What is an Umbilical Hernia?
This article is written by one of our in-house veterinarians, Dr Teagan Lever BVSc.
What is a hernia?
A hernia is a separation in the lining of a body cavity, and one of the most common kinds of hernia in dogs and cats is an umbilical hernia. An umbilical hernia is a separation in the abdominal wall at the site where the umbilical cord connects to the foetus (i.e. the belly button). The umbilical cord is the life supply for an unborn puppy or kitten; it carries all the nutrition and oxygen from the mother to the foetus and is responsible for carrying toxins and waste products away from the foetus for the mother's body to process. After birth, the cord is broken and the umbilical hole closes to form the belly button. An umbilical hernia occurs when this site fails to fuse properly and a gap is left between the abdomen and skin.
What Does an Umbilical Hernia Look Like?
Most umbilical hernias can be easily felt as a soft lump in the region of your puppy or kitten's belly button. In some cases you may feel a small gap or hole in the muscle under the skin or notice that the lump changes in shape or size. If you suspect that your pet may have an umbilical hernia it is best to have them examined by a vet. Depending on the size and shape of the hernia, parts of abdominal organs may become stuck in the hernia hole, reducing blood flow which can cause your pet to become seriously ill.
How are Umbilical Hernias Treated?
Hernias are usually found by your veterinarian at your puppy or kitten’s first health check. When hernias are identified your vet will explain the necessary course of action. Small uncomplicated hernias are usually surgically repaired when your pet has their desexing surgery at around 6 months of age, however larger hernias or those that may risk constricting abdominal organs will need to be operated on immediately.
If your pet presents with signs of organ strangulation (depression, lethargy, warm hernia sac, reduced appetite, vomiting or abdominal pain) contact your veterinarian immediately.
Ultrasound or x-rays can also be used to assess the abdomen and organs affected by the hernia which is then followed by surgery to repair the defect. Once the hernia is repaired and the site has healed, the condition is unlikely to recur and your pet can return to their usual activities and lead a normal life.