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I am Your Dog's Philtrum

At some time or another, you may have noticed how your dog has a small indentation at the the top of his upper lip right under his nose. This vertical groove is also seen in humans, and at a first glance, it may seem to have no particular function; however, in dogs, there are chances it has a distinct role that's worthy of mentioning. So today, let's hear this small structure's story.


Introducing Your Dog's Philtrum

Hello, it's your dog's philtrum talking! Yes, this is my actual name, but I am also more formally known as "medial cleft."  I am that little indentation at the top of your dog's upper lip. I may look a bit insignificant, but rest assured I am there for a reason.

My name derives from the ancient Greek word "philtron" meaning "love potion" possibly because, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, back in time, the Greeks thought I was one of the most erogenous parts of the body.

This may also be why the Ancient Romans referred to me as “Cupid’s Bow.” Other than the Disneyland image of Lady and the Tramp's spaghetti-eating kiss, dogs may care less about being romantic though, so let's get straight to the facts.

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A Sensory Purpose

dog sniff

In humans, other than possibly having an erogenous role, I really don't seem to carry any other functions. For this reason I am often considered a vestigial structure with no particular role other than perhaps making the application of lipstick difficult in the dark!

In mammals though speculation suggests that things may be a tad bit different.

According to the"e-Study Guide Illustrated Anatomy of the Head and Neck" I am responsible for carrying moisture from the mouth to the rhinarium, your dog's moist surface area of the nose. Courtesy of capillary action, I therefore may contribute to keeping your dog's nasal area moist. As you may already know, having a wet nose aids your dog's sense of smell as tiny water droplets that carry scent are more readily absorbed.

Did you know? According to veterinarian Allen M. Shoen, the nasal philtrum is an important acupuncture point. Known as GV-26, this point is used for treating shock and cardiovascular collapse.


Puppy with cleft palate

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A Residual Reminder

In animals and humans, I am a reminder of time spent in the womb. You see, during fetal development at some point the nose and the lips fuse together and I am the result. Correct timing is of the essence here. When the two parts grow and fuse together everything goes well.

Fail to grow and fuse together though, and a puppy or baby is born with a birth defect known as a "cleft palate" that requires corrective surgery.

According to the Veterinary Surgery Small Animal Textbook, in order to correct the issue, the puppy's philtrum, nasal planum and oronasal barrier need to be reestablished.

Left untreated, severe cleft palates may cause in puppies difficulty nursing, aspiration pneumonia, regurgitation, and malnutrition.

As seen, I am an interesting structure that was worthy of discovering! I hope you have found this article helpful! Yours respectfully,

Your Dog's Philtrum

Dog Pawprint


  • National Human Genome Research Institute, Anatomy of the Philtrum, retrieved from the web on May 30th, 2016
  • e-Study Guide for: Illustrated Anatomy of the Head and Neck: Biology, Human ...By Cram101 Textbook Reviews, Cram101; 4 edition (Jan. 1 2014)
  • DVM360, Veterinary medical acupuncture in critical care medicine (Proceedings), Allen M. Schoen, MS, DVM, retrieved from the web on May 30th, 2016
  • Veterinary Surgery: Small Animal: 2-Volume Set, 1e1 Har/Psc Edition by Karen M. Tobias DVM MS DACVS (Author), Spencer A. Johnston VMD DACVS (Author), Saunders; 1 Har/Psc edition (December 26, 2011)

Photo Credits:

Wikipedia, Cleft lip in a Boxer by Joel Mills - Own work, Cleft lip in a six week old Boxer puppy. CC BY-SA 3.0

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