Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Q: Hernias in pets?

Dr. Schaeberle,

My vet said that my new puppy “Chloe” has an umbilical hernia. How serious is this?

Chloe’s Mom


Dear Chloe’s Mom,

The umbilicus is that area on the middle of the abdomen where the umbilical cord was attached. It looks like a little scar on her belly and is most commonly referred to as her belly button.

After birth, when the umbilical cord is detached, this opening in the abdominal wall is supposed to close. Occasionally the hole remains open, and only the skin heals over it. This hole in the abdominal wall is referred to as a hernia. If the hernia is small, some belly fat may push through it and cause a bulge under the skin. If it is bigger, then a loop of intestine may be able to push through. Either of these may get trapped or strangulated, which can become very painful, and even life threatening. If found soon enough, it can be corrected quickly and safely by your veterinarian. Fortunately, most hernias are small enough to wait and be fixed when a pet is spayed or castrated, but if it is a larger hernia, it may need to be done sooner.

The most commonly accepted cause for this is a genetic defect, and thus breeding is discouraged. Some people argue that hernias can be caused by trauma when the mother chews off the umbilical cord. In that case, breeding would be acceptable. However, we know that certain breeds seem to be more prone to hernias and that it is not uncommon for a dog to pass this defect along to their offspring.

The good news is that hernias are rarely life threatening. Since genetics is most often the cause, it is always encouraged to have your pet spayed or neutered so they don’t continue to pass that bad gene along. If you were planning on breeding Chloe, you need to discuss these issues with your veterinarian.

Good luck and have fun with your new puppy.

Thomas Schaeberle, VMD

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