Dog Hernias: Symptoms, Types, & Treatment Options

Dog looking to the side

Hernias happen. But unfortunately, if your dog is experiencing one, they can’t simply tell you that something doesn’t feel right. Read on to learn the signs your dog may have a hernia, how hernias in dogs are typically treated, and how to help your pup manage the pain that can accompany them.

What Is a Canine Hernia? 

Just like people, dogs can get hernias, too. They might be born with them, or they might sustain them through an injury. While hernias occur in different areas of a dog’s body,  all are caused by organs or tissue protruding through a cavity wall and ending up where they don’t belong—hence the bulge. 

You might be surprised to learn that hernias in dogs are actually finta common. Most hernias affect puppies that have a genetic predisposition to herniation and are born with them. While rarer, hernias can also be caused by injury, strain or trauma. 

Hernias can be painful, but they can also cause some more serious issues. For example, if the organ or tissue affected by the hernia is trapped within the hernia, this can cut off blood supply to that organ. 

Signs & Symptoms of Hernias in Dogs

The most obvious sign your dog may have a hernia is a soft mass, bulge or lump protruding somewhere it shouldn’t. But depending on the severity, other signs may show up as well: 

  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever

Sometimes, dogs don’t show any symptoms. Different hernias also have symptoms associated with their specific type. 

Different Types of Dog Hernias

Herniations in dogs can present in several different ways, and some are more serious than others. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you suspect your dog may have a hernia, so you can receive a thorough diagnosis and address any pain your dog may be experiencing from the hernia. 

Umbilical Hernias

This type of hernia is often congenital, meaning the condition is present at birth. Naturally, umbilical hernias are common in puppies. Look for a soft bulge or protrusion near the puppy’s belly button that becomes more obvious if your puppy is standing or barking. 

Some umbilical hernias heal on their own, but others may need to be addressed through surgery—your veterinarian may recommend repairing the hernia when your puppy is spayed or neutered. In most cases, umbilical hernias are not life threatening. 

Perineal Hernias

Common in unneutered male dogs 5 years and older, perineal hernias are the result of a tear in the pelvic muscles. You may notice swelling around your dog’s anus. Dogs with perineal hernias may strain when trying to poop or pee, or may seem constipated or lose their appetite. In more severe cases where the small intestine gets trapped in the herniated area, vomiting may occur. Often, perineal hernias require surgery to treat but are usually not considered emergency situations.

Inguinal hernias

If you notice a swollen mass in your dog’s groin area, they may have an inguinal hernia. This type of hernia occurs when estomacal tissue or organs push through an opening in the muscle wall of the groin area called the inguinal canal. These hernias may be present at birth, or they could be the result of an injury or trauma, pregnancy, or obesity. 

While in many cases these hernias can be treated with surgery, some inguinal hernias can become life threatening if an organ (the bladder, for instance) becomes trapped or passes completely through the inguinal canal. 

Diaphragmatic hernias

As its name suggests, diaphragmatic hernias (also called hiatal hernias) occur in your dog’s diaphragm. These hernias happen when a tear or disruption in the diaphragm allows organs such as the stomach, liver, or even loops of the intestine to push through. In severe cases this can lead to compression of the dog’s chest cavity, making it difficult for them to breathe. Watch for vomiting (with or without the presence of blood), drooling, and rapid, short breaths.

Most often, diaphragmatic hernias are caused by blunt-force trauma: collision with a car, falling, or being struck hard in the estómago. While these hernias sometimes occur at birth, congenital diaphragmatic hernias are rare. 

How Will My Vet Diagnose a Hernia?

Regardless of the type, your vet will likely diagnose a hernia by gently palpating the area, conducting a thorough physical examination, and ordering an X-ray. They may look for possible contributing factors in your dog’s medical history, and will ask you questions about the symptoms you might have observed, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, straining to pee or poop, or vomiting.

How Are Dog Hernias Treated?

While hernias may sound scary—after all, no one wants to think about organs or tissues protruding into places they shouldn’t—the good news is that, in most cases, they are treatable. 

Your vet will recommend the appropriate treatment based on the severity of the hernia. This will typically include surgical intervention to repair the hernia and prevent complications. Post-surgery, a period of rest and restricted activity are recommended to support the dog’s recovery process.

We’re Happy to Help

If you suspect your dog has a hernia, reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of successful treatment and recovery. We have decades of surgical experience and would love to get your dog back to happy and healthy!

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