An umbilical hernia in dogs often occurs in young puppies and senior dogs. It is a small outward bulging of the abdominal lining, generally found near the navel or belly button.
In dogs, an umbilical hernia can self-heal over time in puppies, or it may require a one-time surgery. Only a vet can conduct that external examination and decide on what steps to take if any.
What Are Umbilical Hernias in Dogs?
An umbilical hernia in dogs occurs when abdominal tissue (organ, lining or fat) becomes visible and bulge out from your dog’s belly button. A muscle called the umbilical ring surrounds the bellybutton. If this did not heal properly after birth, it may lead to an umbilical hernia.
When the belly button is formed, the muscle surrounding it seals the abdomen to the belly button. This prevents any abdominal tissue from being released. Abdominal organs (stomach, small and large intestine, liver, appendix, and gall bladder), abdominal lining (known as the peritoneum), and abdominal fat are all at risk of becoming an umbilical hernia when the umbilical ring is not fully formed.
The abdominal lining will contain organs and fat, so an umbilical hernia can be just abdominal lining or a combination of all three. The hernia usually appears as swelling around the area of the belly button, just below the ribs, and will protrude when your dog is standing. Although this depends on the severity.
How does an umbilical hernia develop?
When a puppy is developing in the womb, the growth of their body can go wrong, known as a congenital defect. This can be due to several reasons in the fetus, mother and breeding. But whatever the cause may be, the connection of tissues through the umbilical ring is not formed correctly. They may have a small tear or large, therefore it may be noticed immediately as the puppy is born or not for a while until a problem occurs. The hernia may be visible after a haircut, after the tear rips more due to exercise or an injury, or even just with growth.
An umbilical hernia is often confused with an Inguinal and Diaphragmatic hernia. An Inguinal hernia protrudes through the lower groin. Although abdominal fat, lining, and organs may protrude, depending on the severity of the opening, it is more likely to this type of hernia is made up of internal reproductive organs.
There are two subdivisions of diaphragmatic hernias:
- hiatal, and
Both originate around the length of the diaphragm, the area between the chest and the abdomen. Hiatal refers to an opening from the chest to the abdomen, following the esophagus. Whereas Peritoneopericardial refers to an opening between the main chest cavity and heart. Both areas are susceptible to hernias.
Types of Umbilical Hernias in Dogs
There are two types of umbilical hernia in dogs: reducible and irreducible. The differences are defined by whether the hernia can be manually pushed back by a veterinarian. The two differ in noticeability, severity, and risk of complications and death.
A hernia that can be pushed back with manipulation by a veterinarian. Often this hernia may have a slight protrusion of fat but is contained with internal lining, the organs are not internally twisted and surgery is only sometimes needed. Although these can be painful, often they are not felt by your dog without pressure on the site. You may notice a red area with swelling which is the reducible hernia.
These will always require surgical input as they cannot be manually placed back. Twisting of the organs can take place, the lining may have ripped and this is the severe form of an umbilical hernia. Multiple organs may have protruded from the site. The risk with irreducible hernias is the strangulation of the organ’s blood flow. This would begin to kill cells, prevent the organ from functioning correctly, which will lead to infection and even death. You can recognize these hernia’s with reddening, swelling and often acute pain.
Symptoms of an Umbilical Dog Hernia
There are 5 symptoms of an umbilical hernia – pain, warmth, lack of appetite, vomiting, and depression. A dog may display one symptom or more when they have an umbilical hernia, therefore it is important to be aware of all the symptoms. let’s look into them in more detail.
The way a dog displays pain is different from how we do. Therefore, it is important to know the different ways they do so, so we as owners do not overlook the signs. Your dog’s behavior can change generally when they are in pain, this may mean an active dog is more recluse or a gentle dog becomes more aggressive. This can be a way for them to protect their injury. They may also lick the area of discomfort or shield it.
As an umbilical hernia is located on the lower abdomen, there may not be a noticeable difference in movement. Quite often though, your dog may struggle to lie down or only lie on their side to avoid pressure to the hernia. You may also hear your dog whining or yelping when they are moving or apply pressure to the area. Therefore, if you are stroking your dog’s stomach and they react negatively, showing signs of pain or distress, they may have an umbilical hernia.
