Hernia Repair

Hernias, which are characterized by organ or tissue protruding through a gap in the muscle wall, can occur in most species of mammal, including humans, cats and dogs. They usually cause swelling of the abdomen or groin, as well as loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy. There are three distinct types of hernias:

  1. Reducible hernia. This type of hernia can be resolved through manipulation, with the protruding organ or tissue being successfully returned to the abdominal cavity. That said, there is a very high risk of recurrence when a hernia is simply manipulated back into position, so many veterinarians recommend surgical repair of the muscle wall.
  2. Irreducible hernia. This type of hernia cannot be resolved through manipulation, but must be handled surgically. Irreducible hernias normally involve tissue adhesion between herniated tissues and the adjacent structures.
  3. Strangulated hernia. This type of hernia is particularly dangerous, as the hernial contents are constricted. Circulation to the area is cut off, causing tissue to die and toxins to be released.

Regardless of the type of hernia a pet is suffering from, they should be seen by their veterinarian as soon as possible, so that their hernia can be properly diagnosed and repaired.

How Hernias are Repaired

Hernias are a result of either genetic defects or physical trauma, such as traffic accidents or fighting with another animal. In order to determine how best to repair your pet’s hernia, your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination. As part of this examination, your veterinarian will palpate the hernia in order to determine whether it is reducible or irreducible. There are some limited situations where the protruding organs can be pushed back through the muscle wall, and the muscle wall can close back up and heal on its own. Unfortunately, the risk of recurrence, which is rather high, is always of concern, and so your veterinarian may still recommend surgery in order to more permanently repair the muscle wall.

Irreducible and strangulated hernias always require surgery in order to be effectively repaired. Prior to performing this surgery, your veterinarian will perform a urinalysis, blood chemistry and blood count in order to determine your pet’s overall health condition. Any health issues that arise will be treated first, where possible, so as to better ensure a smooth hernia repair.

For hernia repair surgery your veterinarian will:

  • Anesthetize your pet in order to ensure their safety and comfort.
  • Shave and clean the area around the hernia to allow for easier access, surgery and healing.
  • Perform surgery in order to return the protruding organs to the proper place. If these organs are damaged, your veterinarian will repair them as necessary.
  • Close the gap in the muscle wall with either existing tissue or synthetic surgical mesh. (The latter is necessary if the gap is very large or some existing tissue has died and needs to be removed.)
  • Suture the incision to close it and aid rapid healing.

In many cases, antibiotics are administered prior to or after surgery in order to treat or prevent any infection in the area of the hernia. Recovering pets absolutely must wear an Elizabethan collar until they are fully healed so that they cannot lick or bite at the incision site or sutures. Your veterinarian may also prescribe painkillers if it is deemed necessary to help your pet recover as smoothly and comfortably as possible.


While non-surgical hernia repair is simple, it does come with a high risk of hernia recurrence. Surgical hernia repair, on the other hand, results in permanent hernia resolution. Furthermore, the surgery itself is normally quite straightforward, with complications occurring very rarely. Pets will need to be closely monitored and their physical activity restricted for several weeks following surgery, but most owners are surprised at just how rapidly their pet recovers from hernia repair.

For more information about hernias and hernia repair, contact La Crosse today.