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Hernias in Dogs

Definition of Hernias

HerniasA hernia is an abnormal protrusion of part of the body through the structures that surround it. They can exist at birth or be acquired as a result of trauma and often are genetic. In most cases, affected animals have a weak spot, an unusual opening or some other abnormality in a body wall that permits tissue to bulge through it. Fat and intestines are the most common tissues to herniate. A hernia in the groin is an inguinal hernia, and a hernia in the belly button is an umbilical hernia. These hernias are often seen in young puppies. Hernias near the anus are called perineal hernias and usually occur in older dogs. Another common site of hernias in dogs is the diaphragm, which is the muscular partition separating the chest and abdominal cavities. Diaphragmatic hernias involve protrusion of abdominal tissues through the diaphragm and are called hiatal hernias. Most dogs with hernias show no signs of discomfort.

Causes and Prevention of Hernias in Dogs

Hernias in dogs can be either congenital or acquired. Congenital hernias are those that are present at birth; they may or may not have a hereditary component. Congenital hernias involve the failure of some part of an internal or external body wall to close normally during neonatal development and typically involve defects in the diaphragm or other parts of the abdominal wall. Acquired hernias are those that develop sometime after the dog is born. Acquired hernias typically are caused by some sort of blunt traumatic injury, such as exposure to automobile accidents.

Congenital hernias can have a hereditary component – especially inguinal hernias, which are located in the groin area, because there is a well-described genetic predisposition for some dogs to have a delayed closure of a structure called the inguinal or abdominal ring that predisposes them to developing this type of hernia. Dogs with inguinal hernias typically have a noticeable protrusion or lump in the area around their groin, on the underside of their belly towards their rear end.

Naval (umbilical) hernias can be hereditary or can be caused by the umbilical cord being cut too closely to the abdominal wall shortly after a puppy is born. When they are congenital, umbilical hernias are caused by failure of the umbilical ring to close normally. This causes an abnormal bulging or protrusion of abdominal contents into the “belly button” area. Umbilical hernias of any cause are most commonly identified in puppies by about 2 weeks of age, although they are not particularly common in companion dogs.

Acquired hernias usually occur from trauma, such as by automobile accidents or other traumatic events. Kicks from horses, blunt blows and falls are among the common causes of acquired hernias in domestic dogs.

Symptoms of Hernias in Dogs and the Affect Dogs

Hernias can cause a number of different symptoms and clinical signs in an individual dog. However, most of the time, the dog does not seem to be very affected by the hernia and does not show any or many signs of distress or discomfort. In some cases, especially with diaphragmatic hernias, affected dogs will suffer respiratory difficulties and/or abdominal pain.Many dogs with hernias will show no observable signs of distress, discomfort or illness. This is

How Hernias Affect Dogs

Hernias can cause a number of different symptoms and clinical signs in an individual dog. However, most of the time, the dog does not seem to be very affected by the hernia and does not show any or many signs of distress or discomfort. In some cases, especially with diaphragmatic hernias, affected dogs will suffer respiratory difficulties and/or abdominal pain.

Symptoms of Hernias

HerniasMany dogs with hernias will show no observable signs of distress, discomfort or illness. This is called an “asymptomatic” condition. On the other hand, some dogs will develop severe clinical signs based on the amount of herniated tissue and the effect of the herniation upon the organ or tissue that is displaced or constricted. If a substantial portion of bowel, liver or spleen is entrapped or strangulated, the symptoms can be immediate and severe.

Owners of dogs with abdominal hernias (inguinal, hiatic, diaphragmatic, other) may notice one or more of the following clinical signs, which often are intermittent:

  • Protrusion of abdominal contents into the subcutaneous tissues, resulting in a bulging just below the skin
  • Lack of appetite (inappetance; anorexia)
  • Excessive salivation
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Regurgitation
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing (respiratory distress; elevated breathing rate; tachypnea)
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Dogs at Increased Risk

Female dogs tend to be more susceptible to inguinal hernias than are male dogs, although the reason for this predisposition is not well understood. Sometimes, a bitch will not show any signs of an inguinal hernia until she is bred or is quite old, in which case uterine tissue may become entrapped or incarcerated in the hernia defect in the abdominal wall. Umbilical hernias are most commonly seen in puppies by approximately 2 weeks of age, irrespective of whether they are congenital or acquired. In many cases, umbilical hernias get smaller and disappear by the time the puppy reaches about 6 months of age, without surgical intervention.

