Gastrointestinal FAQs

What is a hernia?

A hernia is the abnormal protrusion of an organ through an abnormal or abnormally large opening.  In dogs the most common type of hernia is a congenital umbilical hernia – the protrusion of intestine or the fat that lines the abdominal cavity through an unclosed umbilicus (belly button.)  Sometimes the closure is only delayed and the umbilicus will close by the time the puppy is a few months old.

How do I know if my puppy has an umbilical hernia

There will be a bump of tissue under the skin in the area of the umbilicus (belly button.)  In very young puppies you may be able to gently push the tissue back into the abdominal cavity.  Doing this a few times a day may help keep the tissue (generally abdominal fat) inside as the umbilicus closes, if it does at all.

Aren’t umbilical hernias caused by the bitch tugging on the umbilical cord when she cleans the puppies?

No, this is a persistent myth.

Do umbilical hernias go away?

Sometimes the umbilical opening will close on its own, though if a hernia is still present by 5-6 months of age it isn’t likely to change without surgery.

What does having an umbilical hernia mean for my puppy?

If the hernia goes away on its own it is not a health concern for the puppy now or later.  Sometimes the actual opening in the abdominal wall is very small, so what you see pushing through is only a bit of the fat that lines the interior of the abdomen.  The abdominal wall may actually have closed, isolating a small pad of fat under the skin.  These also do not cause any trouble.  However, large openings pose a danger to the dog due to the risk of a loop of intestine slipping through and becoming strangulated.  Such dogs should have surgical correction.

How common are umbilical hernias in Aussies?

The 2009-10 ASHGI health survey indicated that hernias are common:  5.6% of the dogs entered in the survey were reported to have or have had umbilical hernias.

Are umbilical hernias hereditary?

Umbilical hernias present from birth are inherited.  Delayed closure of the umbilicus is also inherited and should be considered part of the same inherited issue as hernias.

What do umbilical hernias mean for my breeding program?

If a hernia is sufficiently large it requires surgery, the dog should not be bred.  Dogs with minor hernias or in which hernias went away naturally should be considered to have a fault that you want to breed away from.  Dogs born with resolving or minor hernias, those who have produced puppies with hernias, and the normal full and half siblings of dogs with hernias should not be bred close on any pedigree that produced hernias or have a family history of hernias.  Males with hernias should not be used extensively.

What about inguinal hernias?

Inguinal (groin) hernias are located near the groin and require surgical correction.  They can be present at birth or acquired.  If the affected dog is a puppy, it most likely is congenital and may be hereditary.  If there is any family history of inguinal hernia the puppy shouldn’t be bred.  If he is an adult it may have been acquired and therefore not a breeding concern.  Inguinal hernias are rare in Aussies.

What is megaesophagus?

Megaesophagus is an abnormally enlarged esophagus which prevents the dog from swallowing normally and passing food into the stomach.  It can also be secondary to persistent right aortic arch, a congenital blood vessel abnormality (PRAA), and myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease.  In dogs with PRAA, the abnormal vessels encircle and construct the puppy’s esophagus.  The stricture causes food to back up and stretching the esophageal issue.  Whatever the primary cause, affected dogs tend to regurgitate their food and are at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia.  The condition has a very poor long-term prognosis.

What is the most likely cause of megaesophagus in an Aussie?

All cases reported to ASHGI have been in puppies with persistent right aortic arch.

Is megaesophagus inherited?

The primary form of this disease is inherited, but it is very rare or possibly even absent in Aussies.  However, even secondary megaesophagus has genetic roots because the other diseases that cause it are also hereditary.

How can I control megaesophagus in my breeding program?

No dog with megaesophagus should be bred.    Don’t repeat the cross that produced it or breed the parents and healthy siblings close on their own pedigree or to anything with a family history of megaesophagus, PRAA or myasthenia gravis.  If any breeding dog produces it with more than one mate serious consideration should be given to removing it from further breeding.