofulvicin and excessive vitamin A and vitamin D. In these cases, the kittens may be born with cleft palates.
Diagnosis is made by a visual examination of the cleft palate.
Treatment is surgical repair of the defect. Surgical correction is usually postponed until 3-4 months of age, if possible. More than one surgery is often necessary for complete closure of the opening in the palate.
Living and Management
Kittens with cleft palates should be fed with a long nipple, which brings food into the oro-pharynx (the part of the mouth behind the palate but in front of the voice box), or with a feeding tube inserted into the stomach until the defect can be surgically repaired.