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Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

By: Dr. Cathy Reese

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Treatment In-depth

Treatments for diaphragmatic hernia may include the following:

  • Stabilization. If your pet has suffered a major trauma, emergency measures may need to be taken to stabilize him before surgery can be considered to repair the diaphragm. Emergency treatments including intravenous (IV) fluids, blood transfusions, steroids, antibiotics and oxygen are among the most common treatments used in a critical trauma patient. Each patient is different and may require different therapies. Anesthesia for surgery can be more safely administered after your pet is stable, which often takes at least 24 hours. Very rarely, an animal cannot be stabilized and has to have immediate surgery to repair the hernia. Most often this is because the organs are pressing on the lungs to such an extent that the lungs cannot inflate properly, or because the stomach has herniated into the chest and has distended causing difficult breathing and low blood pressure.

  • Surgery. For surgery your pet will be anesthetized and placed on a ventilator to help him breathe. The hernia is repaired by making an incision in the abdomen, pulling the displaced abdominal organs out of the chest, returning them to their normal positions and closing the defect in the diaphragm. Sometimes the organs that were herniated, such as the liver, spleen or intestines, may have had their blood supply damaged, necessitating partial or total removal. A tube may be placed in the chest cavity to drain air and fluid out of the chest after surgery. Your pet will be monitored closely after surgery for evidence of difficulty breathing or other problems.

  • Prognosis. Statistics on pets with congenital diaphragmatic hernias show about an 80 to 85 percent survival rate after surgery. Animals with traumatic diaphragmatic hernias have a more guarded prognosis, probably due to injuries to other major organs at the time of the accident. Statistics on these patients range from 52 to 88 percent survival rate.


    Congenital Hernias

    There is no way to prevent congenital diaphragmatic hernias, which are developmental malformations, from occurring in a particular animal; however, it is recommended that affected animals not be used for breeding purposes because this condition may be hereditary.

    Be observant and know what your pet's normal breathing pattern is. Being familiar with what is normal allows you to notice subtle changes and help diagnose problems early.

    The symptoms associated with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia are vague and non-specific. If you suspect that your animal might have a diaphragmatic hernia, X-rays may be a helpful screening test.

    Traumatic Hernias

    Traumatic diaphragmatic hernias can be prevented. Protect your pet from potential trauma by keeping him or her out of dangerous situations. Dogs should be kept on a leash when not confined to a house or fenced yard. Even the most obedient dog will sometimes chase another animal or car, despite your commands. Be particularly vigilant when your dog is around horses or cattle that might kick them.

    Contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice your pet has any abnormal breathing patterns, vomiting, diarrhea or any of the previously mentioned symptoms that can be associated with a diaphragmatic hernia.

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