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
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:
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:
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: