How to Identify and Treat Hernias in Dogs

hernias in dogs
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Just like humans, dogs can get hernias. Hernias may affect different parts of the body and vary in severity.

What is a Hernia?

A hernia occurs when organs, fat, or other tissues protrude through a hole or tear in the muscle wall of the abdomen. The affected tissue can become trapped in the protrusion, cutting off blood supply and leading to inflammation, infection, and impaired bodily function.

Different Types of Hernias in Dogs

There are several types of hernias that may occur in dogs, each with varying severity. Each type affects a different part of the body, and symptoms and can vary considerably.

Diaphragmatic Hernia

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest and abdomen. It serves an important function for breathing. A diaphragmatic hernia occurs when one or more abdominal organs push through a hole or tear in the diaphragm. This can be a very serious type of hernia because of its effect on the lungs and, sometimes, the heart.

Dogs with diaphragmatic hernias may experience trouble breathing, gastrointestinal issues, or problems with organ function. A diaphragmatic hernia cannot be seen from outside the body. Some dogs will show no signs of a diaphragmatic hernia, especially at first. In fact, some diaphragmatic hernias are discovered on routine radiographs (X-rays).

Diaphragmatic hernias may be congenital (present at birth). They can also be caused by trauma, such as being hit by a car. Surgery is the only treatment for these types of hernias.

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia is another type of diaphragmatic hernia. It occurs in the diaphragm where the esophagus meets the stomach and can affect digestion.

Dogs with hiatal hernia may experience trouble swallowing, vomiting, regurgitation/acid reflux, and excessive salivation. Signs may be worse during or after exercise or when the dog gets excited. Dogs with hiatal hernias have an increased risk of developing aspiration pneumonia.

Mild hiatal hernias may be treated with medication to manage the symptoms. Moderate to severe hiatal hernias may need to be repaired via surgery.

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias occur in the muscles of the abdominal wall in the groin area. Parts of the bladder or uterus may protrude through the groin muscles of the lower abdomen near the inner thighs. Inguinal hernias may also involve the scrotum, but this type of hernia is uncommon in male dogs.

An inguinal hernia often appears as one or two lumps in the lower abdomen or between the dog's thighs. This lump may or may not bother the dog at first. However, some inguinal hernias are warm to the touch and painful to the dog.

Inguinal hernias may be congenital or acquired. If present at birth, the hernia may resolve on its own. The acquired form is typically caused by trauma, pregnancy, or even obesity. Surgery is necessary to repair a persistent inguinal hernia.

Perineal Hernia

A perineal hernia occurs due to a weakening of the pelvic diaphragm, a muscle wall in the lower abdomen that separates the rectum from the abdominal organs. This type of hernia can cause constipation, difficulty urinating or defecating, urinary incontinence, lethargy, and pain. The protrusion can be seen as swelling or lumps on one or both sides of the dog's anus.

The exact cause of perineal hernias is not known. Congenital or inherited perineal hernias may be seen in puppies. However, most perineal hernias occur in dogs over the age of five and are more common in unneutered males. Surgery is the only treatment option for a perineal hernia.

Umbilical Hernia

Umbilical hernias are the most common types of hernias in dogs. This type of hernia occurs when there is a hole in the abdominal wall near the umbilicus (also known as the belly button or navel) that did not close completely during fetal development. The protrusion is visible to the naked eye in the center of the dog's belly. Umbilical hernias may only involve fatty tissue but can also involve the intestines.

Small umbilical hernias are usually not treated unless the dog has clinical signs. Your vet may recommend repairing your puppy's mild to moderate umbilical hernia during routine spay or neuter. Larger hernias or those causing complications will need to be surgically repaired sooner.

What to Do if You Suspect a Hernia in Your Dog

If you notice the sudden appearance of a lump on your dog's abdomen or anal area, it's important to contact your veterinarian right away. It can be considered an emergency situation if you notice sudden signs of illness like trouble breathing, severe lethargy, and pain. When in doubt, be sure to contact your vet for advice.

Hernias are usually treated with surgery. Most dogs recover well and can go on to live normal lives unless the hernia caused damage to the organs. The sooner your vet can detect and treat a hernia, the better the chances of full recovery.