Most hernias are best definitively diagnosed by radiographs (X-rays), which will reveal the abnormal position of the tissue or organs that are protruding through the herniation defect. More specific radiographic contrast studies are often recommended to confirm the diagnosis. Contrast studies involve introducing special contrast media, such as barium, into the dog’s system either orally or by injection. As the contrast medium moves through the dog’s digestive tract, it will accentuate any hernia defects on the computer and/or radiographic film, as the highlighted contrast material will show up in areas of the dog’s body where it normally would not be present. Of course, a thorough physical examination, including auscultation of the chest (thorax) and abdomen, will also be done by the attending veterinarian to assess and identify the presence of any respiratory or abdominal disorders.
Any hard or painful visible bulge or swelling around the navel (belly button) or in the groin area of a young dog should be assessed by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. The tissue protrusion could be an incarcerated inguinal or umbilical hernia, which could become a strangulated hernia from lack of proper blood supply to the abnormally bulging tissue.
Most congenital hernias, and even most hernias acquired from trauma or abdominal/respiratory exertion, can be corrected surgically. Hernias are not especially difficult to diagnose, but they should be attended to as soon as they are identified to prevent discomfort and tissue damage to the affected animal.