A puppy 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 when the puppy’s body is growing and developing.
The protruded 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. You can see the protrusion on the inner surface of the puppy’s rear leg.
A hernia in the navel area is called an umbilical hernia. 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. The puppy was born with this condition. There may be a genetic defect that delays the closure of the abdominal opening.
Sometimes, a puppy was not born with a hernia, but may acquire the problem later on. A common cause of this type of hernia is trauma, such as being hit by a car.
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 Hernia
Sometimes, you can actually manually push a hernia (the bulge) back into the puppy’s abdomen to “repair” the hernia.
But if you can’t push back the bulge, it is “incarcerated”. An incarcerated hernia can lead to dangerous consequences without any treatment.
For example, the opening squeezes and constricts the portion of the intestine that passes through it. This becomes difficult for food to pass through this particular 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. In other words, the cells will be without oxygen and nutrients. Eventually, cells in this portion will die.
Symptoms of an Incarcerated Puppy Hernia
Signs and symptoms depend on how serious the condition is.
If the hernia is just the protrusion of a small bit of fat, you may not even notice it. Or you may be able to just push it back in with a bit of pressure.
On the other hand, if you can’t push the hernia back and if you don’t get timely treatment, intestinal blockage and a loss of blood supply will result.
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. In addition to not eating and becoming weaker, the puppy will develop a fever. He may have difficulty breathing, and/or urinating.
When the protruded section eventually dies due to a lack of blood supply, the area will turn into an abscess.
Toxins and wastes from the intestine will leak into the puppy’s body. Understandably, this can adversely affect other system organs, particularly the liver and the kidneys, leading to liver and/or kidney failure.
If left untreated, the puppy will die, usually in a day or two.
Treatment of Puppy Hernias
To treat puppy hernias, a vet will replace the protruded section of tissues back into its original correct position. Then he will suture close the abnormal openings.
In females, sometimes the vet will suggest delaying treatment of an umbilical hernia until the time of spaying.
Puppy hernia usually occurs in two places – either the groin area or the belly button.
Some puppies are born with this defect, but sometimes external factors, such as physical trauma, can also cause hernias to develop.
Mild cases of hernia can easily be fixed – sometimes just by pushing the hernia back in. For more serious cases, usually the puppy will have to undergo surgery.