Much like their owners, pups can also develop a dog hernia. While hernias are completely treatable, they can also be life-threatening if they go untreated.
Due to the fact that hernias are internal conditions, they can be difficult to detect. Therefore, it is incredibly important for pet owners to be able to recognize the symptoms that hernias create in order to prevent potentially irreversible problems for your pup.
What is a Hernia in Dogs
In dogs, hernias occur when an organ or a fatty tissue projects through a tear or weak spot in the surrounding connective tissue or muscle.
Hernias generally develop near the belly button area, the chest or diaphragm region, or the groin area near the back hind legs of the dog.
Studies show that the vast majority (upwards of 90%) of dog hernia cases are a result of genetics. Veterinarians typically treat hernias found in puppies that are under one year old due to hereditary causes. However, hernias can also result from trauma or injury at any age.
Veterinarians commonly treat the following five types of hernias in dogs:
- Umbilical Hernia
- Inguinal Hernia
- Diaphragmatic Hernia
- Perineal Hernia
- Hiatal Hernia
Due to their potential for being dangerous and the fact that they are immensely painful, pet owners should seek veterinary intervention if they notice swelling in the groin area and/or excessive vomiting in their dog.
The medical definition of a hernia is a condition in which part of an organ protrudes through the connective tissue or a wall of the cavity in which it is ordinarily enclosed.
Types of Hernias
Through a specific diagnostic process, veterinarians will categorize the dog’s hernia as one of five types.
The type of hernia that veterinarians treat most often is an umbilical hernia. An umbilical hernia is congenital, meaning it is inherited and present in the dog since birth. Therefore, veterinarians typically treat puppies. Many times, pet owners will be able to notice if their puppy has an umbilical hernia. The area where the belly button would be instead has a squishy protrusion. (Umbilical gets its name from umbilical cord which is where the hernia typically occurs)
Umbilical Hernia Surgery
Surgical correction may be necessary in cases of umbilical hernias that do not resolve on their own.
The size of the hernia will dictate if it is able to heal on its own. If a veterinarian feels the hernia is too large and will not resolve itself, it can be fixed in the same surgery as when your puppy is neutered or spayed.
Although umbilical hernias are common and able to be resolved quite easily, this doesn’t mean they are harmless. If an umbilical hernia is not repaired, it can lead to serious complications for your pup.
An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin area of the dog. More specifically, most inguinal hernias develop where the inner fold of hind leg attaches to the body wall. Inguinal hernias can vary in size from small to large.
If the opening in the muscle wall (the inguinal canal or inguinal ring) is large enough, it is possible for the abdominal contents such as the intestine, uterus, or bladder to become trapped within the hernia. This complication can be life-threatening. It is imperative that an inguinal hernia is addressed immediately with surgical repair.
Inguinal hernias are considered congenital and most commonly affect middle-aged female dogs, especially dogs that are pregnant.
The diaphragm is the organ that separates the abdominal organs from the heart and lungs. Diaphragmatic hernias occur when the abdominal organs protrude through the connective tissues that enclose them and begin to enter the chest cavity. The protrusion causes the dog to have severe respiratory distress.
Additionally, the abdominal tissues can irritate the heart, resulting in abnormal heart rhythms.
If fluid from the abdomen leaks into the chest cavity, further complications involving heart and lung function can quickly develop.
A perineal hernia happens when the pelvic muscles tear and allows the abdominal contents to enter the area adjacent to the dog’s anus.
Perineal hernias typically occur in unneutered male dogs over the age of five.
Hiatal hernias occur when the abdominal contents enter into the diaphragm where the esophagus joins the stomach.
Some individuals consider diaphragmatic hernias and hiatal hernias to be one in the same. However, they lead to different symptoms and may have different complications. Hiatal hernias also specifically involve the esophagus.
General Hernia Symptoms
A set of specific symptoms accompanies each type of hernia. However, there are general symptoms of hernias that dog owners should be aware of.
First, hernias typically look like protruding, soft, bubbles. The masses project from the dog’s body and often very apparent to the owner.
Dog owners may also see the following general symptoms:
- Large, visible mass in the abdominal or pelvic area
- Loss of appetite or not eating (anorexia)
- Excessive salivating
- Shortness of breath
What Does a Hernia Feel Like
If your dog’s hernia is protruding from the skin, it typically feels like a soft, squishy blob. A hernia may also be warm to the touch. A hernia may be causing the dog a great deal of pain, so always be gentle when touching the sensitive area.
