A hernia is simply a protrusion of fat and/or bowel (e.g. a section of the intestine) through an opening in the body wall that would normally close during development.
The fat and/or bowel lie just beneath the skin. As a result, we can see a bulge on the skin in the affected area.
In puppies and dogs, two common areas where hernias occur are the groin and the navel.
A hernia in the groin is called an inguinal hernia and the protrusion can be seen on the inner surface of the rear leg.
A hernia in the navel area is called an umbilical hernia and the protrusion is the puppy’s “belly button”.
Inguinal hernias are more common in female puppies and dogs.
Umbilical hernias occur rather frequently in puppies at around 2 weeks of age. Usually this type of hernias gradually decrease in size and disappear completely by 6 months of age.
Causes of Puppy Hernia
Puppy hernia is a congenital defect. There is a genetic predisposition for delayed closure of the abdominal ring.
In some rare cases, an umbilical hernia may develop when the umbilical cord is cut too close to the abdominal wall.
Potential Danger of a Dog Hernia
Sometimes, a hernia (the bulge) can be manually pushed back into the abdomen and the hernia is said to be repaired.
But if the bulge cannot be pushed back, it is “incarcerated”. An incarcerated hernia can lead to dangerous consequences if left untreated.
For example, the portion of the intestine that passes through the opening is squeezed and constricted, making it difficult for food to pass through this section of the intestine. This can lead to intestinal blockage which can be fatal.
Also, an incarcerated hernia often becomes strangulated over time because the blood supply to the contents of the hernia sac is pinched off.
It means that the section of intestine that has passed through the hole in the abdominal wall will lose its blood supply. It will be deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Eventually, cells in this portion will die.
Symptoms of an Incarcerated Puppy Hernia
As mentioned above, if a hernia cannot be pushed back and is incarcerated, it can result in intestinal blockage and a loss of blood supply.
If there is a loss of blood supply to the protruded section of the intestine, the area will become hard, swollen, and painful.
As blood supply is completely cut off, the pain will become more severe.
The puppy will refuse to eat, develop a fever, and become weak and lethargic.
When the protruded section eventually dies due to a lack of blood supply, the area will turn into an abscess.
If left untreated, the puppy will die, usually in a day or two.
Treatment of Puppy Hernias
Puppy hernias are repaired by replacing the protruded section of tissues back into its original correct position and then suturing closed the abnormal openings.
In females, repair of an umbilical hernia can sometimes be delayed until the time of spaying.