Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Pets and Hernias


Pet Column for the week of December 13, 1999


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

Since I'm a third-year veterinary student, when dad went in for hernia surgery, I became the
family "health expert." I got to answer a few hernia questions--with the caveat that "this is
what they taught us about dogs and cats." Thank goodness Dr. Sandra Manfra, surgeon at
the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital, had already
covered hernias in surgery class.

A hernia occurs when an organ passes through a hole in the contained space it is supposed
to occupy. Pets' hernias may be there at birth (congenital), acquired, or secondary to a
traumatic episode. "Hernias may also be classified according to the state of their contents,"
says Dr. Manfra. "If the contents of the hernia may be pushed back into normal position,
the hernia is reducible. If not, the hernia is irreducible." Irreducible hernias are more likely to
develop into a more serious condition known as a strangulating hernia, in which blood flow
to the herniated tissue is cut off or reduced. The herniated tissue may deteriorate if not
quickly treated. "This is especially serious when intestinal loops or the urinary bladder is
involved," explains Dr. Manfra.

If the hernia is congenital, it usually is non-painful, but when the hernia is caused by trauma
or when the contents of the hernia are strangulated, the animal will be in pain and its overall
condition will get progressively worse. Although hernias are not considered emergencies
unless they are strangulated, call your veterinarian if you notice an unusual protrusion from
your pet's abdomen to determine whether something needs to be done immediately.

Congenital umbilical hernias are more common in Airedales, basenjis, Pekingese, pointers,
and weimaraners. Sometimes cutting the umbilical cord too close at birth can cause an
umbilical hernia, but it is generally considered an inherited defect. "Umbilical hernias appear
as a soft swelling in the umbilical area," says Dr. Manfra. "Dogs will not outgrow the
umbilical hernia, but it's not critical unless the hole is large enough to allow organs or
intestines to protrude." If you notice an umbilical hernia in your puppy, ask your veterinarian
if it is something that needs to be taken care of right away or if it can wait until your animal
is neutered or spayed. Neutering your pet is an especially good idea in pets with congenital
hernias because of the genetic basis for the defect and the potential for passing the genetic
defect to offspring.

Hernias in the groin region, called inguinal hernias, commonly occur in female dogs that are
pregnant or in heat. The animal usually has a soft, painless mass in the groin area.
Congenital hernias in the groin region are more likely to occur in males.

Your pet can also experience hernias in the region between its anus and vulva or testicles.
These hernias are called perianal hernias. "Older, male dogs are most likely to experience
this condition, especially if they are not castrated and have a large prostate," says Dr.
Manfra. "These hernias usually consist of fat but may contain the urinary bladder and/or
prostate." A pet with a perianal hernia may be unable to urinate and may have a rapidly
enlarging swelling right next to the anus if the urinary bladder becomes trapped in the hernia.

Automobile accidents, dog fights, gunshot wounds, or other blunt or sharp forms of trauma
can cause an abdominal hernia. After your pet's abdominal hernia has been repaired, the
animal should be kept quiet and observed for signs of wound infection.

I have a feeling that it may be just as hard to keep my father relaxed and quiet after his
surgery as it would be to contain my rambunctious pets. But time is necessary for proper
healing or the hernia may recur. For further questions about hernias in pets, call your
veterinarian. And if you think you may have a hernia, call your doctor.