Hernias in dogs

Hernias in dogs happen when soft tissues or organs are in the wrong place. Hernias are quite common in dogs and usually happen as birth defects. Around 1 in 500 puppies is born with a hernia. There are different types of hernias, and some cause more severe problems than others. Dogs of any breed or sex can get hernias, but they’re most common in young male small-breed dogs.


Hernias in dogs happen when pieces of tissue or organ push through a gap or tear in a muscle wall. Some appear as lumps on the tummy under the skin. Others are inside the body, so unseen. Internal hernias are often only identified when they make your dog unwell. Sometimes very small hernias are not immediately dangerous. Others are life-threatening and need an urgent operation to repair them. Always ask a vet to check any lumps or swellings on your dog’s tummy.



What are hernias in dogs?

A hernia is a piece of tissue or organ that has moved into the wrong place. Hernias happen when there’s a gap in the muscle wall that lines your dog’s chest cavity or abdomen.

An organ or tissue may move:

  • From one body cavity to another, for example, from the abdomen to the chest.
  • From inside the abdomen to outside of the body, from the abdomen to under the skin.


90% of hernias are present at birth. Others result from:

  • Trauma: car accidents and blunt trauma.
  • Stretching and weakening of muscle, for example in advanced pregnancy.
  • Age-related weakness and change.


There are 5 different types of hernia

Umbilical Hernia

  • The most common hernia. Usually present from birth.
  • Appears as a bulge at your dog’s belly button, underneath the tummy, just behind the ribs.
  • Usually soft and sometimes slips back in when your dog lies on their back.
  • Contains some fat from inside the abdomen.
  • Small hernias less than a cm may close by themselves as puppies reach 3 to 4 months old.
  • Larger hernias may include loops of bowel if the muscle gap is big enough.

Diaphragmatic hernia

  • The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle which separates the abdomen from the chest (lungs and heart).
  • A hole or tear in the diaphragm allows the liver and stomach to push through into the chest.
  • Occasionally a birth defect, but more commonly results from blunt trauma to the abdomen (tummy).
  • Nothing is visible outside the body.

Hiatal Hernia

  • Also involves the diaphragm.
  • Stomach or liver pushes into the chest through a weakness where the oesophagus (food pipe/gullet) crosses the diaphragm.

Perineal Hernia

  • A split in the muscle wall separating the back part of the abdomen from the rectum.
  • Bladder, prostate or anal gland sacs may slip through.
  • Poo may accumulate inside a bulge in the rectum next to the tear.
  • Sometimes visible as a bulge under the tail. Close to your dog’s bottom.

Inguinal Hernia

  • The inguinal canal is a small gap in the body wall where the tummy joins up with the back legs.
  • Fat, bladder, bowel or womb (females) can slip through when the entrance becomes weak and enlarged.
  • Appears as a bulge in the groin area.


How can I tell if my dog has a hernia?

Symptoms of hernias in dogs depend on:

  • Where the hernia is
  • How big it is
  • The tissue or organs involved
  • Whether the hernia is trapped or free to move
  • Whether the blood supply is cut off because the hernia is trapped. This is called strangulation.

Umbilical hernia

  • Appears as a soft swelling at the belly button.
  • Most cause no symptoms.
  • May vary in size if tissue moves in and out through the gap.
  • Strangulated (trapped) hernias become swollen, red and hot. Later becoming cold and purple. Can lead to life-threatening illness and symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, shock, collapse.

Diaphragmatic hernia

  • Difficulty breathing: hernia takes up space in the chest cavity, leaving less room for the lungs to expand.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing: your dog may hold their head and neck forward to get in more air.
  • Vomiting and regurgitation after eating: food can’t get to the displaced stomach or the stomach doesn’t have space to fill up.
  • Losing weight and an empty-looking/feeling tummy.
  • Small hernias cause mild symptoms: often only during exercise.
  • Larger hernias result in severe breathing difficulties and gastrointestinal problems.

Hiatal hernia

  • Vomiting, regurgitation, drooling saliva, and difficulty breathing.
  • Symptoms often only come on with exercise.

