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(Various Internet Sources – www.cleft palate in dogs)

Cleft palate in dogs is relatively commonly seen by veterinarians and can affect the soft palate alone, the hard palate alone, or both.  Unfortunately many new-borns with this disorder go unnoticed and die early, or are destroyed by the breeder, so accurate statistics are not available.       

It is believed to be congenital and is an abnormality which occurs during pregnancy and pre-natal development.  Puppies can be born with the defect or secondary clefts may occur later. 

Breed Occurrence:

Clefts have been reported in eg mixed and small terriers, Beagles, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boston Terriers, Bullmastiffs, Bull Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, English Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and more. 

Affected pups usually have trouble latching on to drink due to a visible split in the lip, roof of the mouth or the soft palate, resulting in food (particularly fluids) passing into the nasal cavity.  Special teats (long nipple) or a feeding tube may be required to maintain adequate milk intake.   The following signs/symptoms may be noted:

  • Fluid eg milk passing down the nose during feeding

  • Sneezing / Coughing / Gagging / Sniffling

  • Rhinitis (eye infection)  

  • Poor weight gain and stunted growth

  • Inability to feed properly

  • Pneumonia – accounts for 30% of deaths

  • Sometimes associated with congenital deformities in other body systems


  • Causes for congenital clefts include:

  • Genetics – mechanism not yet determined but it is believed that the male might be the carrier of the gene and in bitches with cleft palate, 15-20% of their offspring may spontaneously develop clefts!

  • Excess dietary intake of Vit A during pregnancy – therefor avoid unregulated multivitamin supplements, liver intake, fish oil supplementation, take great care when administering parenteral vitamin supplements, and feed a complete pet food formulated for pregnancy. 

  • Administration of cortisone during pregnancy;

  • Administration of the cytotoxic drug hydroxyurea.


    Acquired clefts are due to trauma – usually falls from a great height or road traffic accidents.

    Diagnosis and Complications:

    Diagnosis is based on the clinical signs and careful visual examination of the oral cavity.  Inhalation of food may lead to aspiration pneumonia – and death. 


    Surgical repair of all acquired lesions and closure of congenital defects is recommended.  In all cases surgery should be performed as soon as possible before secondary complications occur. 


    Good for minor defects; guarded to poor for severe defects and poor once secondary complication of inhalation pneumonia has developed.

    Long term problems - respiratory infections.



SPIROCERCOSIS LUPI – The silent killer.

The Life Cycle: The spirocerca lupi is a parasitic worm that has as its host a very small dung beetle (Coprophagous) – it is only about 6mm in length. The dreadful worm itself is about 2 cm long and as thick as a thread of cotton, our vet has one in formalin in his consulting room. The secondary host is unfortunately our best friend - the domestic dog.

The beetle ingests the worm while processing faeces. Your dog may ingest the beetle if he or she investigates the faeces of other dogs. Once ingested the larvae emerge from the eggs in the stomach, migrate through the stomach wall and travel via the blood vessels around the stomach to the large aortic artery that leaves the heart. They live and mature in the walls of the artery for several months, causing weakness of the arterial walls and aneurysms.

Once mature the larvae migrate to the wall of the oesophagus (gullet), where they form nodules in the wall. The worms mate and lay eggs, then the nodules burst open and become necrotic and granulated. The eggs are then expelled into the stomach and the bowel in order to restart the cycle.

The Symptoms: The horrifying fact of this infestation is that it is insidious. The animal may at first show absolutely no symptoms at all and just suddenly die, without any warning. This is usually due to the rupturing of the aortic wall due to an aneurysm. This artery wall damage is permanent and ruptures may occur even after the worms have been eradicated, this is however fairly rare.

Once the worms have migrated to the oesophagus, the following symptoms can become apparent in the dog: coughing, fevers, joint pain, difficulty breathing, involuntary jaw snapping and vomiting. It is easy to miss the vomiting as it is often only a mouthful or so of food that they regurgitate while eating their normal meal. The dog may regurgitate and then immediately consume what he has regurgitated.

In more advanced stages massive vomiting may occur and strings of saliva may hang from the mouth. Thickening of the leg bones may also occur and the dog may yelp or whine due to pain. The granular, necrotic nodules in the oesophagus turn into cancerous growths in the advanced stages and dogs at this stage have to be euthanized.  Chest X-rays, floatation of faeces for the presence of eggs and an oesophageal scan are used by vets to diagnose the problem.

Treatment: The larger breeds, male dogs and dogs under four years of age are apparently more susceptible. The prognosis for treatment and recovery is fairly good provided the nodules are diagnosed by a scan before they have burst or become necrotic. Dormectin, a product used in deworming cattle has proved to be fairly effective but may not be given to collies or collie-cross-breeds. Disophenol is also under investigation. The treatment involves weekly sub-coetaneous injections monitored and administered by your vet for at least six weeks and sometimes up to nine weeks!

Prevention:  Bayer has done a great deal of research on the worm and has developed a product which they claim can be used both for treatment and prevention of this infestation. Weekly application of the product called Advocate onto the skin in the neck region is recommended for treatment purposes until the nodules have healed, and thereafter monthly applications to prevent re-infestation.  My own two beloved Kelpies have received both the injections and the topical application of Advocate and the symptom that I picked up (vomiting) has stopped. I since had both of them scanned again and by God’s Grace they are worm free!

Furthermore it is recommended that faeces be cleaned up on a daily basis and that the municipal garbage disposal route be followed, unless you have a long drop or a covered pit. Do not use the faeces in compost.

Finally I have a natural deworming remedy given to me by the chairman of our Dog Club: Bitter Aloe crystals. There is however no scientific proof of the effectiveness of this remedy. The crystals can be purchased at about R8.00 to R10.00 for a small tub at health outlets. A small amount of the black crystalline substance on the end of a teaspoon is recommended daily. There is however one problem and that is getting your dog to eat this truly, gross tasting and smelling muti! I have solved this problem by painstakingly forming a tablespoon of tinned dog food into a tight ball around the dose and including the “tit-bit” in their bowl with their normal food.  

Libby Hamman

(Information gleaned from my vet, various internet sources and a pamphlet obtained Bayer Health Care.)





With the onset of summer it is not only ticks and flees we have to worry about – snakes are another imminent danger that literally makes my heart stop!  It is well known that snake serum is not always readily available and in most cases your Vet is at least half an hour away, which makes getting the right treatment speedily a nerve wrecking issue.

One of our members has relative success with a “home remedy” that can help delay the effect of snake bite and give you time to reach a Vet for proper treatment.  PLEASE NOTE that this is not a cure or a guarantee but could help save a life.  Also note that chances are rather slim if the bite is on a vein or close to vital organs such as the heart, but it is worth a try.

The treatment involves a double dose “predef cortisone” (available from your Vet) – one in the bite mark and one under the skin on the neck.  Please make sure that you have the correct dosage and get to your Vet as soon as possible! 

As in all snake bite cases it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that the victim be kept as still as possible to prevent the poison from spreading through the blood system.  If possible the wound should be kept below heart level.  The snake should be identified or taken with (dead I pray!) in order for your Vet to administer the correct serum or treatment. 

Again, this is not a guarantee, but it could hopefully help save some of our beloved four-footed friends and spare us a lot of heartache.   TAKE CARE!                    (Information from Ms M Wentzel

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