I remember the day we collected Rosie so well. We were just coming out of lockdown, so the hour-long drive was a happy reprieve from time spent inside, and we just could not wait to cuddle our new Cavapoo. It wasn’t until we were back at home, however, that we noticed a small, squishy lump protruding near her belly button. Quickly googling what it is could be, we soon realised that our perfect pup had an umbilical hernia!
Umbilical hernias in dogs are common and are usually hereditary. Puppies with umbilical hernias will have a soft swelling in the umbilical area. Although they can heal on their own, the majority of umbilical hernias will need to be surgically fixed.
After consulting with our vet, we soon came to realize that umbilical hernias in dogs were actually incredibly common, and in the majority of cases these types of hernias are completely harmless. We did, however, appreciate that it would need treating due to its size and having discussed our options in detail, we decided to have Rosie’s hernia fixed whilst she was being spayed.
Below we explain more about umbilical hernias in dogs and our journey from discovery to removal.
What are umbilical dog hernias?
You may have noticed that your dog has an ‘outie’ instead of an ‘innie’ for a belly button – but what does this mean, how has it appeared, and will it disappear on its own?
Before your puppy is born, it will have been provided nourishment from its mother via the umbilical blood vessels that pass through the umbilical ring (this is an opening in the abdominal muscles).
If the umbilical ring fails to fully close upon birth, then this can create a bulging belly button or an umbilical hernia to give it its correct name. The hernia then allows the abdominal contents to pass through the opening, creating a soft swelling beneath the skin.
An umbilical hernia often protrudes when your puppy is standing, barking, crying, or straining, although hernias which are more prominent are often visible all of the time. Although Rosie’s umbilical hernia was relatively small, it was easy to spot and could be felt, especially when tickling her tummy.
The hernias least likely to cause your puppy any issues are the smaller ones, which are too tiny for any intestine to fall into. These are often reducible, which means that it may be possible to push the protrusion back into the abdomen. Our vet attempted this with Rosie, and whilst it was small enough to pop back in, it simply popped straight back out!
Other umbilical hernias are classed as non-reducible which suggests that there is a partial obstruction or adhesion of the herniated contents to the opening.
What does an umbilical hernia look like?
If your puppy has an umbilical hernia, then it will be located on their underside, just below the ribcage. Most umbilical hernias show up in the first 5 weeks of your dog’s life, so by the time we collected our Cavapoo Rosie at 9 weeks of age, hers was clearly visible to the naked eye.
The classic umbilical hernia protrudes from the belly and is a firm ring of tissue tangible around the “hole” in the body wall. The size of the opening can vary from the size of the tip of your little finger to as big as 2-3 inches across.
Why has my dog got an umbilical hernia?
Although some dog hernias can be caused by trauma, infection or tumors, an umbilical hernia commonly occurs congenitally.
There are 3 main ways in which a congenital umbilical hernia will develop.
- The puppy was born with the umbilical hernia.
- The hernia developed due to a spontaneous issue during early development.
- It is hereditary, passed from one of the parents to the puppy.
In fact, a recent informal reproductive veterinary study showed that 90% of umbilical hernias in puppies were due to genetics.
Are umbilical hernias dangerous for dogs?
Most umbilical hernias will pose no health threats for your puppy, but it is always best to get your veterinary expert to do a full examination. Our Cavapoo received a puppy checkup within days of her arrival, in which we were quickly reassured that her hernia was not causing her any harm.
In incredibly rare cases, where the hernia is big enough for a portion of the intestines or other tissues to fall into, they may become trapped or strangulated and emergency surgery may be required.
What breeds of dogs are predisposed to hernias?
It is true that dogs are much more susceptible to getting hernias than cats, with certain breeds of dogs being much more susceptible.
Although not the sole cause, the majority of umbilical hernias are genetic conditions, so are most common in breeds such as:
- Airedale Terriers
- Toy, sporting, working, hound, and herding groups are also vulnerable
Although Cavapoos are not necessarily predisposed to getting umbilical hernias (although any dog is at risk of developing one from birth), Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are renowned for getting inguinal hernias.