Weimeraners and Cocker Spaniels may be predisposed to congenital diaphragmatic hernias. Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds (those with short flat faces and broad skulls) are predisposed to developing hiatal hernias due to chronic upper airway obstruction which leads to severe inspiratory breathing difficulty.

Preventing Hernias

There is no reliable way to actually prevent hernias from occurring in companion dogs. Most authorities suggest that dogs with congenital hernias – especially inguinal hernias – not be used as part of a responsible breeding program, because these hernias may have a hereditary component. Avoidance of blunt traumatic injuries, such as from cars, horses or other sources, will help to prevent acquired hernias.

Diagnosing Hernias in Dogs


Most hernias are best definitively diagnosed by radiographs (X-rays), which will reveal the abnormal position of the tissue or organs that are protruding through the herniation defect. More specific radiographic contrast studies are often recommended to confirm the diagnosis. Contrast studies involve introducing special contrast media, such as barium, into the dog’s system either orally or by injection. As the contrast medium moves through the dog’s digestive tract, it will accentuate any hernia defects on the computer and/or radiographic film, as the highlighted contrast material will show up in areas of the dog’s body where it normally would not be present. Of course, a thorough physical examination, including auscultation of the chest (thorax) and abdomen, will also be done by the attending veterinarian to assess and identify the presence of any respiratory or abdominal disorders.

Any hard or painful visible bulge or swelling around the navel (belly button) or in the groin area of a young dog should be assessed by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. The tissue protrusion could be an incarcerated inguinal or umbilical hernia, which could become a strangulated hernia from lack of proper blood supply to the abnormally bulging tissue.

Special Notes

Most congenital hernias, and even most hernias acquired from trauma or abdominal/respiratory exertion, can be corrected surgically. Hernias are not especially difficult to diagnose, but they should be attended to as soon as they are identified to prevent discomfort and tissue damage to the affected animal.

Treatment and Prognosis for Hernias in Dogs

HerniasSurgical correction after consultation with a qualified veterinary professional is the standard of care for treating hernias in dogs. The earlier that a hernia can be repaired is usually the better. Prompt surgical correction can help to prevent the formation of tissue adhesions and entrapment of organs within the site of the herniation.If the protruding tissue of a hernia can be manually pushed back through the defect in the body wall (which usually but not always is in the abdominal wall), then the hernia may be considered to be reducible. This is most commonly possible with umbilical and inguinal hernias, but it is not often reliably accomplished. If the bulging tissue cannot be pushed back into its correct anatomical position, the hernia is considered to be incarcerated. When the tissue of an incarcerated hernia loses its blood supply, it becomes a strangulated hernia. Strangulated hernias can become true medical emergencies.

Inguinal hernias usually can be repaired surgically, especially if they are discovered early by an owner who notices an unusual bulge in the dog’s groin area. Many inguinal hernias in female dogs are only noticed when the bitch becomes pregnant. Inguinal hernias in male puppies should be watched closely; small defects may close on their own without medical intervention, which of course is the best possible outcome. If small inguinal hernias in male pups do not close spontaneously, they can easily be repaired surgically in almost all cases.

Surgical correction of hiatal (diaphragmatic) hernias is the best standard of care. Surgical correction is often accomplished at the same time as neutering or spaying. Medical treatment with oral antacid preparations and dietary management may help to control signs of hiatal hernias in mild cases, when little abdominal tissue or organs are protruding through the diaphragmatic defect.


The prognosis for dogs with hernias is initially guarded in most cases. Once an affected dog is stabilized and has successful surgical repair of the hernia defect, its prognosis becomes favorable.

Source: PetWave

December 6, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Health, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , | 1 Comment