How Hernias Affect Dogs
Hernias can cause a number of different symptoms and clinical signs in an individual dog. However, most of the time, the dog does not seem to be very affected by the hernia and does not show any or many signs of distress or discomfort. In some cases, especially with diaphragmatic hernias, affected dogs will suffer respiratory difficulties and/or abdominal pain.
Symptoms of Hernias
Many dogs with hernias will show no observable signs of distress, discomfort or illness. This is called an “asymptomatic” condition. On the other hand, some dogs will develop severe clinical signs based on the amount of herniated tissue and the effect of the herniation upon the organ or tissue that is displaced or constricted. If a substantial portion of bowel, liver or spleen is entrapped or strangulated, the symptoms can be immediate and severe.
Owners of dogs with abdominal hernias (inguinal, hiatic, diaphragmatic, other) may notice one or more of the following clinical signs, which often are intermittent:
- Protrusion of abdominal contents into the subcutaneous tissues, resulting in a bulging just below the skin
- Lack of appetite (inappetance; anorexia)
- Excessive salivation
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing (respiratory distress; elevated breathing rate; tachypnea)
- Abdominal pain
Dogs at Increased Risk
Female dogs tend to be more susceptible to inguinal hernias than are male dogs, although the reason for this predisposition is not well understood. Sometimes, a bitch will not show any signs of an inguinal hernia until she is bred or is quite old, in which case uterine tissue may become entrapped or incarcerated in the hernia defect in the abdominal wall. Umbilical hernias are most commonly seen in puppies by approximately 2 weeks of age, irrespective of whether they are congenital or acquired. In many cases, umbilical hernias get smaller and disappear by the time the puppy reaches about 6 months of age, without surgical intervention.
Weimeraners and Cocker Spaniels may be predisposed to congenital diaphragmatic hernias. Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds (those with short flat faces and broad skulls) are predisposed to developing hiatal hernias due to chronic upper airway obstruction which leads to severe inspiratory breathing difficulty.