Symptoms and Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies

Updated October 17, 2022
Woman holding a Cocker Spaniel puppy

Veterinarians define an umbilical hernia in puppies 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 to determine if your puppy is in harm's way.

How a Puppy Umbilical Hernia Occurs

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, umbilical puppy 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, generally by three months of age.

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. Hernias are congenital in many cases, meaning the puppy is born with the hernia. Although veterinarians aren't completely sure why the umbilical ring fails to close, in some cases, a piece of fatty tissue can prevent it from closing.

Types of Puppy Hernias

There are two types of umbilical hernias puppies can have: reducible and non-reducible. Non-reducible means the lump protrudes at all times without changing, whereas reducible means the bulge can be pushed back into the abdomen. Reducible hernias tend to be the most dangerous of the two.

A small puppy with a large hernia is in the hands of the vet

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, in rare cases, 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.

Can a Puppy Umbilical Hernia Heal Itself?

In some cases, a hernia can heal by itself, but treatment of a dog's 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. Often it may be included within the cost of the spay/neuter for no extra fee of for an extra $100-$200 due to the extra surgical time and equipment needed.
  • If you are having the hernia repair done separately from sterilization surgery, expect to pay about $300 to $700 if the dog is healthy and this is a scheduled surgery. If you must have it repaired right away due to complications and infection, expect to pay $700 up to several thousand depending on the severity of the dog's condition. In these situations, if not treated, the umbilical hernia can be fatal.

If your puppy has an umbilical hernia, it's important to have them checked out by your veterinarian right away to ascertain the severity. There are no "home remedies" for umbilical hernias and following your veterinarian's advice is the best option for the continued health of your puppy.

Puppy with surgical sutures after surgery for the Umbilical hernia

Buying a Puppy With an Umbilical Hernia

You might be concerned about buying a puppy with an umbilical hernia. A reputable breeder should be willing to let you have your veterinarian examine the case and give you an idea of the severity of the hernia. If you have no plans to breed the dog and will do the fix for the hernia when spaying/neutering, it's likely that you shouldn't worry about bringing home the puppy.

If breeding is in your plans, while you can breed a dog physically with a hernia, you should consider that you will be perpetuating an unhealthy trait in a breed's gene pool, and a responsible breeder should disclose this genetic history to potential breeders, thereby making your breeding a hard sale to make to potential future buyers.

Dog Breeds at Risk for Hernias

Any puppy born with a hernia should not be used in a breeding program, nor should you breed dogs that have produced puppies with hernias. Some breeds known for having genetic predispositions to hernias are:

Pregnant Dogs With Hernias

It's not unusual for a pregnant dog to develop a hernia during her pregnancy. This is due to the effect of her changing hormones, primarily estrogen, on her connective tissues. In some cases, it can be potentially fatal for the mother as well as one or more puppies if they get pulled into the herniated area. Consult with a veterinarian immediately if you have a pregnant dog that has developed a hernia.

Other Types of Hernias in Dogs

Umbilical hernias are the most common type seen in puppies. However, dogs can also develop hernias in other areas.

  • Inguinal hernias are found in a dog's groin and can be mild to potentially fatal depending on where they are located and the size. A life-threatening inguinal hernia can result from the intestines, bladder, or uterus being pushed through the hernia opening, and surgery will be required to save the dog. Inguinal hernias tend to occur in older female dogs. Pregnant dogs are also at higher risk.
  • Perineal hernias are found in the pelvis area and the typical patient is a middle-aged male dog that has not been neutered.
  • Diaphragmatic hernias can make it hard for a dog to breathe properly, as this hernia allows the abdominal organs to move through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. This type of hernia may occur due to a genetic birth defect or can be caused by physical trauma, such as being hit by a car.
  • Hiatal hernias occur when the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm into the thorax. They are similar to diaphragmatic hernias in that they can occur from an injury or are found from birth in a dog.

Follow Your Vet's Advice

While it's possible that a small umbilical hernia may heal by itself or never cause a problem for your pet, there's always the possibility that it could grow larger and strangulate. Play it safe and get your dog checked. Don't risk it. It's usually best to plan on a surgical repair just to be on the safe side, so consult your vet, follow their advice, and give your puppy the best chance to live a normal, happy life.

Symptoms and Treatment of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies