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Dr. Porter @ 352-258-3571

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Cleft Palate!

Image 1
The first two images are from a yearling thoroughbred that presented for a long history of nasal discharge, coughing while eating, and the presence of water exiting from nostrils while drinking. The filly had been treated with antibiotics prior to the exam. Endoscopic exam revealed a defect within the soft palate that extended nearly the entire length of the soft palate. In addition, the epiglottis was entrapped by the aryepigltottic fold. 

Image 2
 The defect within the soft palate is known as a "cleft palate" and most likely has been there since birth. Fortunately, this is a relative rare condition! Normally, the palate plays the role of separating the nasal passages from the oral passage. Hence, a horse is an obligate nasal breather and the palate keeps water and feed from entering the airway. When a cleft palate exists, there is communication between the air passage and oral passage resulting in feed and water going the "wrong way". This may consist of feed material exiting the nostril and/or traveling down the trachea into the lungs. If these horse go undiagnosed they are typically "poor doers" with failure to thrive secondary to chronic respiratory infections. Sadly, there is little to be done to help such a severe cleft palate. Less severe cases may be addressed with surgical intervention with mixed results. 

Image 3

The third image if that of a "normal" horse. The epiglottis is visible and is resting on top of the complete soft palate. Diagnosis of a cleft palate is often made immediately after birth during a thorough post-foaling exam. The veterinarian should palpate the length of the hard and soft palate with their finger to make sure it is normal. If missed at foaling, the diagnosis can be made quite simply with an endoscopic exam. 


  1. Nice images Dr. Porter! Pretty amazing she's a yearling.

  2. Can you please show what we are looking at via line drawing or illustration? Perhaps a side view of a horses head. Very informative though!

  3. It is great to see the "inside" pictures! Years ago I had a 3 year old Arab mare come to me to start under saddle and they "forgot" to tell me she had a cleft palate. I was floored the next morning when I saw her drink and water was pouring from her nose each time she swallowed. I thought she had choke but when I called her owners to inform that she needed the vet they laughed and said "she does problem". She did fine under saddle and accepted the bit with no problems. Obviously she was not as severe as the yearling above. I wondered how she would function over the long term. Would they be more susceptible to infection or ??