While most canine diaphragmatic hernias occur because of trauma, that's not the case in affected puppies. With them, it's congenital, apparent at birth. Dogs experiencing trauma resulting in a diaphragmatic hernia, such as being hit by a car, often exhibit signs of pain. Affected puppies might not show any symptoms for some time after birth. Some never show symptoms -- the condition is discovered when they undergo routine surgeries, such as spaying.
Your puppy's diaphragm separates his abdomen from his rib cage. A hernia in the diaphragm means there is a hole or tear in this muscle. Diaphragmatic hernias in puppies result from abnormal development while in utero. The opening means that the viscera, the body's internal organs, can spill into the pericardial sac surrounding the heart. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, "The liver is most commonly herniated, followed by small intestine, spleen,and stomach." The tear can cause fluid to leak into the lungs. Cocker spaniel and Weimaraner puppies are predisposed to this birth defect.
Symptoms in a puppy might include difficulty breathing or gastrointestinal issues. A vet might pick up a heart murmur when examining the puppy, or notice that heart sounds aren't clear. Severely afflicted puppies could go into shock. Puppies born with diaphragmatic hernias might exhibit other types of birth defects.
If your vet suspects your puppy has a diaphragmatic hernia, she'll perform X-rays. If results are unclear, an ultrasound might reveal the hernia's presence and its extent. Your vet also takes blood and urine samples from the puppy for testing.
If the hernia is discovered while the puppy appears in relatively good health, surgery to repair it can take place immediately. If the puppy is experiencing serious distress because of the hernia, or goes into shock, he must first be stabilized. It's important to have congenital hernias surgically corrected as soon as possible after diagnosis. Early surgery helps prevent scar tissue from forming between the chest and abdomen, along with avoiding trapped viscera in the hole.
By Jane Meggitt
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.