Lentil the French Bulldog

Over the past six months, Lentil the rescued French Bulldog puppy has become a Web sensation as he’s experienced the ups and downs of living with a cleft palate. His owner, Lindsay Condefer, fed Lentil through a tube every three hours around the clock until he was large enough for surgery in May to repair his palate. Now Lentil is raising awareness for other pets with this condition as well as kids with similar facial differences.

Through his work Lentil has inspired many potential pet owners to consider taking in a dog with a cleft palate. While it is admirable for people to be eager to take in pets that may be overlooked because of facial deformities, it’s also important for potential pet owners to first understand what it means to take in a pet with this condition.

According to Dr. Alexander Reiter, one of Lentil’s veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania, the severity of the condition can range from being purely cosmetic with no ill side effects to there being no separation between the oral and nasal passages, which causes severe problems.

“Each time [the dog] tries to swallow water or food, it gets pushed through the opening into the nasal passages. When food and water go into the nose, they can be inhaled into the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia [inflammation and infection of the lungs], which is very serious and could lead to death. So at some point the palate must be treated,” says Dr. Reiter. 

The serious nature of a cleft palate should not put you off from adopting a dog with the condition, but you should be prepared for the care that will be required. Dr. John Lewis, another of Lentil’s veterinarians from the University of Pennsylvania, says that the type of care needed will depend on the size of the defect. Everyday care can be elaborate for dogs with severe defects, so you may want to consider adoption only if you have experience with rescues or caring for animals with special needs.

If you’re considering adopting a dog with a cleft palate, here are a few important things you should know about their care. You should also consult your veterinarian before adopting a dog with the condition.

Everyday Care

Your first step as the owner of a dog with a cleft palate is to take your new pet to a veterinarian. The vet can check the severity of the palate defect and see whether it is causing any adverse side effects.

“From there, anyone who adopts a pet like this needs to prepare for a lot of sleepless nights because the dog will need frequent feedings,” says Dr. Lewis.

Because of the separation between the nasal and oral passages, your puppy most likely won’t be able to suckle on a bottle on his own without getting milk in the lungs. Instead you’ll have to tube-feed your pup like Lentil’s owner did, placing the tube into his mouth, down his esophagus, and directly into his stomach. Dr. Lewis says that depending on your puppy’s needs, he may require feeding every three hours so he can grow to a size where surgery to repair the cleft palate is possible. This can take up to three months of nursing at home, according to Dr. Reiter.


Lentil the French Bulldog as a puppy

Once the puppy has grown enough, he can undergo surgery to repair the palate.

“The first surgery is the best attempt to make the repair,” Dr. Reiter says. “This type of repair can be difficult and sometimes takes more than one attempt, so my best advice is to go to a hospital that has a proven record of completing these procedures successfully and that also has good ancillary services, since puppies need special care after the procedure also, much like infants.”

After surgery, there’s a three- to four-week postoperative healing period where owners will have to keep toys away from their puppy so he won’t be tempted to explore them with his mouth. Owners will want to make sure the puppy avoids anything that might prove difficult for him to chew, including treats.

Usually puppies are able to return to normal life after this healing period. In some cases, however, additional surgery may be necessary, such as when the vet is unable to repair the defect completely the first time, the puppy plays with his sutures and causes them to come out too early, or the vet discovers additional issues with the hard or soft palate.

Your Puppy’s Future

While Dr. Reiter recommends having your vet check for other possible defects in your puppy just in case, once the cleft palate is repaired, he says your puppy will most likely be able to live out his days as a normal dog.

“There are definitely a good number of dogs out there doing well after surgery,” says Dr. Lewis. “Although it requires a lot of care and hard work, in the long run these pups make great pets.”