Oral Surgeons Correct Kitten’s Severe Cleft Palate

white cat
Chouchou at home in his outdoor catio after his cleft palate surgery at the UC Davis veterinary hospital. (photo courtesy of @kittenxlady Instagram)

Oral Surgeons Correct Kitten’s Severe Cleft Palate

“Case of the Month” – March 2023

Before and after images of Chouchou's cleft palate
Before and after images of Chouchou's cleft palate

Chouchou, a male Persian kitten, sure fell into the right hands when Hannah Shaw agreed to rescue the newborn. Shaw, founder of the Orphan Kitten Club and affectionately known as the Kitten Lady, agreed without hesitation when a local veterinarian called her and asked if she was up for the exceptional task. Born with a severe cleft palate (unfused mouth roof), Chouchou faced an uphill battle to survive, and Shaw knew the complexities it would take to get him to the point of being able to undergo corrective surgery.

Chouchou (pronounced “shoe shoe”) was named so because he was so small (only 60 grams/0.13 pounds) that he was brought to Shaw in a shoe box.  

“I like taking on cases that are big challenges or are unprecedented,” said Shaw. “In Chouchou’s scenario, we had a lot of cards stacked against us, but it was a ‘one day at a time’ thing.”

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into Shaw tube feeding Chouchou for six months until he was big enough to visit UC Davis for a consultation with the Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service (DOSS).  

In circumstances where cleft palates are exceptionally extensive, they are challenging to repair due to the lack of available tissues to assist the repair and the high risk of failure. In Chouchou’s case, it was certainly a sizable cleft and would be challenging to repair. After discussions with Shaw, the DOSS team attempted the repair despite the potential risks for failure.

“What I appreciate about UC Davis is its willingness to explore uncharted territory,” said Shaw. “And doing that with the best information and research possible. That willingness to not just say, ‘We haven’t done this before, so we can’t.’”

The process of repairing a cleft palate generally involves a two-stage process. The first stage involves surgical planning and then extraction of several teeth to increase the amount of soft tissue available for repair of the palate. DOSS’ preparations included the use of computed tomography (CT scan) to better visualize the defect and then use that technology’s images to 3D print a model of Chouchou’s skull, mandible, and teeth.

DOSS faculty members Drs. Boaz Arzi and Stephanie Goldschmidt, along with resident Dr. Elias Wolfs, were able to complete the first stage on Chouchou without complication, ultimately removing eight teeth. While Chouchou healed from the extractions, the surgeons used that time to further study the CT images and 3D printout and plan the second stage of the process, the corrective surgery.

Three months later, Chouchou returned to the UC Davis veterinary hospital and was prepared for surgery by the Anesthesia Service. The surgery involved both hard and soft palate repairs, both of which were successful. Chouchou was hospitalized for seven nights, including the first night in the Intensive Care Unit, until he was well enough for discharge.

At a one-month recheck appointment, Chouchou’s palate defect was mostly healed. While under anesthesia at that time, the hospital’s Access To Care Program took the opportunity to neuter, microchip, and vaccinate him.

Now four months after surgery, Shaw reports that Chouchou continues to recover well and is eating mostly wet food, along with some initial feedings of kibble.

“We had such a great experience working with Drs. Arzi, Goldschmidt, and Wolfs and their entire team,” said Shaw. “The Orphan Kitten Club is all about finding other innovative minds who have the compassion and propensity to explore these uncharted cases and treatment modalities to see what’s possible.”

Shaw’s Orphan Kitten Club supports many initiatives at UC Davis, including the school’s student-led rescue, the Orphan Kitten Project. She is also funding many kitten-based research projects.

Shaw continues to foster Chouchou while he recovers and works through other health issues.

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