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Everything you need to know about a dog hernia

Dog wearing a cone advice
© Pixabay

The protrusion of internal tissue through a small tear in abdominal muscle is called a 'hernia'. Learn how to recognise a hernia and what to do if your dog is suffering from one

By Nick Whittle

In humans, hernias normally occur at any place between the groin and the chest. In dogs, this is more or less the same but dogs have a tendency to develop hernias around their umbilicus (belly button).

One of the complications of an untreated hernia is the strangulation of a vital organ.

What causes a hernia?

We will discuss four common types of hernia in a moment but let us first look at the causes of this problem. The most common type of hernia in dogs is the umbilical hernia. This is most commonly seen in puppies and is thought to be due to a defect at birth or of foetal growth.

© Vet Ranch. YouTube

Weimaraners, Pekingese, Basenjis, and Airedale Terriers are four breeds most prone to an umbilical hernia.

Hernias can also follow on from trauma, surgery, obesity and pregnancy. Pregnant dogs are most at risk of what is called an inguinal hernia. This type of hernia is defined by the movement of part of the dog’s bowel or uterus through a canal-type structure between the lower abdomen and the leg.

Inguinal hernias represent a high risk of bowel strangulation and can significantly jeopardise a dog’s health.

Types of hernia

Dogs are susceptible to lots of different kinds of hernia. Of these four main types, umbilical and inguinal hernias are the most common:

Umbilical

Often congenital but develops also as a result of trauma or surgery. Umbilical hernias are most often found in puppies and are fixed surgically in the days following birth. Disreputable breeders may side-line surgery in favour of saving money but their doing so can leave the animal with a life-threatening condition.

Inguinal

Hernias of the inguinal canal (a tube which is found between the lower portion of the abdomen and the leg) can quickly deteriorate if untreated. This type of hernia mostly affects middle-aged dogs and dogs that are pregnant.

Diaphragmatic

This type of hernia is often seen in dogs that have suffered a severe trauma (for instance, hit by a car). However, if it is a congenital defect it may not even be noticeable. A small tear in the diaphragm (which separates the chest from the abdomen) causes a slow seeping of the abdominal organs such as the stomach into the thoracic cavity.

This impedes your dog’s ability to breathe and may even lead to her not being able to keep food down. A hiatus hernia is a variant of a diaphragmatic hernia.

What are the symptoms of a dog hernia?

It may not be obvious that your dog has a hernia. Hernias sometimes only contain fatty tissue rather than part of an organ and as such do not cause the dog pain.

Common non-painful symptoms include a small swelling sometimes likened to a ‘bubble’, and symptoms of an ongoing and worsening hernia may include coughing, shortness of breath, pain, vomiting, lack of appetite and depression.

Learn the different types of hernia and their symptoms. A diaphragmatic hernia will cause your dog to struggle for breath. © Pixabay
 

Specific symptoms relating to chronic and worsening hernias are as follows:

  • Umbilical

Common symptoms as listed above

  • Inguinal

Common symptoms as listed above, as well as:
Frequent urination
Difficulty urinating
Pain when defecating
Bloody urine

  • Diaphragmatic

Common symptoms as listed above, as well as:
Irregular heartbeat
Heart murmurs
Laboured breathing
Diarrhoea and bloating

  • Hiatus

Common symptoms as listed above, as well as:
Nasal discharge
Excessive salivation
Weight loss
Shortness of breath

What are the complications of a dog hernia?

Once diagnosed, a hernia needs to be corrected. During the operation, whatever tissue has been forced through the hole in the muscle wall is pushed back into the abdominal cavity and the hole sewn shut.

The procedure is not usually complex but can be complicated by the size of the opening and the repair of organs damaged by the hernia. Umbilical hernias that contain only fatty tissue are relatively easy to correct.

If a hernia is not corrected it enlarges. This increases the likelihood of the further protrusion of abdominal organs. Should a hernia reach an advanced stage, there is a danger of organs being strangulated or having their blood supply cut off.

An organ of the body quickly dies if it loses its bloody supply and this could cause a quick death.

Dog hernias can be complicated After her operation for a hernia make sure your dog is still and calm. © Pixabay
 

Following corrective surgery, you must try to keep your dog still and calm until the two portions of the abdomen wall are sufficiently healed. You will be advised to keep your dog as still as possible for between 10 days to two weeks.

You also need to check the site of the op carefully and on a regular basis.

Look for signs of infection (redness, heat, systemic fever) or dehiscence (wound ruptures along a surgical incision). Some dogs that undergo surgery to correct a diaphragmatic or hiatus hernia may also contract aspiration pneumonia if contaminates and fluid reach their lungs.

There is no real way of preventing a hernia since most are congenital and others are caused by unexpected trauma. In terms of safeguarding your dog’s health, you want to follow commonplace advice for dog owners about the dangers of letting a dog off her lead close to roads, training her to come back when she is told to do so, and keeping her away from dangerous terrain. Dogs are naturally very inquisitive animals though, and sometimes accidents happen. Just be ready to respond when they do!