Perineal hernia

  • Often result in difficulties pooing or constipation.
  • Appearance of a bulge under the skin, near the bum. It may become more obvious when pooing; gets bigger over time as poo builds up inside.

Inguinal hernia

  • A swelling between the inner thigh and abdomen.
  • Complicated ones cause pain, and then more severe symptoms: vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, vaginal discharge (females), shock, and collapse.



Which dogs are most at risk of hernias?

90% of hernias are present at birth and are the result of inherited tendencies.

Dogs at greatest risk include:

  • Small brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds.
  • Any puppy born to a parent with a hernia.
  • Any puppy whose littermates have a hernia.

Breed risks for types of hernia:

  • Umbilical hernia: Airedale Terrier, Pekinese, Maltese and Basenji.
  • Inherited diaphragmatic hernia: Weimaraners, Cocker Spaniels.
  • Hiatal hernia: French bulldogs, Shar-pei.
  • Inguinal hernia: Basenji, Pekingese, Poodle, Cairn Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier.
  • Perineal hernia: Boston Terriers, Boxers, Welsh Corgis, Pekingese, and Dachshunds.

Later development risks:

  • Rapid change in body shape: late pregnancy, obesity.
  • Perineal hernias: middle age to older entire males.
  • Dogs more at risk of road accidents: exercised off lead, boisterous, living close to roads.


How do vets diagnose hernias in dogs?

Physical exam: umbilical and inguinal hernias are usually visible and can be felt by you and your vet.


  • X-rays: particularly useful for diaphragmatic and hiatal hernias.
  • Contrast x-rays or barium studies: allow your vet to see where food goes when swallowed.
  • Fluoroscopy: moving x-rays while your dog eats. The vet can follow where the food goes in real-time.
  • Ultrasound scan: can identify loops of bowel in umbilical and inguinal hernias.

Vet treatment

Vet treatment for hernias in dogs

Close monitoring:

  • Only for very small umbilical hernias.
  • Regular vet checks are essential.


  • Returning the herniated tissues or organs to the right place.
  • Tidying up and repairing the hole in the muscle.
  • Placing a mesh over large gaps or muscle tears to help the muscle heal across it.

Home treatment

How to care for a dog with a hernia at home

There are no home remedies for hernias. A dog with a hernia needs to see a vet for assessment and treatment.

If monitoring a small umbilical hernia, check carefully for:

  • Increasing size: it may help to measure the hernia with a ruler and record the size for comparison over time.
  • Changing texture: if the hernia becomes harder or has a bubbly or fluidy feel, it may contain a piece of intestine.
  • Changing colour: normal flesh colour to red, purple or puce.
  • Discomfort or pain.



How to prevent hernias in dogs

  • If puppies or dogs have a hernia from birth, it’s too late to prevent it for that individual.
  • Hernias are inherited: the parents producing a litter of puppies with hernias should not breed again.
  • Dogs with hernias themselves should not be bred from.


Hernias developing later in life:

  • Prevent obesity: keep your dog physically fit and in a healthy body condition.
  • Reduce risks of trauma: always keep your dog safely under control near a road or height.


When to worry

Hernias in dogs – when to worry

See a vet if:

  • You notice a lump or swelling at your dog’s belly button or in their groin for the first time.
  • An existing lump is growing or changing in any way.
  • Your dog drools or regurgitates during exercise or develops rapid shallow breathing.
  • Your dog is regularly regurgitating food and/or losing weight.
  • Your dog has a bulge near their anus (bum) and/or is struggling to poo.


Contact your nearest vet if:

  • Your dog is unwell and an existing swelling is red, hot and painful.
  • Your dog develops breathing difficulties after a recent blow or car accident.


Joii can help with advice on:

  • Weight management and preventing obesity.
  • Health before and during pregnancy.
Consult a vet - £28

Consult your vet online. Anyday, anytime.

Consult a Joii vet online for £28. Or free if you’re insured with one of our partners.

Developed by vets 🩺

QR code to app

How to get an

Join a practice

*It's free*

Download the app to register and become a member of Joii vets. In only a few taps you will have access to digital vet care 24/7 as well as a vet practice

Download the app

We’re writing as quick as we can

This article is currently being written by one of our expert vets. Check back soon.