Other types of hernias in dogs
Umbilical hernias are not the only types of hernia that you should be aware of your dog developing, as hernias can occur anywhere on the body. Here are the most common types:
- Inguinal Dog Hernia – These occur in the groin area where the inner fold of your dog’s hind leg attaches to the main body. Ranging in size, if big enough they can be life-threatening as parts of the bladder or uterus can seep through and get trapped. An inguinal hernia is most common in middle-aged female dogs and especially prevalent in those that are pregnant.
- Diaphragmatic Dog Hernia – These hernias are created when a hole in the diaphragm allows the muscle to separate from the chest and the abdomen. As the internal organs enter your dogs chest cavity, it can cause breathing difficulties. Dogs are usually born with diaphragmatic hernias and these are unlikely to occur later in life.
- Perineal Dog Hernia – If your energetic dog tears their pelvic muscles then this can allow the abdominal contents to push through. A perineal hernia is most common in male dogs that haven’t been neutered, over the age of 5 years. Certain breeds, such as the Welsh Corgis, Boston Terriers, Boxers and Collies are more likely to develop this type of hernia.
- Hiatal Dog Hernia – These hernias develop as a result of an accident or trauma but in some instances can be congenital. If the diaphragm is torn, then a hole large enough to allow the stomach to enter the chest cavity from the abdomen is created. Hiatal hernias are more prevalent in brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and Shar Peis due to the pressure created by their crushed airways sucking the stomach through the opening.
Can a dog live with a hernia?
If you do notice that your dog has a hernia then it is important that you get it checked out immediately by a vet, to ensure that it is not life-threatening, painful or likely to cause any further complications if left untreated.
In some cases, your puppy may outgrow their hernia, but most will require surgery further down the line. Our Cavapoos’ umbilical hernia was detected early on, yet the vet deemed it harmless enough for her to wait for removal once we had decided to get her spay. She spent the first 7 months of her life being a happy, energetic puppy, who was completely unaware that she had a hernia at all.
How do you treat an umbilical hernia in a dog?
The good news is that umbilical hernias in dogs are completely treatable.
A small umbilical hernia that is less than ¼ “or 1cm in size, may close up spontaneously without the need for treatment. This usually happens by the time your puppy reaches 3 to 4 months.
Umbilical hernias that are too large or do not close up over time, often require surgery, especially if a portion of an intestinal organ protrudes through it. The procedure of a hernia removal is relatively straight forward with the fibrous or scar tissues that have formed around the hernia being dissected or completely removed, and the defect then closed with sutures.
Most vets will recommend waiting to repair an umbilical hernia until spaying or neutering the dog. This is by far the safest practice as it prevents your dog having two sets of surgery and anaesthetic.
If you decide not to have your dog sterilized, then they will require a separate operation to repair the hernia.
Most vets will recommend that a dog with an umbilical hernia is neutered or spayed to prevent breeding, as there is a chance that they can pass on the same problem to their puppies.
How much does it cost to fix an umbilical hernia in a dog?
We paid around £100 extra for the hernia to be removed as part of the spay surgery for our Cavapoo. If you do decide to have it as a stand along surgery, however, then you can expect to pay £160 plus as you will need to pay for the aesthetic costs. It does vary from veterinary practice and also depends on location.
In the USA the average price of a hernia repair, including anesthetics ranges from $150-$400.
It is important to note that most umbilical hernia operations will be excluded from pet insurance policies as they are classed as hereditary conditions.
Can I breed from a dog with a hernia?
As many umbilical hernias are congenital, it is recommended that dogs with these types of hernias should not be bred.
Anyone who has produced a puppy with an umbilical hernia should notify those who want to breed to their stud dog or get a puppy from their bitch, of the defect in advance. Failure to do so could result in the same trait continuing down the line.
Another worry regarding breeding from a female dog who has a hernia or who has had a hernia repair, is the increased risk to her health. This is because the weight of the puppies pushing down on the area from the pregnant uterus could cause the hernia opening to stretch and enlarge.
Can I show a dog with an umbilical hernia?
At this time, the American Kennel Club does allow purebred dogs to be shown who have had an umbilical hernia repair, as this falls under the strict guidelines for restoring the health of a dog.
We all strive for perfection but please do not let an umbilical hernia stop you from giving your puppy their forever home. In most cases, an umbilical hernia is no big deal and is easily fixable when they are neutered or spay. In fact our Cavapoo is in good company, as our daughter has congenital heart disease, so we are well used to lovingly looking after pets and people with hereditary conditions.