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This post was co-authored by Ji Khalsa and Alicia Hobson.
An umbilical hernia is an opening in the muscle under the skin where the umbilical cord was.
The presence in utero of umbilical cord itself causes the opening in the muscle, and usually the umbilical region closes on its own shortly after birth.
Umbilical hernias can also be caused by events at birth, such as a mom especially eager to separate the umbilical cord. In these cases, the mom inadvertently pulls too hard on the umbilical cord and can enlarge the opening. These tend to be slight hernias and most go away as the puppy matures. Sometimes taping can help a hernia repair on its own. Your vet can show you how to do this. Be sure to get instruction, you can cause damage to your puppy if you wrap too tightly or incorrectly. Sometimes umbilical hernias need to be repaired, and this can be done at the same time a puppy is spayed or neutered.
If a puppy has an umbilical hernia, we recommend you have it listed on your veterinary health certificate and discuss care and treatment with your puppy's family. Most vets will perform an umbilical repair at the same time as spay or neuter. The puppy is already under sedation and, especially in females, the repair is very simple. There are a number of ways to handle this with your puppy family. We offer a remimbusement up to $50 for females and $75 for males. There are vets out there who will charge $400 to repair an umbilical hernia (which can be as simple as 2 or 3 extra stitches during a spay), so we feel the need to put a cap on the amount we reimburse.
We recommend that no one breed dogs known or suspected to have a genetic predisposition to umbilical hernias. You will have to determine through observation at whelping and family history if one of your dogs has this genetic predisposition or if an umbilical hernia is mechanical in nature.
If you are certain the umbilical hernia is mechanical (happened at whelping as the result of too much pulling or an overeager dam) and not genetic, then it should be safe to breed a dog with a hernia. It's advisable, however, if you have a female to have the hernia repaired and assessed by a qualified reproductive veterinarian to be sure the site is closed properly and will not cause problems if the dam carries a litter.
An uncomplicated hernia is one in which there is a small opening and some of the omentum may protrude. You can push it back in easily when they're young. As they grow, it may reduce in size and resolve on its own.
A complicated hernia is one in which organs protrude through and as it closes, they can get caught in the ring and strangulated. It's very important to treat complicated hernias early!
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