Umbilical Hernia Symptoms
Umbilical hernias can be uncomplicated or complicated. Uncomplicated umbilical hernias typically do not show any symptoms. If an umbilical hernia is complicated, pet owners may see the following signs:
- Pain at the site of the umbilical swelling
- The swelling may be warm to the touch
- Loss of appetite
Furthermore, studies show that certain breeds, including Airedales, Pekingese, and Basenji, are at a predisposition for developing an umbilical hernia.
Inguinal Hernia Symptoms
The most common clinical sign of an inguinal hernia is a soft swelling of the groin area. The swelling may be on one or both sides of the dog’s body.
In cases of complicated inguinal hernias, the following symptoms may arise:
- Significant swelling in the groin area
- Swelling may be painful and/or warm to the touch
- Frequent attempts to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Loss of appetite
Diaphragmatic Hernia Symptoms
Symptoms of a diaphragmatic hernia will vary depending on its severity. Dogs that are born with a diaphragmatic hernia will often not show any clinical signs. Dog owners may observe non-specific symptoms such as mild breathing problems or occasional gastrointestinal issues.
In severe cases of diaphragmatic hernias, there will commonly be an abnormal heart rhythm, respiratory distress, and other symptoms of systemic shock.
Perineal Hernia Symptoms
Typical symptoms of perineal hernias include:
- Swelling of the pelvic area
- A protrusion in the pelvic or surrounding areas
- Inability to control bowels
Furthermore, perineal hernias are found more often in the following breeds:
- Boston Terrier
- Welsh Corgi
- Old English Sheepdog
Hiatal Hernia Symptoms
Most dogs with a hiatal hernia do not show clinical signs of the condition. However, when symptoms do arise, they are typically seen as:
- Drooling or excessive salivation
- Blood in the vomit
- Difficulty breathing
Additionally, some breeds of dogs, such as the Bulldog and Chinese Shar-Pei, are more likely to develop a hiatal hernia.
Dogs notoriously hide the fact that they are in pain. Often, dog owners only begin to notice their dog showing signs of being in physical distress when the pain becomes unbearable.
If your dog is showing any signs of pain, pet owners need to take it seriously and seek medical treatment.
What Causes a Hernia
Genetics play a significant role in whether your dog may develop a hernia. In fact, studies show that up to 90% of hernias are due to genetics.
The other ~10% of hernias result from trauma or injury.
Umbilical Hernia Cause
The vast majority of umbilical hernias are congenital, although it is possible for them to be a result of trauma to the area.
Inguinal Hernia Cause
An inguinal hernia can be congenital (existing since birth) or develop later in life.
Inguinal hernias that develop later in life are often results of trauma, obesity, or pregnancy.
Diaphragmatic Hernia Cause
The most prevalent cause of a diaphragmatic hernia is blunt force trauma. Blunt force trauma can result from situations such as an automobile accident or falling from a high place (like out of a window).
Diaphragmatic hernias resulting from congenital conditions are much less likely to be seen.
Perineal Hernia Cause
Potential underlying causes of perineal hernias are:
- Hormonal factors
- Prostatic disease
- Colorectal disease
- Atrophy of the pelvis
Additionally, a perineal hernia is more likely to develop in older dogs than younger dogs due to the area of the body becoming weaker with age.
Hiatal Hernia Cause
While it is possible for a hiatal hernia to result from trauma, in most cases the hernia is congenital.
In the vast majority of hernia cases, surgery is necessary to repair the tear in the muscle wall. The severity of the tear as well as the type of hernia will dictate the gravity of the surgery and treatment following. The cost ranges from $700 on the low end to $2,500 on the high end, with $1,600 being the average cost.
A Final Thought on Dog Hernia
We understand that your dog’s health and well-being means the world to pet owners. When a painful condition such as a hernia occurs, it can be a stressful time for dogs and their owners alike.
Perhaps the most effective way to make sure your dog is living their best life possible is to know the signs of when something is wrong. By understanding and being aware of the symptoms and causes of the five types of hernias, dog owners can ensure that they are keeping Fido happy and healthy.