Hernias in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

hernias in dogs
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A hernia is a serious condition for a dog because it means that part of an organ or tissue is protruding through a cavity wall. A hernia can obstruct some of your dog's bodily functions, resulting in gastrointestinal, digestive, or breathing problems depending on the type and location of the hernia. There are different types of hernias that a dog can have, affecting different parts of the body and varying 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 or another cavity. The affected tissue can become trapped in the protrusion, cutting off blood supply and leading to inflammation, infection, and impaired bodily function.

Symptoms of Hernias in Dogs

If you notice any of the following signs, it's important to contact your veterinarian right away. These symptoms can be considered an emergency situation for your dog because they may be impacting the way your pet's body is trying to function. The type and location of the hernia your dog may have can determine the type of symptoms your pet experiences.

Symptoms

  • Lump in abdomen or anal area
  • Trouble breathing
  • Digestive and/or gastrointestinal issues
  • Lethargy

Lump in Abdomen or Anal Area

Finding a lump in the abdomen or anal area may indicate a specific type of hernia. The protruding lump may be swollen, feel warm, or is painful to the touch.

Trouble Breathing

The location of a hernia can make it difficult for your dog to breathe. This is a serious symptom that should never be ignored.

Digestive/Gastrointestinal Issues

Depending on the location and type of hernia, your dog may experience digestive and gastrointestinal issues, such as trouble swallowing, vomiting, constipation, or incontinence.

Lethargy

Lethargy is a non-specific symptom, but shouldn't be ignored. If a dog has a hernia, it may be painful, which may make it difficult for your pet to move around. Or the hernia could be obstructing food and nutrients from being adequately absorbed which can leave a dog with less energy for day-to-day activities.

Causes of Hernias

A dog can get a hernia in two ways: it is congenital or develops because of an injury to the area. For example, an umbilical hernia is considered a birth defect but a diaphragmatic hernia can either be congenital or caused if the area of the diaphragm experiences trauma and becomes torn. Some pregnant dogs may acquire certain types of hernias, such as inguinal hernias.

Diagnosing Hernias in Dogs

Your vet will thoroughly examine your dog for confirmation of a hernia. Depending on the type and location of the hernia that your vet suspects your dog may have, the following types of tests could be recommended:

  • Palpitation of the area or a visibly protruding hernia
  • Examination of the skin over the protrusion
  • Radiography/X-rays, possibly with barium contrast if digestion is affected
  • Rectal exam if gastrointestinal issues are present
  • Aspiration of the liquid in the swollen portion of a protrusion, but this is rarely suggested

Treatment

Depending on the type and location of the hernia, and the severity of the symptoms, there are various treatments available. Hernias may be treated with reparative surgery or medicine to manage symptoms.

Hernias can either be reducible or non-reducible. If a hernia is reducible, it means the protrusion can be pushed back into place, typically through reparative surgery. A non-reducible hernia means the hernia's materials have partially adhered to the opening and also require surgery. There is also research debating the possibility of using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical techniques to repair certain types of hernias in dogs.

Prognosis for Dogs With Hernias

Most dogs recover well from surgery 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.

How to Prevent Hernias

There is nothing to prevent a congenital hernia. To prevent an acquired hernia through an injury, it helps to make sure your dog is kept safe both indoors and outdoors.

Types of Hernias in Dogs

Several types of hernias may occur in dogs, each with varying levels of severity. Each type affects a different part of the body, and symptoms 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.

Article Sources
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