Wendel's Story


By Michael Guy, RN


The worst happened several years ago. A puppy was born with a cleft palate. I had heard about this problem, but had not been presented with a puppy having this. The Merck Veterinary Manual states that Palatoschisis (cleft palate) ... was long thought to be hereditary, but ingestion of toxic agents, use of steroids, and some viral infections during pregnancy appear to be causes. At LEAHCIM KENNELS every life is sacred, my parents, Chow Chow breeders, had instilled in me the great responsibility one has when they orchestrate the birth of a litter: from the first breath the puppies take, to the future homes they go to live in and even beyond this taking back dogs when families break down. Every life deserves the best chance ever and as a breeder it is my responsibility to provide this for all my wards regardless of disability. So the task of raising Wendel began.


The cleft was a narrow slit on the roof of the mouth; it prevented the suction necessary for nursing. When the puppy tried to nurse, milk came out the nose. First item on the agenda was to have the vet check for any other medical problems. Heart and lung function checked out fine. Tube feeding started and continued for a month without problems. I say without problems every two hours round the clock for a whole month can put a damper on a social life, but otherwise all went well. Feedings were a combination of a homemade formula and bitches milk extracted from a very cooperative mother. Also added daily was a small dose of Amoxicillin as a preventative against pneumonia should there be any droplets that entered the lungs. The puppy thrived, in fact was heavier than normal littermates. A fact that amazed my veterinarian. Once a month old the puppy started to object to the insertion of a feeding tube; he was far too young for corrective surgery, there was not an intubation tube small enough to fit the little guy. Problem was solved by allowing a hungry puppy to suck on my index finger (fingernail side towards tongue), then inserting feeding tube along side of my finger. The tube went down without objection and puppy soon came to took forward to "The Finger" food. Feedings were now 60cc every 4‑6 hours and pablum and jarred baby food ‑ beef added to the orginal formula. All continued well, my finger first became red raw then a callous developed. I now know why bitches wean their puppies at 5‑6 weeks ... TEETH.


At 9 weeks of age my vet masked the puppy down with isoflurane and intubated to maintain an airway. Horizontal incision was made along the open edge of the cleft to form a bleeding edge. Two small superficial, lateral incisions were made to relieve bleeding. Continuous dissolving sutures were applied along the cleft line.


Following the surgery Wendel was kept mildly sedated for pain control and to limit activity for the first 24‑48 hours using small doses of acepromazine maleate. Feeding continued as before for another 3 days post‑operatively. Then came the first meal, the same as what was in the tube feeding. It worked! No choking, no liquid out the nose, he was fine. The texture was slowly increased until he was eating the same as his littermates. He was then introduced to his siblings (he had been separated at birth) he was ecstatic and played for hours. At six months old he was neutered and became the constant companion of a coworker of mine. He is a therapy dog visiting mentally handicapped adults and has not had an HI day in his life.


I understand that for most breeders the work involved would not be worth it. The cost of the surgery however was very low as this was an experiment for my veterinarian. The new owner covered this minimal cost as her purchase price. I did not make any money on the dog, but the satisfaction of preserving a life that would otherwise have ended and the reward in seeing a very people oriented dog providing a useful service is more than sufficient payment.


The ethical issues need to be very clear when undertaking such a task. Under no circumstances should such an animal ever be permitted to procreate. Careful examination as to possible cause must be addressed, eliminating any identified genetic carriers of such flaws from a breeding program.


I hope this will help any one else who may wish to undertake such a challenge. I have no regrets. I would be very interested to hear any other experiences others may have had with this defect.


Michael Guy, RN

Brockville, Ontario, Canada


This story is dedicated to those breeders with whom I discussed this problem, one evening at the 1995 Pittsburgh Specialty Match.