Hernias allow body contents to get into regions they shouldn't. Hernias are protrusions of organs or organ walls through defects in the body cavity walls where the organs are supposed to reside. Hernias may be congenital or result from trauma. Surgical correction may be necessary, and some may result in entrapped organs, an emergency.
Umbilical hernias occur at your puppy’s “belly button.” The body wall may not completely close, resulting in a piece of abdominal fat, or omentum, emerging from the abdomen. If the hole remains open, the hernia is reducible, and your veterinarian can tuck the fat back in. The hole may close, leaving a small piece of fat trapped between the skin and abdominal wall. Surgery is not needed for closed hernias but is recommended if the hernia is reducible, as intestines or organs may exit out that hole, creating a life-threatening situation. VCA hospitals recommend correction at the time of spaying or neutering your puppy, with a high probability of success.
Inguinal hernias occur in the groin area. These are more common in adults but can occur in puppies. The hernia occurs at a weak spot around the femoral artery, often with fat prolapsing through the hole. Tissue and organs in the back half of your puppy’s body may also prolapse through, including intestines and bladder. Surgical correction is recommended for these sites.
Diaphragmatic hernias and hiatal hernias occur around dogs' diaphragms, the thin muscles between their abdomens and thoraxes. A hiatal hernia is a form of diaphragmatic hernia and occurs where the esophagus enters the abdomen, while other diaphragmatic hernias can occur around the margins of the diaphragm. Both can result from trauma -- such as being hit by a car or severely kicked in the guts -- although hiatal hernias are more likely to be congenital defects. Abdominal organs, such as the liver and stomach, and fat may prolapse into the chest of your puppy. This action prevents your puppy’s lungs from expanding and can also prevent the trapped organs from functioning well. Surgery is strongly recommended to correct these hernias as soon as possible.
Your veterinarian can diagnose most hernias based on examination of your puppy, especially umbilical and inguinal hernias. Radiographs of the chest and abdomen can diagnose diaphragmatic hernias. Your veterinarian may be able to diagnose diaphragmatic hernias while examining your puppy, as intestines can sometimes be heard in the chest cavity.
Surgery is the only treatment option for correcting hernias. The prognosis depends upon the type of hernia. A simple umbilical hernia has a better chance of a positive outcome than a traumatic diaphragmatic hernia. Your dog will need surgery after being stabilized in an emergency. If organs or intestines are trapped, they may scar, preventing full function from coming back. Your veterinarian may refer your pet to a specialized surgeon, especially in the case of a severe diaphragmatic hernia. If your puppy is hit by a car or suffers from another accident, take him to the vet for an evaluation as soon as possible for the best prognosis.
Elizabeth Muirhead is a practicing veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in biological sciences. She has real-world experience with the husbandry, grooming, training and feeding a variety of household pets.