Warmth Near the Swollen Abdomen
When a dog has an injury, warmth will often surround the area due to increased blood flow, exposure, and even infection in poorer cases. As mentioned in the above point, when your dog is in pain they may behave differently and this can increase the chance of you being bitten. Therefore, always act with caution. Note your dog’s warning behavior and take them to a vet if you have any worries.
In saying that, if you wish to check your dog’s abdomen for excess warmth, make sure to apply minimal pressure to the concerned area to avoid pain. Gently touch the bellybutton with two fingers and area just around it. You should also compare the heat to the surrounding area and not your own temperature. The area should be hot and there should be a noticeable difference between that temperature and the temperature of the abdomen elsewhere if there is a hernia.
Lack of Appetite
Although a lack of appetite alone can not be conclusive evidence your dog has a hernia, it can be a contributing concern. A dog who regularly eats their food then begins to avoid it could be communicating that there is something wrong. Not eating can reflect an umbilical hernia for multiple reasons.
Firstly, general pain may alter their behavior and give them a lack of appetite. Secondly, if a hernia is irreducible, the organ or organs affected may become suffocated of blood. Without blood being directed to each organ, they will not be able to function correctly and proper digestion will not be able to happen. Your dog, therefore, may be constipated or vomiting as they are unable to use their digestive system correctly.
Linked to the previous point, a digestive system can be interrupted by a severe umbilical hernia due to organ suffocation. Digestion can be interrupted as some of an organ’s wall may be outside the body or twisted. The food will pass down through the body and once reaching the hernia will be blocked from passage. Your dog may begin to lose weight due to this problem as they will not be able to absorb all the nutrients in food, even if the hernia does not affect the stomach. Not all the food your dog ingests can be able to be digested, but this depends on the severity of their hernia. Therefore, if your dog is still defecating, that does not mean that vomiting should be disregarded as a sign of an umbilical hernia.
Depression & Unease
Illness, pain and other contributing symptoms of an umbilical hernia can all cause your dog to have an illness-induced depression. You can identify depression through your dog’s behavior. Therefore, you will have to know what behavior is normal for your dog to compare the differences. A dog with depression will often become lethargic, avoid playing and walks or just show a general disinterest in any activity requiring energy.
Another symptom includes a change in mood. A once gentle and patient dog may begin to show aggressive tendencies, and a dog who had confidence and an outgoing nature may now show anxiety in day to day life. Further changes include a change in appetite, an increase in fear behavior and even a reluctance to remain in the same room as you. Biological changes such as an umbilical hernia can have a huge influence on your dog’s mood and behavior.
Diagnosis of an Umbilical Hernia in dogs
If you have any suspicions that your dog may have an umbilical hernia, take them straight to the vets. Your vet will conduct an external examination to see if a hernia is present. They may feel your dog’s stomach for lumps, heat changes, look for the hernia itself or any reddening of the skin. If your dog has long fur they may have to trim or shave the area to be sure. In rare cases, the hernia is not visible and cannot be felt, even if your dog is displaying symptoms that hint towards this conclusion.
Often, your vet will give your dog a general anesthetic and then use an x-ray or ultrasound to detect the hernia. Your vet will identify what tissues are affected by the hernia and its severity. As an umbilical hernia can require surgery, it is important to identify the problem and risk level to your dog as soon as possible.
Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in puppies
Doctors are still unsure of all the reasons why umbilical hernias occur, especially in dogs of an older age. Therefore there are no preventative measures available yet. Treatment of umbilical hernias, however, differ depending on your dog’s age and the severity of their hernia.
Umbilical hernias are found most prominently on puppies after birth. These are known as a type of congenital defect, a condition presented at birth. If they are small, veterinarians will often leave them to heal on their own. Puppies will rarely be able to hurt themselves when they are so young, they usually cannot even compulsively lick the site. By the time they are able to interact with the site, the wound has usually healed. Although this is not always the case and the area should be heavily monitored regardless. This is especially important with an older dog as they are more likely to interfere with the wound.
Some umbilical hernias require surgery if there have twisted organs, bleeding or suffocating tissue involved. Because the condition is so prominent in puppies, it is often a solution for the hernia to be treated alongside your puppy is spayed or neutered. This means that your dog will only require one surgery, therefore minimizing the risks of anesthetic on young dogs and decreasing the healing time.
