A hiatal hernia occurs along the diaphragm and is characterised as a part of the stomach protruding through the diaphragm and into the lower section of the oesophagus. It can occur in any breed of dog, but it does seem to affect males more than females. A hiatal hernia can severely affect your dog's quality of life, so veterinary care is always advised to prevent any unnecessary discomfort. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for hiatal hernias in dogs:
Causes and Symptoms
It's not always possible to determine why a dog develops a hiatal hernia, but they can be congenital. This is often the suggested cause when puppies develop this condition. They can also occur as a result of trauma, such as previous abdominal surgery or being involved in an accident. Dogs with a hiatal hernia often experience gastric reflux into the oesophagus. The discomfort of this can deter them from eating, so weight loss is common. Regurgitation and coughing are typical symptoms of this condition, so your dog may also vomit shortly after eating.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose your dog, your vet will take details of their symptoms and collect a blood sample to check for raised inflammatory markers or an increased white cell count, which is indicative of an infection. They may also carry out an abdominal X-ray to check for structural abnormalities around the diaphragm. Additionally, the vet may recommend an endoscopy to allow the vet to examine the oesophagus and open to the stomach. This involves having a thin tube inserted through your dog's mouth to their stomach; the tube has a camera attached to the end. It's a useful procedure as it can show the extent of the hernia and whether there's any damage to the lining of the oesophagus from the stomach acid flowing back up the oesophagus as a result of the diaphragm being open.
Your vet will recommend a treatment plan based on the severity of your dog's symptoms, but it's typical for dogs to be prescribed stomach acid suppressants to reduce gastric reflux. Your dog may also require intravenous nutrition if they have not been eating or drinking enough, so your vet may recommend a low-fat diet plan, as fat consumption can make gastric reflux symptoms worse. Surgery is often necessary to repair the diaphragm and secure the stomach in place to prevent it from protruding again.
If your dog has any of the symptoms associated with a hiatal hernia, schedule an appointment at a vet clinic as soon as possible, as this type of hernia can worsen if left untreated.