Umbilical hernias are common in puppies. Most are insignificant. A few can be dangerous.



We have a 10 week old white German Shepherd puppy and I just noticed a lump about the size of the tip of a pinky finger on her tummy below her rib cage.  What could it be?


Dr. Nichol:

You describe an umbilical hernia. This is a birth defect that is usually quite minor. The lump you are noticing is likely to be a small amount of normal fat that has slipped into the location of the umbilicus (belly button). The hernia, an opening in the muscle wall of the abdomen, is the result of an incomplete union of the two halves of the body during fetal development. If the hernia stays very small it will need no treatment. On the other hand, if it gets bigger as the puppy grows it may allow a loop of intestine to slip through the opening and become twisted. This would cut off the blood supply to the intestine and require emergency surgery. Ask your veterinarian to palpate the hernia at the time of each vaccination booster-about every 3 weeks. If the hernial opening gets big enough the doctor will recommend that it be closed surgically. The procedure will require general anesthesia but is quite safe. Recovery is speedy.





Inguinal hernias are a form of birth defect. They need surgical correction but they do great. If neglected puppies are at risk.



My husband and me have a 5 week old Yorkie puppy who has a swollen place near his groin that our vet said was a hernia. We hoped we could wait until his was bigger to get it fixed but now the hernia is getting bigger. Is it risky to wait? Is our baby too young to have it fixed?


Dr. Nichol:

I share your concern. Who wants surgery-especially on some one that young and tiny? I suspect your baby weighs all of about one and a half pounds. The truth is that allowing a puppy to get bigger is usually best. But in the case of your little guy it may be too risky.


What you are describing is an inguinal hernia. It’s seldom a big problem because its cause is nothing more than a slight anatomy problem. Here is how it works: The abdomen is where our intestines, and a lot of other organs, belong. Things are supposed to stay bundled up here. But there is a passageway on each side near the rear portion of the abdomen (the groin of a person) where arteries and veins go to the back legs.  This is called the inguinal canal. Normally the canal is not wide enough for anything else to slip through. But in your baby, the canal is much too wide and this has allowed some of his intestines to slide into the canal. So what you are seeing and feeling in Junior’s groin is loops of intestine under the skin.


Well the good news is that he is acting fine which means that he’s still OK. If you wait too long to get the hernia repaired you will notice a sudden onset of pain, loss of appetite, and inactivity. And that will occur because enough intestine has found its way through this extra wide canal and has become “strangulated”. Now strangulated is a real medical term that means what it sounds like-that the blood supply to this area of intestine has been choked off. This is bad. It would not only require immediate surgery but would result in the removal of a portion of dead intestine. No bueno.


So my advice: Get it fixed now. If it were still small and staying that way, waiting would be fine. Safety? We do this type of surgery on small fry often. We use small instruments and suture. On a little tyke like this we would put some liquid food in by stomach tube under anesthesia and provide extra fluid under the skin. This would prevent low blood sugar problems. Keeping him warm during the procedure is real important too. But in experienced hands I predict success. Go for it.