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Inguinal Hernia in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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A hernia is a protrusion of tissue or an organ though an opening that is normally closed. Hernias can occur in different parts of the body. An inguinal hernia is a condition in which abdominal contents protrude through the inguinal ring. They occur in the inguinal area, which is located at the inner fold of the rear leg close to the body wall "groin area". The hernia can be a variety of sizes from very small to very big. Inguinal hernias are more common in dogs than cats.

The hernia appears as a soft mass in the groin area. If the opening is large enough, an intestinal loop, the urinary bladder, and/or the uterus can become trapped which can become a life-threatening problem. For this reason, it is recommended that all hernias be closed after diagnosis. This can be done concurrently with spaying (ovariohysterectomy) or castration surgery.

Development of an inguinal hernia can be acquired or a congenital malformation. Inguinal hernias are most common occur in intact middle-aged female dogs. Obesity, trauma, and pregnancy are risk factors for development. Some hernias are diagnosed or developed during estrus (heat cycle) or pregnancy as estrogen may alter the connective tissue function and cause the hernia. Trauma and obesity may also be contributing factors for hernia development.

Dog's breeds that may be predisposed to inguinal hernias include the Basenji, basset hound, Cairn terrier, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Chihuahua, cocker spaniel, dachshund, Maltese, Pekinese, poodle, Pomeranian, and the West Highland white terrier.

Some male dogs with inguinal herniation may also have the concurrent abnormality of a retained testicle, referred to as cryptorchidism.

What to Watch For

  • Soft mass in groin area

    Signs of intestinal strangulation:

  • Larger painful hernia sac that may be warm to the touch
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Anorexia
  • Depression

    Diagnosis

  • Definitive diagnosis of an inguinal hernia is by physical examination. Generally the contents of the hernia sack can be displaced back into the abdomen. This allows your veterinarian to determine the size of the hernia opening.

  • Occasionally, radiographs with contrast material may be used to diagnose strangulated hernias.

  • Abdominal ultrasound may be used to determine the size and contents of the hernia in some cases.

  • Contrast radiography may be done to visualize organ displacement into the hernia. For example, a cystogram can be done to determine the location of the urinary bladder (if it is herniated).

    Treatment

  • All inguinal hernias should be repaired at the time of diagnosis. This repair can be performed at the time of the spay or neuter surgery since the pet will be already anesthetized. The surgery consists of manually reducing the contents of the hernia into the abdomen followed by the surgeon closing the hernial sac.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Bring your pet to the veterinarian if he has a history of a hernia and if the hernia appears larger, the abdomen is painful or your pet is vomiting, depressed or not eating. These signs can be a medical emergency.

    If surgical management is done, watch for potential complications after surgery, including:

  • Incision problems such as redness, swelling or discharge
  • Recurrence of swelling

    Because the condition is thought to be inherited in some dogs (especially cocker spaniels and dachshunds), it can be prevented by not breeding pets with inguinal hernias.

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