Umbilical Hernias in Dogs and Cats

Umbilical Hernias in Dogs and Cats

An umbilical hernia is a congenital abnormality where the body wall does not close properly at the location where the umbilical cord was attached (the belly button). This results in an opening, or gap, where fat and intestines can bulge through past the muscles of the abdomen. The opening is called the hernia, and you may also hear the bulge under the skin referred to as the hernial sac. Continue reading to learn about umbilical hernias in dogs and cats, including symptoms, treatment, and potential complications.

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Causes of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies and Kittens

Umbilical hernias are thought to be genetic, although the exact cause is not known. Puppies are more commonly affected than kittens. It is recommended that animals born with an umbilical hernia not be used for breeding. Although some hernias can cause problems, most animals born with an umbilical hernia can lead a normal, healthy life. It is important to follow the recommendations that your vet makes specific to your individual pet's hernia, as not all hernias are the same.

Signs of an Umbilical Hernia

You may notice a soft, squishy bulge under the skin, present in the middle of the abdomen that doesn't hurt when you touch it. This might be noticeable at times, and then other times it doesn't seem to be there anymore. This is the movement of the fat/intestines through the opening of the hernia and can change depending on the position your pet is in. For example, when your pup is sleeping on his back, the spot is “magically” gone! Gravity has simply pulled the intestines away from the hernia.

Diagnosing and Treating Umbilical Hernias in Pets

Your vet can diagnose an umbilical hernia during a physical exam. Not only will they be able to feel the bulge of soft tissue under the skin at the belly button, but they will also be able to palpate the underlying hole in the opening of the body wall. The hernia should be monitored over time, and your vet will tell you if your dog or cat needs to have their hernia surgically corrected.

Small hernias will often “scar down” or adhere to surrounding tissue over time and become a fixed size that doesn't change. These pose no long-term health problems, and typically the lump of scar tissue will remain present and unchanged throughout the life of the pet.

Large hernias and hernias that don't scar down (those that have fat and/or intestines that continue to freely move in and out of the hernia) should be surgically corrected. In most pets, this is done at about 6 months of age during a spay or neuter procedure (remember, these pets should not be bred). This is a simple, routine procedure where the opening of the hernia is permanently closed. After the surgical incision has healed, the bulge from the previous hernia site will no longer be present and the abdomen will have a flat appearance.

Potential Complications

Umbilical hernias that are not surgically corrected pose a health risk to the pet. Intestines (and potentially some of the abdominal organs, depending on the size of the hernia) can become entrapped within the hernia and result in strangulation and loss of blood supply to the intestine. This can happen as normal food material moves through the intestine that is within the hernial sac (outside the body wall) and then gets stuck and unable to re-enter the body as there is simply not enough space to get through the hole in the body wall and into the abdomen again. The loop of intestine that becomes stuck within the hernia is referred to as “strangulated,” and the pressure of that tight hernia cuts off the blood supply to the intestine.

Symptoms of strangulated intestine include vomiting, abdominal pain, and lethargy. The hernia may also be firm, hot, and painful. Radiographs and ultrasound may be needed to help diagnose this condition. This is a critical situation that must be immediately addressed with emergency surgery and can be life-threatening.

Read more:

What You Need to Know About Spaying Your Female Dog

What You Need to Know About Neutering Your Male Dog

Causes of Intestinal Obstruction in Dogs

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