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What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is the result of a “hole” in the abdominal wall where the umbilicus was once attached to the body that allows the protrusion of abdominal contents. In MOST cases this is simply fat (omentum layer). In rare cases, the hole can be big enough to involve the intestine. Hernias can occur in any infant mammal.

Umbilical hernias in puppies can occur in both males and females and in every breed of dog. As stated, usually fat is all that will protrude and is not something that new owners should stress over. Most umbilical hernias are small and only trap fat in the umbilical ring. This is not a problem. A closed hernia that only traps fat is not a health concern and does not require any treatment. However, an owner may desire to have an umbilical hernia cosmetically removed. 

It is rare that an umbilical hernia causes any health issues or complications. Puppies with these hernias are just as healthy as a puppy that does not have one. If an owner chooses to "fix" their pup's umbilical hernia, it is best done upon sterilization (spay/neuter) so that the puppy will only have to go under anesthesia once. Removing a hernia is not difficult to do, but usually incurs additional cost.   

Many vets call attention to umbilical hernias, bringing undue alarm to new owners. Some veterinarians are very insistent that all umbilical hernias MUST be repaired. This is untrue. As your breeder, part of my responsibilities is to be sure your puppy is seen by a vet before being released into your care. This appointment usually takes place around 8 weeks of age. If your puppy has an umbilical hernia, it will be remarked on your puppy's individual take-home health report as either "unconcerning" or "concerning", and as either "reducible" or as "non-reducible".

 

In the very rare event that your puppy has an umbilical hernia that upon their 8-week appointment is classified by my vet as "concerning", it will be addressed between owner and myself, and a Care Plan will be made before that puppy is released into your care. 

A "reducible" hernia means that the abdominal wall is still open, meaning there is still a hole, and depending on the size, the fat may able to be pushed back up into the abdomen. Eventually the hole will close, and in most cases will trap a small amount of fat that will no longer be able to be pushed back in. This is not a health issue, but it is permanent once the hole closes. From there the decision to remove is strictly cosmetic and responsibility falls strictly to the owner to decide whether to pay to have it cosmetically removed at the time of spay/neuter.

A "nonreducible" hernia means the hole is already closed, and the same as what is stated above remains equally true.

Causes - Genetics Vs Trauma

There are two believed causes of the umbilical hernia. The first belief is that umbilical hernia is controlled by genetics. Geneticists believe that the gene for an umbilical hernia is a recessive trait. All or some puppies born could have the trait.  Genetic traits can also skip several generations and suddenly show up,  resulting in only one puppy in a litter having the trait. At this time, the specific genes involved are unknown and until scientists are able to isolate the genes associated with this trait, a true genetic connection cannot be confirmed.

The second belief is trauma caused by the dam at birth. At times, the momma dog will chew the cord, and can come too close to the body before the breeder can stop her. The resulting trauma can cause the muscles in the abdomen that surround the umbilicus to be weakened due to tearing, resulting in a hernia.

AUTHOR: Angela Schuller

Disclaimer: As a breeder who cares deeply for my dogs and puppies I act as responsibly as I can.  The information provided is intended to inform and lessen the alarm when umbilical hernia becomes a topic with your veterinarian. Ultimately, once a puppy leaves my home relinquished to an owner's care, owners then must take on responsibility for their decisions. As always, if your pet has an urgent medical concern, please consult your veterinarian. Finally, as your trusted breeder, I am always available to offer support and answer questions

SOURCES:

Umbilical Hernias in Puppies and Kittens, Becky Lundgren, DVM, 07/06/2010. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?id=4952951&pid=19239

Directions in Veterinary Medicine, M. Joseph Bojrab, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVS, 09/30/2008, https://www.dvm360.com/view/herniorrhaphy-proceeding

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