Hiatal Hernia in Dogs

Hiatal hernia in dogs is usually a congenital condition of puppies. It can occur as a result of injury, however, in dogs of all ages. Read on to learn more.

Hiatal Hernia in Dogs Explained

A hernia is a medical condition in which a part of the body protrudes abnormally into another part, usually penetrating a muscle wall to do so. Hernias can occur all over your dog's body, but they have different names, depending on where they occur. A hiatal hernia when the organs of the abdominal or chest cavity protrude abnormally through the opening in the diaphragm known as the esophageal hiatus. This normal opening allows the esophagus to pass through the diaphragm, which is the muscle that allows your dog's lungs to expand and contract when he breathes.

Usually, the stomach protrudes through the esophageal hiatus, since it is attached to the esophagus. Male dogs usually develop these types of hernias more often than females. English Bulldogs and Shar Peis appear most vulnerable to this condition.

Most cases of hiatal hernia are already present at birth. Injury to the chest or abdomen, or respiratory conditions that cause labored breathing, can lead to hiatal hernia. Gastroesophageal reflux, in which stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, may cause or accompany hiatal hernia.

Symptoms of Canine Hiatal Hernias

Many dogs with hiatal hernias show only mild symptoms. In severe cases, you may be able to see the hernia protruding from your dog's abdomen. Usually, however, you won't be able to see the hernia, but might notice:

  • Vomiting or bloody vomiting
  • Regurgitation of undigested food
  • Excessive salivation
  • Labored breathing

Diagnosing Hiatal Hernia

Your vet will need a complete medical history and thorough physical exam in order to diagnose hiatal hernia. The symptoms of hiatal hernia are very similar to the symptoms of other disorders, including megaesophagus and esophageal cancer. Blood tests, X-rays, endoscopy and fluoroscopy can help your vet rule out these possibilities.

Treating Hiatal Hernia in Dogs

Hiatal hernias in dogs can cause serious complications if not treated properly. They can develop aspiration pneumonia, esophagitis, esophageal ulcers and strangulation of abdominal organs. Treatment can vary, depending on the severity of your dog's condition and whether or not he has developed any complications; your dog may or may not need to be hospitalized, depending on the severity of his condition. Your vet will probably prescribe antacid medication as an initial phase of treatment. 

If your dog has developed pneumonia, a common complication of hiatal hernia, he may need antibiotics. Fluid therapy may also be necessary to help him recovery. Dietary changes may be in order, and your dog will need smaller, more frequent servings of food, since he won't be able to fit as much into his stomach. Often, surgery will be necessary to reposition any herniated organs. 

While your dog is recovering from hiatal hernia, watch him carefully for the development of any respiratory symptoms. Pneumonia, a serious lung infection, can develop quickly in dogs with esophageal problems.