Dr. Hodge was recently featured on Rover.com as a guest blogger discussing the importance of Pet Birth Defects Awareness.
What causes pet birth defects?
Most of the causes are unknown. Abnormalities to the mother’s metabolism, trauma or extreme body temperature variations can cause birth defects. Infections and exposure to chemicals or drugs can also cause. Some are more common in certain breed of pets as well, indicating there may be an inherited component.
Some of the common defects may be noted at birth or shortly thereafter. Cleft palates, umbilical hernia, inguinal hernia, and limb deformities can be readily visible. Other abnormalities that may be subtler, such as heart murmur, will require veterinary examination. Some defects such as retained testicles or liver shunts may not be seen until the pet is maturing or older, which may also be true of heart murmurs.
All newborn pets should be presented to the veterinarian shortly after birth for a physical exam to evaluate them for birth defects that may not be visible or known to the owner. The veterinarian can also discuss treatment options if there are abnormalities noted.
Treatments for common pet birth defects
Cleft palate: Puppies and kittens with cleft palates should be fed with a bottle that has a long nipple that allows the food to go beyond the cleft into the back of the throat, but in front of the voice box. A feeding tube inserted into the stomach may be needed for severe cleft defects until surgery can be performed. A recheck of the pet’s weight should occur daily to ensure the pet is getting the proper amount of nutrition and growing. Surgery can be performed at 3-4 months of age. Lack of proper nutrition can quickly exacerbate a pet’s condition and may result in mortality.
Limb Deformities: Since newborns don’t walk, this may not be an issue until they start trying to crawl or walk. Ensuring that the newborns get access to the mother for nursing or bottle-feeding may be needed. The ultimate treatment depends on the limb(s) affected and will change as the pet grows. Padded braces or splints may be needed. Carts with wheels can allow pets to be mobile. These can be made for front or rear limb deformities. Surgery can assist some pets with limb deformities. Self-trauma needs to be prevented as these pets may harm themselves trying to move around or walk.
Most other pet birth defects will require aid from the veterinarian. Deformities of the eyes, nose, palate, heart defects, hernias, retained testicles, liver shunts, etc will require veterinary specific care and treatment. This may be a combination of medical and surgical. Home care to maintain a high quality of life will vary and depends on the defects present. Other care is the same as for those pets without birth defects and includes proper nutrition, housing, access to fresh water at all times, proper sanitation, deworming and vaccinations, heartworm preventives, social enrichment and proper handling by all. This is especially important in teaching the very young how to properly handle their new family members.