We were recently introduced to a wonderful Non Profit Organisation when one of our Ambassadors fostered a Boston Terrier puppy with a skin condition. Midlands Cleft Rescue is run by Rebecca and she specialises in caring for puppies with cleft palates, as well as other conditions that may push an owner or breeder to surrender their puppy.

A cleft palate is a congenital defect that occurs when the roof of a puppy's mouth does not fully close during development in the womb. This results in a gap, or cleft, in the palate that can affect the puppy's ability to eat and drink properly.

Cleft palates in puppies are not uncommon and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, nutritional deficiencies in the mother during pregnancy, or exposure to toxins. It's important to note that cleft palates are not the result of anything the mother did or didn't do during pregnancy.

Rebecca was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the important work she does.  


How does a cleft palate affect puppies? 

Puppies with a cleft palate are not able to nurse from mum or be bottlefed due to the cleft palate being a funnel straight into the lungs. This is where the rescue comes in, as tube feeding is the only safe way to feed, as you bypass the cleft and go straight into the stomach avoiding aspiration.

A puppy with a cleft lip can rarely nurse on mum, however most aren’t able to get a good latch, so also need tube feeding.

How common are cleft palates in the breeds of dogs you work with?

Cleft palates are common in all breeds of dogs. I see more in English and French Bulldogs as I used to breed English bulldogs so I’m in that circle and have many contacts for Bully breeds.

As the rescue is growing though we are seeing it in lots more breeds.

How do you feed puppies unable to nurse properly due to the cleft?

Puppies with cleft palates need to be tube fed. This is done every two hours around the clock for the first two weeks, then week three you move onto three-hourly and so on.

The weaning stage is also different as cleft pups can’t eat mush. They are weaned straight onto dry biscuits around four weeks of age. Some are a little later, every puppy is different.

They learn to drink from a bunny bottle first of all and gradually move onto a standard water bowl. The whole weaning process and learning to drink can take a few weeks. 

Pups don’t leave myself until they are totally weaned, ages differ from pup to pup.

Do puppies with cleft palates need surgery? 

I myself don’t recommend cleft palate surgery. Out of the 63 I’ve successfully raised and rehomed, only two have had the surgery.

The first dog, Albie had his done and it failed three times and he’s still left with a hole. There were no medical reasons for him needing the surgery, the new owners had the money and wanted it to be done, but unfortunately it didn’t work.

The second dog, Casper had surgery because he kept eating the rabbits hay, which got compacted in his cleft. The surgery failed and he’s also left with a hole. His owners have decided not to put him through it again and he’s since had no issues.

Vets push for this surgery, the same vets that recommends putting these pups to sleep at birth. It’s unnecessary, they adapt so well with the correct care and guidance.

The only time I would ever recommend surgery is if the puppy is having repeat nasal or upper respiratory infections, but I still wouldn’t recommend having it done until the dog has stopped growing.

Although with the correct care, a puppy shouldn’t get infections. We’ve never had one that we’ve rehomed have any issues at all.

How much does the surgical repair typically cost?

We wouldn’t recommend having the surgery, but it’s around the £2000 mark or more.

I’ve never known a surgery to be successful and I’ve seen many on the Facebook pages and groups. Cleft palates, if left alone generally, close together as pup grows; some are practically closed before they leave us around 12-weeks-old.

Some take as long as a year, however most do close eventually.

Do you have fosters specifically trained to care for cleft palate puppies?

I don’t send the pups with the clefts out to fosters. Jess and Naomi are the only two fosters I have and they have had pups with other medical issues.

Jess had a little pup with skin issues and Naomi was three English Bulldog pups that were surrendered at four-hours-old with no health issues. I hand reared them and Naomi took over when they were six weeks old for weaning.

I run the rescue myself and carry out all the care for the pups I have in. I currently have 12 pups all with different health issues. The youngest being three days old.

How can people support your work with cleft palate puppies?

We have an Amazon Wish List of supplies we need for the pups care. Always looking for fosters, Jess and Naomi are amazing but as Midlands Cleft rescue grows I will definitely need more.

How do you determine if a cleft palate puppy is ready to be adopted? 

Pups don’t leave myself until I am happy they are feeding and drinking well. They leave fully vaccinated, chipped and wormed. They also have a health check with our amazing vet. Once he’s happy, they go up for adoption.

What other issues do you see in pets that are surrendered?

We see lots of issues with puppies. From broken limbs, skin issues, swimmers syndrome, blindness, paralyses, pectus excavactum, hypoplastic trachea syndrome, eye ulcers, heart murmurs, cherry eye, prolapses and hydrocephalus.

All are welcomed with open arms, every little life deserves a chance.

Thank you so much to Rebecca for taking the time to educate us. The photos used are all of Buttons (now Bernie) Rebecca's first clefty rescue baby, "The worst cleft I’ve ever seen. She has a hard and soft palate cleft also a bilateral cleft lip. She’s 2.5 years old now, no surgery and it’s pretty much closed and she eats whatever she wants. She’s a little super hero!"

If you'd like to learn more, you can follow them on Instagram. You can also donate to support her work or, if you're in the Midlands, you can register to foster a puppy in need.


May 16, 2024 — Verm-X