Symptoms and Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies

Kelly Roper
Cocker puppy with large umbilical hernia; © Willeecole |

Arthur Veterinary Clinic defines an umbilical hernia as a protrusion of tissue through the abdominal wall that is supposed to contain it. Small umbilical hernias may pose little to no problem for a puppy, but some are large enough to pose a significant health threat. Being aware of the signs can help you spot a hernia right away so you can have your veterinarian examine it.

How Umbilical Hernias Occur

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, umbilical hernias occur at the site of the umbilical cord. The cord is filled with blood vessels that provide a pathway for nutrients from the dam to her pups in utero. Under normal circumstances, the umbilical ring heals and closes after the puppy is born.

If the ring doesn't close properly, fat and other tissues, including the intestines, can begin protruding through the opening. This creates a soft bulge beneath the skin, and the size of the bulge correlates directly to the severity of the hernia.

Although veterinarians aren't completely sure why the umbilical ring fails to close, these hernias are congenital in many cases, meaning the puppy is born with the hernia. Any puppy born with a hernia should not be used in a breeding program.

Symptoms of an Umbilical Hernia

A puppy may have an umbilical hernia if:

  • There's a soft lump at the umbilical site.
  • The lump grows larger as time passes.
  • The lump feels warmer than the surrounding skin.
  • The puppy expresses pain when the area is touched, especially if the hernia is large.

Signs of a Strangulated Hernia

According to Race Foster, DVM, a hernia can become dangerous if the blood supply to the herniated tissue is restricted or completely cut off. This is referred to as a strangulated hernia, and the tissue can die and cause dire consequences.

Signs include:

  • Excessive swelling of the hernia
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Obvious severe pain
  • Refusal to eat, or vomiting after eating
  • Abscess forms at the site

Kidney and/or liver failure will occur as toxicity from the dead tissue spreads throughout the body, and death typically occurs within 24 to 48 hours if the condition isn't treated in time.

Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies

Treatment of an umbilical hernia varies according to how severe it is. According to VCA Hospitals:

  • Hernias less than one centimeter in size may heal spontaneously by the time a puppy reaches four months of age.
  • Hernias that do not close by four months of age should be surgically repaired. Surgical repair consists of gently pushing the protruding tissue back through the opening and then suturing the hole closed.
  • The surgical repair can be performed at the same time a puppy is spayed or neutered.

Follow Your Vet's Advice

While it's possible that a small umbilical hernia may heal by itself and never cause a problem for your pet, there's always the possibility that it could grow larger and strangulate. It's usually best to plan on a surgical repair just to be on the safe side, so consult your vet, follow her advice, and give your puppy the best chance for a normal, happy life.

Symptoms and Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies