A dog has two inguinal rings -- openings located on the muscle wall of the groin area. Pregnant dogs are vulnerable to inguinal hernias, which are characterized by the projection of abdominal matter through one of those inguinal rings. If the hernia is large, the dog's intestines, uterus or bladder may protrude through the opening, causing a dangerous situation.
Inguinal Hernias and Estrogen
Inguinal hernias in canines are congenital or acquired. Congenital inguinal hernias exist at birth, and acquired inguinal hernias are usually the result of trauma, obesity or pregnancy. This is because the hormone estrogen is capable of affecting the connective tissues and making the inguinal rings bigger or weaker. Inguinal hernias are also thought to be especially common in pregnant canines due to the increase in abdominal pressure.
Symptoms of Inguinal Hernias
Inguinal hernias are often particularly visible in pregnant dogs. Owners sometimes fail to realize these hernias are there until their female dog is pregnant. If a dog has an inguinal hernia, you may observe a swelling on her groin region. This swelling is typically the sole sign of an inguinal hernia. If the inguinal hernia is complicated and has caused matter from the abdominal cavity to travel out of the opening and get caught, however, you may observe more conspicuous symptoms:
- Groin swelling that feels warm
- Blood in the urine
- Straining during urination
- More attempts to urinate than usual
- Reduced appetite
- Stomach pain
Since complicated inguinal hernias can be fatal to dogs, they require urgent veterinary attention. Dogs who have complicated hernias need emergency surgery. When they don't receive swift veterinary treatment, they can die due to the trapped tissues emitting toxins into their bodies. If you have any reason to think your dog might have an inguinal hernia, complicated or not, alert your veterinarian immediately. Vets diagnose inguinal hernias by performing physical examinations and occasionally abdominal ultrasounds or X-rays. Although hernias are usually harmless, it's always wise to err on the side of caution.
If you want to minimize your female dog's risk of developing an inguinal hernia, get her spayed if you haven't already. Since pregnancy makes dogs more susceptible to these types of hernias, spaying can help.