Anesthetic risks are increased when dogs are young, ill or old. These include bleeding out in surgery, an allergic reaction to the anesthetic or even severe tissue deterioration to the affected organs.
Umbilical Hernia Post-surgery Recovery
Post-surgery recovery is incredibly important to minimize your dog’s pain and help encourage quick healing.
Try to prevent stress in your dog as hormonal imbalances can prevent or slow down healing time. Ensure your dog has a quiet area to rest, minimal interference, space from others, and no loud noises. You should check the site of the hernia daily for any signs of infection, loose stitching, bleeding or drainage problems. Your dog may have some post-surgery depression or anxiety so it is important to keep the site check as quick, gentle and non-invasive as possible.
Depending on your dog’s surgeon, you may need to replace dressing at home or regularly bring in your dog for a veterinary nurse to do so. If a dressing is provided, it may need replacing regularly. The number of changes can depend on the width of the wound and how much it is leaking.
Umbilical Hernias in Dogs – FAQ
Although we have covered what umbilical hernias are, how they affect your dog and how to treat them, a lot of owners will have some more specific questions! Find five of the most frequently asked questions answered in our next section.
How much does hernia removal surgery cost for puppies?
Umbilical hernia treatment can cost on average $1,500 dollars to treat. This is due to the surgery, anesthetic, and occasional overnight stay costs. The cost may be influenced by whether the hernia is reducible or irreducible, the breed of your dog and their individual factors. Such as the age of your puppy, their gender and risk factors. The range of pricing is around 700 – 2500 dollars depending on all these elements.
Dog insurance companies may offer to help pay but it depends on their policy. Umbilical hernias will often count as a pre-known condition as long as there is proof the condition has existed three months before the policy had begun. Other policies will offer a certain amount of funding for health issues. Also if you have not already used up that financial support, the payment can be used towards the surgery.
Do certain dog breeds suffer more from umbilical hernias?
Dog breeds at higher risk include the Airedale Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Basenji. These breeds have been found to have a high probability of being at risk of umbilical hernias when they are young.
Certain breeds are more susceptible to umbilical hernias. It is not yet known why umbilical hernias occur. Therefore, there is no conclusion as to why certain breeds are more predisposed. What is known, is that these breeds are genetically pre-disposed. Therefore, breeders should research the detection and treatment of umbilical hernias in risk breeds.
Few studies have been conducted comparing breed types at risk once the dog has reached adulthood.
What home remedies can I try for umbilical dog hernias?
With an umbilical hernia, we strongly recommend visiting the vet before trying anything else. However, there are home remedies that can be recommended for umbilical hernias. Especially if the vet has recommended to let it heal by itself:
- use an ice pack
- add ginger in the diet
- pour some vegetable juice
Use an ice pack to reduce inflammation on the hernia. It can also help with healing and can minimize your dog’s pain. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth or towel before gently pressing it to your dog’s stomach. This prevents the ice block from sticking to your dog’s skin. Which may cause further pain and even slight tearing to the hernia’s outer layer. Bloating and reddening of the skin can also be reduced with an ice pack.
In small doses, ginger can be a great home remedy for stomach pain and inflammation. A small amount of ginger consumed by your dog can help to heal. This can include reducing the pain caused by the hernia, reducing inflammation, swelling, and helping with digestion. Ginger can help reduce your dog’s nausea. This can be beneficial when they have higher levels of anxiety due to the stress of a hernia.
Add a bit of vegetable juice to your dog’s food each morning to promote healthy digestion and reduce inflammation. Just be sure that the vegetables are all safe for dog consumption. Furthermore, do not provide too large of an amount of juice as it can lead to loose stool.
Can dogs participate in shows after having an umbilical hernia?
The AKC will allow dogs to participate in shows after an umbilical hernia under the condition that they are thoroughly healed. If your dog has an only partially healed hernia this can be enough for a disqualification. Even without a diagnosis, if hernia symptoms are being displayed, your dog may not be eligible.
An umbilical hernia may pose a severe risk to the health of your dog if left untreated. However, with vet care and careful monitoring of your pet, you can treat umbilical hernias in dogs and puppies.