Cleft Palate in Bulldogs and French Bulldogs

Bulldogs can exhibit various forms and combinations of cleft defects, including mouth, lip, and nose. These defects involve an opening between the roof of the mouth (hard and soft palate) and the nasal cavity (nasopharyngeal cavity).

Cleft Defects by Age and Breeds

Cleft palate and cleft lip are typically congenital defects your Bulldog and French Bulldog puppies are born with. These defects are much more common in bulldog puppies than in other dog breeds due to their brachycephalic (flat head) skull bone formation.

Aspiration pneumonia and chronic rhinitis are the most common consequences of this defect.

Fr. bulldog oral exam for cleft palate


This defect mostly occurs during embryonic development due to incomplete closure (fusion) of the top part of your Bulldog’s oral cavity (roof) and the floor of the nasal cavity (nasopharyngeal).

French bulldog cleft lip


Acquired cleft palate occurs after birth and can develop at any stage of your bulldog’s life.

Bulldog Cleft Lip vs Bulldog Cleft Palate

CLEFT LIP: A cleft lip primarily involves the hard palate, the bony front part of the roof of the mouth.

CLEFT PALATE: In contrast, a cleft palate affects both the hard palate and the soft palate, which is the non-bony, soft tissue part at the back of the roof of the mouth.

English bulldog cleft lip

Cleft Palate and Lip in Bulldogs and French Bulldogs / CAUSE:

  • RX: when drugs are given to the mom during pregnancy (steroid, antifungal, etc)
  • VITAMIN DEFICIENCY:  folic acid deficiency
  • VITAMIN TOXICITY: vitamin A overdose


  • Trauma
  • Dental disease
  • Foreign Body
  • Cancer & Tumor

Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip in Bulldogs / SYMPTOMS

Initial Symptoms:

  • Inability to Suckle: The primary issue is the infant bulldog’s difficulty in sucking.

Later Symptoms:

  • Food Dislodgment: Food can become trapped in the gap, leading to infections.

Common Symptoms:

  • Nursing Problems: Difficulty in feeding.
  • Weight Gain Problems: Malnutrition and failure to thrive.
  • Nasal Discharge: Mucus, milk, saliva, and food may be expelled from the nose.
  • Sneezing
  • Gagging
  • Cough and Labored Breathing: Risk of aspiration pneumonia.

The clinical symptoms are often more noticeable during feeding and nursing.

Cleft palate bottle feeding

Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip in Bulldogs / DIAGNOSIS:

  • Physical Exam: The defect can usually be detected by the naked eye
  • Dental Radiographs: Can sometimes help in identifying the extent of the defect.
  • Chest Radiographs: help evaluate for aspiration pneumonia.
  • CT and MRI: Provide detailed images of the defect not visible to the naked eye.
  • Culture: To check for infections.
  • Biopsy: To rule out cancer.

Prevention of Cleft Palate  in Bulldogs

  • Avoid Breeding Bulldogs with Cleft Palate: Do not breed bulldogs with a history of cleft defects in their bloodline.
  • Avoid Medications During Pregnancy: Refrain from administering drugs to pregnant bulldogs.
  • Balanced Quality Nutrition: Ensure the pregnant bulldog receives balanced and high-quality nutrition.
  • Supplement with Folic Acid: to support proper embryonic development, provide folic acid supplements

Bulldog Puppy Bundle - Ultimate

Treatment of Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip in Bulldogs

Supportive Care:

  • Tube Feeding: Feeding through a tube to ensure proper nutrition.
  • Bottle Feeding: Using a bottle to feed the puppy if it cannot suckle properly.
  • Soft Food: Providing soft food that is easier for the puppy to consume.
  • Hand Feeding: Manually feeding the puppy to ensure it receives adequate nutrition.

Non-Surgical Options:

  • Small Defects: Minor cleft defects that do not communicate between the oral and nasal cavities may close on their own or not cause significant problems.

Cleft Palate in Bulldogs and Fr. Bulldog SURGERY

Most cleft defects require surgical intervention to close the defect effectively.

pre surgical repair of bulldog cleft palate

Here are some key points regarding surgical treatment:

  • Timing of Surgery: Surgery is often delayed for a few months to allow the puppy’s teeth to erupt and to ensure the puppy is strong enough to withstand prolonged anesthesia.
  • Experienced Surgeon: The surgery is very technical and usually requires the expertise of a professional veterinary surgeon.
  • Surgical Techniques: There are several surgical techniques, and the specific approach may depend on the severity and type of cleft defect.
  • Staged Reconstruction: In some cases, the reconstruction and closure are done in stages. First, the nasopharyngeal part (the nasal cavity) is closed, followed by the closure of the oral defect (the roof of the mouth).

Proper post-surgical care and follow-up are crucial to ensure successful healing and to help monitor complications.

closing cleft palate bulldog


Aspiration Pneumonia in Bulldogs with Cleft Palate

If there is evidence of pneumonia, it should be treated and cleared before proceeding to surgery

Pre-Surgical Treatment:

  • Antibiotics: are necessary to treat pneumonia.
  • Nebulization: Helps to clear the airways.
  • Severe Cases: Might require hospitalization and oxygen therapy.

bulldog pneumonia NEBULIZER and COUPAGE

Bulldogs with Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip PROGNOSIS

  • Mild Defects: Good prognosis with minimal clinical signs.
  • Surgical Cases: There is generally a good prognosis if the surgical closure is successful.
  • Severe Cases: Unfortunately, some neonates with significant cleft defects who fail to thrive may need to be humanely euthanized.

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