Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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What is a hernia?  

A hernia is the abnormal protrusion of an organ through an unusually large or abnormal opening.  In dogs the most common type of hernia is a congenital umbilical hernia – the protrusion of the fat that lines the abdominal cavity and occasionally a loop of intestine through an unclosed umbilicus (belly button) which is a serious medical condition.

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.  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 if the umbilicus closes.

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.  If all that remains outside the abdominal wall is a little pad of fat, this isn’t medically significant.

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 or the abdominal wall may actually have closed, isolating a small pad of fat under the skin.  These are not a health concern.  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 has 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.