Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

Overview of Canine Diaphragmatic Hernia

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the abdominal organs from the heart and lungs, and when the diaphragm contracts, air enters the lungs. A defect in the diaphragm allows abdominal organs such as the liver, stomach and intestines to enter the chest cavity. These organs then sit in the space between the lungs and the body wall and can compress the lungs, making it difficult for them to expand normally. This can cause difficulty breathing. However, some animals may only exhibit vomiting or other signs related to compromise of the organ that has herniated into the chest. Some animals show no signs related to the hernia and it is only noted on physical examination, when radiographs are taken, or at surgery.

Diaphragmatic hernias may be either congenital, which are present at birth due to abnormal development of the diaphragm, or traumatic, which are a result of an injury such as being hit by a car, falling from a height or being kicked. The latter is more common.

What to Watch For

Signs of diaphragmatic hernia in dogs may include:

Other symptoms that can occur depending on what organs are trapped in the chest include:

Diagnosis of Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize a diaphragmatic hernia. Tests may include:

Treatment of Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

Home Care

To reduce the likelihood of your pet developing a traumatic diaphragmatic hernia, keep your dog on a leash. The most common cause of diaphragmatic hernia and other very serious injuries is trauma caused by a motor vehicle accident.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has been injured or if you notice any abnormal signs.

In-depth Information on Diaphragmatic Hernia in Dogs

There are several causes of diaphragmatic hernia. They include the following:

Congenital Causes

Abnormal development of the diaphragm occurs for unknown reasons during gestation and prior to birth. Typically the hernia is between the abdominal cavity and the sac that contains the heart (pericardium). Abdominal organs can enter the pericardium and cause fluid accumulation within it and around the heart. The herniated organs and the fluid around the heart can impair function of the heart and lungs; however, many animals have this condition without any symptoms at all. In these animals the hernia may be found unexpectedly when X-rays of the chest are taken for some other reason.

Animals with symptoms may have the following clinical signs:

Traumatic Causes

Animals that have been hit by a car, kicked, or have fallen from a height can get a tear in the diaphragm caused by an increase in pressure in the abdomen. They can also get a tear from a direct injury caused by a gunshot wound or a stabbing injury. Symptoms that an animal with a traumatic hernia might have are similar to those mentioned above for a congenital hernia, but in addition they are more likely to be in shock. They may also have other evidence of trauma, such as bleeding into the lungs or chest cavity, bruising of the lungs (pulmonary contusions) and fractures). As with congenital hernias, some animals seem normal and the diaphragmatic hernia is an unexpected finding.

In-depth Information on Diagnosis

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

In-depth Information on Treatment

Treatments for diaphragmatic hernia may include the following:

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Diaphragmatic Hernia

Congenital Hernias

There is no way to prevent congenital diaphragmatic hernias, which are developmental malformations, from occurring in a particular dogl; however, it is recommended that affected dogs 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 dog might have a diaphragmatic hernia, X-rays may be a helpful screening test.

Traumatic Hernias

Traumatic diaphragmatic hernias can be prevented. Protect your dog 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 dog has any abnormal breathing patterns, vomiting, diarrhea or any of the previously mentioned symptoms that can be associated with a diaphragmatic hernia.