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Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize a diaphragmatic hernia. Tests that your veterinarian may wish to perform include:

  • A complete medical history. You will usually be asked specific questions regarding your pet's appetite, weight loss or gain, urination, defecation and breathing pattern. Your veterinarian will also want to know if your pet has been outside unsupervised, allowing an opportunity for injury.

  • A complete physical exam. Your veterinarian will listen to your pet's heart and lungs and palpate (technique of checking parts of the body by touching and feeling them) his abdomen. If there is a diaphragmatic hernia, the heart and lung sounds will be abnormal and the abdomen may feel abnormal. If your pet has collapsed and has pale gums, he may be in shock.

  • Diagnostic imaging. Radiographs (X-rays) of the chest are often taken whenever an animal has been hit by a car or suffered other types of major trauma. These X-rays can reveal many types of injuries to the chest wall, lungs and heart, including diaphragmatic hernias. As with many diseases, early detection often leads to improved results. On a chest X-ray of a patient with a diaphragmatic hernia, the abdominal organs may be seen in the chest cavity, surrounding the heart and lungs. An ultrasound of the chest and diaphragm is helpful if a diaphragmatic hernia is suspected but abdominal organs were not visualized in the chest on the X-ray.

  • Blood tests. If an animal has suffered a major trauma, is vomiting, has diarrhea, has collapsed or is in shock, blood tests are important in determining the underlying problem. Blood tests can often hint at the type of injuries that have happened to your pet's abdominal organs, show the levels of the major body electrolytes, indicate if there was major blood loss or reveal if your pet has a blood clotting problem (bleeding disorder). This information is necessary in directing your veterinarian in providing life-saving therapy and determining the appropriateness and need for various medications, blood transfusions or emergency surgery.

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