• horse;
  • cleft palate;
  • nasal discharge;
  • respiratory


Reasons for performing study

Horses, usually foals, with a congenital defect of the soft palate have been reported infrequently, and most reports describe a surgical procedure to repair the defect. Results of conservative management have not been previously reported.


To describe 15 horses affected with soft palate defects that were presented for examination when mature.

Study design

Retrospective case series.


Clinical records from horses identified as having been diagnosed with a soft palate defect when older than one year were reviewed retrospectively. Follow-up was obtained wherever possible.


Nasal discharge, occasional coughing and abnormal respiratory noise at exercise were the most common reasons for presentation. Only one yearling had mild symptoms of aspiration pneumonia. Many were able to perform at least low-intensity ridden activities and 2 Thoroughbreds raced successfully without surgical treatment. Surgical correction was attempted in 3 horses but was only partially successful in 2. The other horses were not treated surgically and no deterioration in severity of clinical signs was reported in the long term. The prevalence of survival in this case series was 100%.

Conclusions and potential relevance

This case series shows that some foals may survive to maturity with substantial congenital defects of the soft palate without displaying severe clinical signs. Given the published high incidence of morbidity and mortality associated with surgical treatment, this case series suggests that a reasonable alternative is to manage such cases conservatively, provided that they are not suffering from severe pneumonia or ill thrift and that their welfare is not compromised.