What are hernias in dogs?
Hernias in dogs are common and can either be developed from birth, known as congenital hernias, or they can develop if your dog has been in an accident and suffered from trauma.
A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or body wall. In many cases, it causes no or few symptoms, although you may notice a swelling on your pet’s tummy, groin, or bottom. Other hernias are internal and tend to be detected only when related symptoms develop.
Over 90% of hernias found in cats and dogs are due to genetics, although they can also develop as a result of trauma. If you are concerned that your dog may have a hernia contact your local Animal Trust surgery vet and we can help diagnose the problem during a free consultation.
Types of hernias in dogs
There are five common hernias that can be found in dogs:
- Umbilical hernias
- Perineal hernias
- Inguinal hernias
- Diaphragmatic hernias
- Hiatal hernia
Umbilical hernias are the most common type of hernia in dogs. They appear as a soft swelling over the belly button area, caused when fat from the abdomen enters the hole that the umbilical cord passes through at birth. These may be of no concern if small or be a potential danger if large enough for the bowel or other organs to come through.
Repair is usually a simple procedure, where the hernia is opened surgically, the fat removed from the muscle edges and skin, and then the muscle and skin are closed back up again. Sometimes, larger hernias will require a special mesh to be implanted to help the muscle heal over the hole.
Generally, the animal will fully recover within 7-10 days. Large holes may take longer to heal, with the animal having restricted exercise for up to a month. The cost of Umbilical hernia repair surgery, when paid for at admission, is £220.
Perineal hernias are swellings around the bottom of older dogs (and cats). Usually, middle-aged to older entire (not neutered) males are affected. This is thought to be due to straining caused by enlarged prostates in these animals in addition to muscle weakening in the pelvic area.
Occasionally, these hernias can trap the bladder or bowel, leading to symptoms such as your dog becoming unwell, vomiting, or being unable to pass urine. All perineal hernias should be managed surgically to reconstruct the pelvic muscle support, as life-threatening organ entrapment can occur. Castration should also be carried out at the same time to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Post-operative care will include antibiotics, pain relief, and stool softeners to prevent straining. These may be required long term. Your dog will need to be kept quiet for 2 weeks following surgery as swelling and bruising is relatively common.
Prognosis is good for most cases, with infection and recurrence of hernias being the main potential complications in around 10-15% of cases. When paid for at admission, perineal hernia repair surgery costs £705.
Inguinal hernias occur in the groin area of a dog where the hind leg attaches to the body. They are fairly common in dogs, but not in cats. They occur more frequently in older females and can range in size, potentially trapping parts of the bladder, bowel or womb and becoming life-threatening.
Surgery is via a midline lower abdominal incision, allowing the hernia to be replaced and the opening to be stitched closed. Usually, both sides are repaired as often both are affected to some degree. Recovery is relatively straightforward, with the wounds healing within 10 days.
There is commonly some bruising and swelling post-operatively, so your pet will need to be rested and have restricted exercise for the first 2 weeks after surgery. The cost of an inguinal hernia repair, when paid for at admission, is £340.
Diaphragmatic hernias usually occur in dogs following a traumatic episode eg; a road traffic accident. The force of the trauma causes a tear in the muscle separating the abdominal cavity and the thoracic cavity which contains the lungs and heart.
This allows organs from the abdomen, such as the liver, stomach, and guts, to enter the chest, giving the lungs less room to expand and therefore causing difficulty breathing. This requires emergency treatment.
Diagnosis of diaphragmatic hernias in dogs can be made on clinical examination and confirmed using a combination of X-Rays, ultrasound, and ideally a CT scan. Sometimes organs can be seen in the chest on X-Rays. Smaller tears may only be discovered using CT or ultrasound.
Treatment requires surgery to open your dog’s abdomen and close the hole in the diaphragm. Often your pet will have other injuries from the trauma, so they must be stabilised as much as possible before they can be anaesthetised.
Regardless of the preparation beforehand, the surgery does carry significant risks, as your dog is unable to breathe for itself under anaesthetic. We use ventilators or IPPV (manual compression of the bag on the anaesthetic machine) to breathe for the animal.
Prognosis is dependent on the degree of damage to the lungs and other organs. If your dog survives surgery and has an uncomplicated recovery, they can be back to normal within 2-3 weeks. They must be kept rested during this time to minimise post-surgical problems such as tearing through of the sutures in the delicate muscle.
Some dogs will have significant lung damage, causing air or blood to continue to leak into the chest cavity. They will require chest drains post-surgery and prolonged hospitalisation. However, the prognosis is generally good if they survive the initial 48 hours. The cost of a Diaphragmatic hernia repair, when paid for at admission, is £910.
A Hiatal hernia refers to the protrusion of the upper part of the stomach into the chest cavity through the oesophageal hiatus in the diaphragm (where the tube that carries food to the stomach passes through into the abdomen). This is rare in dogs and is usually a congenital (birth) defect in breeds such as Bulldogs. Dogs frequently vomit or regurgitate due to the abnormal position of their stomach. These signs are most common during peak activities or when the dog becomes excited.
Treatment is usually medical, including acid-blocking and stomach-emptying medications. In severe cases, surgery to reduce the size of the hole in the diaphragm and stitch the stomach into a normal position may be required.
Hernias in a dog after spay
Hernias following abdominal surgery are uncommon but can occur due to the fluid nature of abdominal fat. A weakness in the suture line, or over exertion in a pet following surgery, can lead to small protrusions of fat through the muscle layer. Mostly this is not a problem for your pet and no further treatment may be recommended. In some cases, further surgery to repair the hernia may be advised.