Elongated soft palate (ESP) is one of a set of conditions normally associated with brachycephalic syndrome, which is endemic to pug-nosed dogs. These breeds very often suffer breathing and other problems due to the truncation of their noses. What I did not know is that pointing breeds can suffer from the problem.
For a bird dog ESP is a huge problem - the rear of the soft palate extends down far enough to partially block the airway leading to the trachea and it makes full inhalation and exhalation especially difficult. Animals with elongated soft palates breathe heavily with a fluttering , gasping sound. They may also gag when they try to swallow, and may even have pale gum tissue from lack of oxygen in the blood after exercise.
My young pup, Little John or "LJ", has been with John McIltrot in Montana since last summer. John noticed that he ran well but tired much sooner than he should. John spoke with Dr. Terry Terlep, DVM of Thomasville, Georgia who felt that the symptoms were consistent with ESP. Subsequent medical examination revealed that his airway was restricted due to an elongated soft palate. "It was like he was trying to run a marathon while breathing through a soda straw" according to John. He just could not show us what we truly expected from him.
This is the first I have heard of this problem in pointing dogs. I spoke with Dr. Terlep hoping to learn more about ESP in pointing dogs. He told me that when he had his practice in South Florida he would see four or five bird dogs a year that were afflicted with ESP. "Owners usually came in saying the dog overheated or lacked stamina. The sound of dogs with elongated soft palate is distinctive, the dog breathes like a freight train after exercise and the labored breathing has a fluttering sound."
"The treatment for elongated soft palate is surgical, simple and effective. The operation takes only 30 minutes or so and when completed the difference in performance is dramatic. This problem can be present in all pointing breeds and is hereditary, but the genetics have not really been studied " Dr. Terlep continued. I think bird dog people, especially breeders, need to take this more seriously. Certainly they should learn to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment when they see it."
On January 4th, Dr. Rich Scherr, DVM, of Great Falls operated and corrected LJ's palate. It is a relatively simple procedure that employs a laser to cut away excess soft palate tissue and simultaneously cauterize the wound. Dr. Scherr also mentioned that LJ had robust aerobic capability comparable to the 'plumbing' of a larger dog. We are hoping that this correction helps LJ to reach his full potential.
Here is LJ - sedated and ready for the procedure that will allow him to better do what he was bred to do.