Cleft Palate in a Labrador Puppy: A Survivor Story
On 27 May 2016, Diana and Jerry Greer’s Labrador, Tiggy, whelped and had 6 puppies. Unfortunately one was stillborn, which left five.
Two days after whelping Diana noticed that the firstborn puppy was losing weight and on closer inspection found that he had difficulty suckling.
On day three I offered to take him and attempt bottle feeding him and see if we could get him going again. When I arrived home I saw that he had a cleft palate. This is where the journey of 400g Olo and I started. Of course I had no idea what I was getting myself into!
It started with a puppy teat fitted onto the front of a 3ml syringe so that I could control the flow of milk, since he was unable to wrap his tongue around the teat that would allow for a normal suckling reflex.
It was touch and go there for a while, initially he was not defecating. So what else was one to do other than hit the books? And surprise, surprise, he needed more milk. So rather than guessing, I knew now that he had to get 4-5ml/100mg body weight every 2 hours for the first 2 weeks. All of a sudden he started growing, at around 50g a day. I realised that the risk of aspiration pneumonia was real and that for as long as he was bottle feeding he would have to be on antibiotics.
After 2 weeks I could just not do the nights anymore and knew that something had to change. I had to figure out a way to seal the cleft up so he could suckle by himself. I tried to use a plastic-bag-sheet over the top of the teat but the suckling action very quickly had it wrinkling up or he just spat it out. Then, eureka! Light bulb! I thought, what about a lamb teat? And sure enough, it was just the right size and length to ‘seal’ the palate and deposit the milk at the back of the throat. Now he was packing on the grams! Before I knew it he had reached 2kg. And my dad took over as he was now way too energetic to be taken to work every day.
Before I knew it he was 4 weeks old and it was time to start on biscuits. So we started on small breed biscuits since it allowed him to swallow them whole and not get too much stuck in the cleft. Slowly the milk was diluted until we were on only biscuits and water - still drunk from his bottle.
By week 5 he was eating medium breed puppy biscuits and now we were squirting a thin stream of water from his bottle which he lapped.
Week 6 and it was time for Olo to go home to Diana and Jerry. All grown up and ready for the adventure called life. Of course it was bitter sweet.
Diana and Jerry were amazing throughout this journey as well, supporting and willing Olo to succeed.
So what is next? Possibly surgery at a later stage to seal the cleft and other than that, what else could there be besides...... FARM LIFE?
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Thank you for the life lesson Olo