Dog hernias occur when organs protrude out of a tear in its surrounding muscle wall or connective tissue that holds it in place. This condition can be congenital or it can be a result of an injury. Prognosis can vary depending on the type of hernia.
Types of Dog Hernias
There are five types of dog hernias, depending on which part of the body is affected.
This congenital hernia is common in puppies. Umbilical hernia occurs when abdominal tissues and organs like intestines and fats protrude in the abdominal wall in the area where the umbilical cord was attached.
The umbilical cord is responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen to the fetus from the mother as well as discharging waste and carbon dioxide. Normally, when puppies are born, the umbilical cord breaks off and the hole closes on its own. Umbilical hernias occur when the opening does not close properly. In most cases, this type of hernia will heal by itself. But if it does not and the hole is too big, surgery is often deemed necessary to prevent complications like strangulated intestine and infection. Certain breeds like Airedales, Basenji, and Pekingese are predisposed to this condition.
This type of hernia occurs when there’s a tear of the diaphragm, the muscular wall that separates the abdominal cavity and the thoracic cavity, the space where the heart and the lungs are located. With a disrupted diaphragm, abdominal organs and tissues may slip through the chest cavity, subsequently making it difficult for the dog to breathe. Most often, serious injuries or traumas like being hit by a car or grave physical abuse causes this condition, although there are rare congenital cases of this condition.
Hiatal hernias are also a type of diaphragmatic hernia. This condition specifically involves the hiatus or the opening of the diaphragm where the esophagus, the muscular tube connecting the mouth and the stomach, passes through. When the muscles surrounding the hiatus is weak, the upper portion of the stomach may protrude through this opening, encroaching into the chest cavity.
Most cases of hiatal hernias are congenital, although this could also be caused by trauma. Breeds like the Chinese Shar-Pei and Bulldog have a higher incidence of this type of hernia compared to other breeds.
This hernia is located in the groin part of the dog, in the fold of skin that connects the back leg to the body. The inguinal canal runs through this part of the dog’s body, which serves as a passage for nerves, spermatic cord for males, and the round ligament of the uterus for females. This canal terminates at the inguinal ring, a small opening in the muscular wall in the groin area. If the inguinal opening is large, abdominal organs may protrude. When the abdominal organs become stuck in the hernia, it could become a life-threatening condition.
Inguinal hernias are either congenital or acquired due to trauma, pregnancy, obesity, and increased estrogen level, which enlarges the inguinal canal. Certain breeds like Pekingese, Cairn Terrier, Basset Hound, and Miniature Pinscher are predisposed to congenital hernias while acquired inguinal hernias often occur in middle-aged female dogs.
This hernia in dogs results from the weakening of the pelvic diaphragm, the muscular wall that supports the rectum. When there’s a tear in the pelvic diaphragm, abdominal fats, tissues, and organs could slip through, causing a visible bulge in the areas adjacent to the dog’s rectum.
While no definite cause has been established, several factors have been thought to contribute to the weakening of the pelvic diaphragm. For instance, enlarged prostate glands in male dogs could make them exert more pressure to urinate, causing the tissues surrounding the rectum to eventually stretch and weaken. Other veterinarians also theorize that hormonal factors could also lead to this condition. Perineal hernias usually affect older, non-castrated dogs. Certain breeds like Boston Terriers, Welsh Corgi, Boxers, and Daschunds are more predisposed to this type of hernia than other breeds.
Factors that Predispose Dogs to Hernia
Since some hernias are congenital in nature, genetics is a large factor that predisposes a dog to this condition. This is why some breeds have a higher risk of developing a hernia than others.
Aside from genetics, intact dogs are seen to be more predisposed to this condition, especially perineal hernia. Also, neutering and spaying the dog also present an opportunity to repair the hernia and reduce the recurrence rate. And since hernia is mostly a hereditary condition, spaying and neutering a dog is the best way to prevent the genetic material from being passed on to future generation of puppies.
Depending on the type and severity, some dogs suffering from hernia will exhibit no signs of the condition while others can be very grave and life-threatening. The most visible sign of this illness is the soft and bubble-like protrusion on the abdomen, groin, or near the rectal area.
In general, dogs with hernia will show the following symptoms:
- Lack of appetite
- Pain when the hernia is touched
Diaphragmatic and hiatal hernias cause respiratory symptoms like difficulty as well as rapid and shallow breathing. This is due to the lung’s inability to fully expand because of the displaced organs or tissues to the chest cavity. In addition, whatever trauma that may have caused the diaphragmatic hernia could also cause lung laceration and bruising, as well as rib fractures.
Aside from the general symptoms, dogs suffering from inguinal hernia will experience frequent urination and sometimes there could be blood in their urine. Dogs with a perineal hernia, on the other hand, may have constipation and difficulty in urinating.
In diagnosing the hernia, the veterinarian will first consider the physical signs, especially where the bulge is located. Pet owners will be asked for other symptoms they noticed. Usually, the veterinarian will also recommend an x-ray procedure especially if the hernia is internal.
The vet may also perform contrast studies, administered orally or through an injection, to pinpoint the exact location of the hernia and any abnormalities within that region. This is usually done right before an operation.
If surgery is deemed necessary, some other tests might be needed to check if the dog is healthy enough for the procedure. For instance, a blood test is needed to check if the dog suffers from blood-related conditions and a clinical chemistry test is needed to check how well the different organs are functioning.
Treatment will depend on whether the hernia is reducible or irreducible.
A reducible hernia has small openings and its content can be manipulated back to its correct location. Most reducible hernia contents are just fats and other small tissues. No surgery may be necessary and some of this type of hernia may have an opening that will close on its own as the puppy develops further. In instances when the hole does not close, the hernia can still be corrected without surgery but with the disrupted wall left as it is, the hernia may recur and surgery may still be needed in the future.
Irreducible hernias have contents that cannot be pushed back to its original location. This type of hernia usually consists of organs and surgery is necessary to correct this. If left untreated, this could progress and become a strangulated hernia. Blood supply to the part of the organ that’s stuck in the hernia is impaired, causing the death of tissues. This could be deadly for the pet.
Aside from putting the displaced tissue or organ back to its correct place and suturing the hole during surgery, the veterinarian will also provide treatment to manage other symptoms. For instance, antacids may be prescribed to manage acid reflux in dogs with hiatal hernia. Other oral medication may be prescribed for vomiting, pain, infection, and other symptoms.
Possible complications are also considered. For instance, pneumonia is a possible complication for diaphragmatic hernia in dogs, so the pet has to be on an antibiotic for a prescribed number of days.
Cost to Treat: $750 to $2,000
Recovery and Aftercare
After a successful operation, pet owners must initiate some changes to encourage fast recovery for their dogs. A pressure increase in the intra abdominal wall would strain the suture. That’s why strenuous play must be avoided and activities must be kept to a minimum as the surgical wound is still healing.
Pet owners are to give small frequent feedings to prevent bloating due to slow digestion. The dog must maintain its ideal body weight since obesity could add more strain to the incision. Providing the right nutrition for the pet and taking prescribed medication religiously goes a long way in ensuring its recovery. It’s also best to create a quiet and comfortable environment conducive to sleep to facilitate faster healing.
Early diagnosis and treatment of hernia will prevent it from becoming a life-threatening condition. After a successful surgery, the prognosis is generally good. The dog will be back to its usual routine when it recovers and it’ll continue to live a healthy life.