A hernia is a condition in which a tear or weakness in a muscle wall allows the organs or tissues that it usually contains to push through. An inguinal hernia occurs when the abdominal contents protrude through one of two inguinal rings, which are openings at the ends of the inguinal canal (a passageway through the lower abdominal wall).
Because of the location of the inguinal canal on the body, these hernias appear in the groin area, where the inner fold of the rear leg attaches to the body. They can either be large or small, and depending on the size, may allow the bladder, uterus, and portions of the intestine to become stuck in the hernia, resulting in a life-threatening situation.
Causes of Inguinal Hernia in Dogs and Cats
Inguinal hernias can occur in both dogs and cats, but they are more common in dogs.
In dogs, inguinal hernias can either be congenital (present since birth) or acquired (appear later in life). When they are acquired, it is usually the result of abdominal trauma, obesity, or pregnancy, as estrogen can alter connective tissues. For this reason, middle-aged female dogs are the most affected dog population.
In cats, inguinal hernias are usually acquired. Some cats are born with weak muscle walls that allow hernias to form easily, and others develop hernias as a result of abdominal trauma (e.g., constipation or bloating) or following a pregnancy.
Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia in Dogs and Cats
Inguinal hernias can either be uncomplicated or complicated. A complicated or strangulated inguinal hernia is one in which abdominal contents (such as the bladder, uterus, and intestine) have pushed through the tear and become trapped in the hernia.
Symptoms of an uncomplicated inguinal hernia:
Symptoms of a complicated inguinal hernia:
The bulge or swelling in the groin area may be sensitive and warm to the touch
- Abdominal pain
- Straining to urinate
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosing Inguinal Hernia in Dogs and Cats
If you suspect that your pet has an inguinal hernia, contact your veterinarian. In most cases, your vet will diagnose the condition on the basis of physical symptoms. If your veterinarian suspects that the inguinal hernia is complicated, they may also order a radiograph or abdominal ultrasound to determine which abdominal contents are trapped.
Treatment for Inguinal Hernia in Dogs and Cats
The only treatment available for inguinal hernias is surgery. In uncomplicated cases, your veterinarian may schedule the surgery for the next available date. If the hernia is complicated, emergency surgery may be necessary. If not treated promptly, the tissues that are stuck in the hernia may die and release toxins into the body, which could kill your pet within 48 hours.
The surgery for an inguinal hernia involves manually pushing the contents of the hernia back through the muscle wall and then stitching the muscles back together to prevent future rupture. In some cases, a doctor may also attach a piece of mesh to the muscle in order to strengthen it.
Many pets fully recover following surgery.
While there is no real way to prevent inguinal hernias, spaying female dogs to prevent pregnancy will reduce the chances of a pregnancy-related hernia. Animals who have congenital inguinal hernias should not be bred as the condition may be inherited.