Overview of Feline Soft Palate Disorders
Soft palate disorders are usually congenital defects of the fleshy tissue at the back of the throat that separates the oral and nasal cavities. The most common disorders are a defect or “cleft” in the palate or an elongation of the palate. The soft palate can be traumatized and lacerated, such as following a penetrating stick injury.
Kittens born with palate defects may have problems early on in their development, in the case of clefts. Untreated cleft soft palate can cause difficulty nursing, failure to thrive, pneumonia and death.
What to Watch For
Diagnosis of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
Treatment of Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
In-depth Information on Soft Palate Disorders in Cats
Clefts of the soft palate should be distinguished from clefts involving the hard palate alone (although they can be in conjunction with hard palate clefts) and clefts involving the lips and nostrils, a primary cleft or harelip. The latter is usually easy to define on physical examination.
Traumatic clefts should be distinguished from congenital clefts. Traumatic clefts may not have a defined history of trauma, but they usually occur in older, active, outdoor animals. Traumatic clefts can occur after falling from a height.
Since congenital clefts of the soft palate are frequently associated with nasal discharge, other causes of rhinitis, or inflammation of the mucus membrane of the nose, should be considered, such as bacterial or viral disorders or inhalation of a foreign body.
The presence of a mass like an abscess or tumor on the soft palate, the larynx or the trachea can mimic the noise of an elongated soft palate and should be considered, especially in an older dog or non-brachycephalic breed.
Cats with nasopharngeal polyps can exhibit upper airway noise similar to an elongated soft palate due to the presence of a polyp in the back of the throat.
The diagnosis of a cleft soft palate is usually made from the history, signalment and physical examination. A defect may exist between the two sides of the palate leading to a split down the center of the soft palate. The cleft may be asymmetrical and off to one side. Anesthesia or sedation may be necessary to adequately visualize the tissues in a young squirming kitten.
Diagnostic Tests may include:
Home Care of Cats with Soft Palate Disorders
Your pet will need to stay quiet and rested for the next few weeks, avoiding too much exercise and excitement. Monitor feeding and drinking carefully. For some animals a canned type of pet food is more easily consumed, but for others, dry food is fine. Be prepared to experiment to see what works best for your pet.
In the case of a congenital soft palate defect, break down of sutures may occur. This normally takes place around three to five days following surgery. If nasal discharge occurs around this time, or you happen to see a break down, perhaps when your pet yawns, consult your veterinarian.
Recheck with your vet in 10 to 14 days following surgery, so that he or she can try to evaluate the surgical site, or at least check that your pet's recovery is on track.
Most puppies and kittens with a cleft soft palate are put to sleep or they die instead of receiving surgery. It is uncommon to purchase a puppy with this defect and then want to nurse the pet to a point at which surgery can be performed. Then, too, the procedure itself is costly.
Some less than scrupulous breeders may euthanize the affected animals before selling the remaining animals in a litter and not alter their breeding program to avoid breeding from the dam and sire of affected offspring.