Cleft lip and palate is the most common of the congenital conditions affecting the face and cranial bones and is associated with a raised risk of difficulties in infant-caregiver interaction; the reasons for such difficulties are not fully understood. Here, we report two experiments designed to explore how adults respond to infant faces with and without cleft lip, using behavioural measures of attractiveness appraisal (‘liking’) and willingness to work to view or remove the images (‘wanting’). We found that infants with cleft lip were rated as less attractive and were viewed for shorter durations than healthy infants, an effect that was particularly apparent where the cleft lip was severe. Women rated the infant faces as more attractive than men did, but there were no differences in men and women's viewing times of these faces. In a second experiment, we found that the presence of a cleft lip in domestic animals affected adults' ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ responses in a comparable way to that seen for human infants. Adults' responses were also remarkably similar for images of infants and animals with cleft lip, although no gender difference in attractiveness ratings or viewing times emerged for animals. We suggest that the presence of a cleft lip can substantially change the way in which adults respond to human and animal faces. Furthermore, women may respond in different ways to men when asked to appraise infant attractiveness, despite the fact that men and women ‘want’ to view images of infants for similar durations.