Umbilical Hernia in Puppies

Umbilical Hernia in Puppies

An umbilical hernia is a fairly common condition in puppies. They may occur more often in smaller breeds, accidental litters, or backyard breeding. One study reports an umbilical hernia as happening in 2 to 3 percent of puppies, but the percentage could be much higher. [1] 

Regardless, most veterinarians see umbilical hernias pretty regularly. While the majority of dog umbilical hernias are mild in severity, some can be more serious or even life-threatening, so it’s important that all puppy parents are aware of them. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at umbilical hernias in puppies, how serious they can be, and how to treat them.

What Is an Umbilical Hernia in Puppies?

An umbilical hernia in puppies looks and feels like a small, soft lump right in the center of their tummy, where their umbilical cord attaches. Because it’s a lump, some people mistake a puppy hernia for a dog belly button, but it isn’t: a belly button is the scar from an umbilical cord healing, and a hernia is a pouch filled with fat or intestines. 

Dogs with an umbilical hernia have a defect in the muscles of their abdomen. Instead of the muscles meeting in the middle, there’s a hole. When the hole is very small, it may not even be noticeable. When it’s bigger, bits of fat can slip through the hole and even get stuck there, forming a small lump. If it’s a large enough hole, bits of gut can also fall through. This is dangerous, especially if the gut loop becomes stuck and loses blood flow. 

The seriousness of an umbilical hernia in a puppy depends on the size of that hole. It’s rare, but umbilical hernias that are large enough to allow guts to fall through can cause death in a young puppy, so getting a veterinary opinion early on is a good idea.

What Causes a Puppy Umbilical Hernia? 

Umbilical hernias in puppies are usually congenital, which means they are present at birth. Most umbilical hernias in dogs happen because the umbilical ring (where the umbilical cord feeds through) fails to close. 

The exact cause for this failure to close isn’t clear, but the suspicion is that most causes are genetic, as umbilical hernias are more common in certain lineages. Therefore, it is recommended that breeders don’t breed with affected puppies. 

Umbilical hernias may also be more common when dogs are indiscriminately bred. However, not all puppies in a litter will have the problem, and it’s not yet clear which gene is at fault, so it’s likely that the root cause is complex.

An umbilical hernia is usually present from birth and can be corrected even when it’s very small, but if it goes unnoticed (or is not corrected), it can impact an adult dog as well. 

Generally, umbilical hernias are less serious as dogs get older, as their guts grow too big to fall through the hole. The exception is when a dog herniates after surgery, which is not technically an umbilical hernia but may look like one.

Symptoms of Umbilical Hernia in Puppies

The most common symptom of an umbilical hernia in puppies is the soft swelling in the area of the umbilical cord. Puppies don’t have a protruding “belly button,” so if you feel a soft lump on your puppy’s tummy, it’s probably a hernia. This lump may come and go as fat slips in and out, and may be more visible when your dog is defecating or coughing. Most dogs show no other symptoms of their umbilical hernia, and it’s not uncommon for it to go unnoticed until dogs are at the vet for their health checks.

In more serious cases, dogs will show more symptoms of an umbilical hernia. In addition to the physical swelling (which may become larger or harder), these might include:

  • Biting, scratching, kicking, or nudging the area due to pain or discomfort
  • Pain in the area when touched, which might show as a squeal or aggression when being picked up or stroked
  • Pain in the area after eating, which may show as paying the area attention, reluctance to move, or guarding themselves 
  • Vomiting
  • Inappetence

In all cases, these symptoms are a sign that the umbilical hernia is more serious, so your puppy should be examined by a veterinarian urgently. 

Diagnosing Umbilical Hernias in Dogs

Umbilical hernias are typically diagnosed at a puppy’s first examination, or during their first vaccinations. In fact, they are so common that checking for them is routine at early puppy appointments.

An umbilical hernia is diagnosed with a physical exam; the location and feel of the lump in a dog of the right age is usually enough to diagnose a hernia. Your veterinarian will then offer an opinion as to how large and how serious the hernia is.

In some cases, your veterinarian might recommend more tests. For a large hernia, checking the lump with an ultrasound can help determine whether the gut has fallen through the hole.

Types of Umbilical Hernias in Puppies

Your veterinarian may refer to your dog’s hernia as “reducible” or “non-reducible.” If the hernia can be “reduced” by pushing the fat back through the hole, it’s “reducible.” If it can’t because the fat is stuck, it’s “‘non-reducible.” This can help indicate the size of the hole, whether it’s easy to correct, and whether it’s likely to cause a problem. In general, reducible hernias are less of a concern, but that doesn’t automatically mean that a non-reducible hernia needs urgent surgery.

Umbilical Hernia: Puppy Treatment Options

When necessary, umbilical hernias in puppies are treated with surgery. However, not all umbilical hernias need treating, and even those that do require surgery may not need it immediately. Many times, a veterinarian will treat an umbilical hernia when the dog is being neutered.

Your vet will take your dog’s size and age, the hernia size, and the hernia contents (i.e fat vs gut) into account, as well as whether the hernia is reducible. 

No Treatment

A small, reducible hernia in a young dog can usually be left alone. Dogs will sometimes outgrow the condition, as the hole tends not to grow with the dog. You’ll be advised how to monitor the hernia at home and encouraged to return to your vet if there are any concerns about the hernia in future.


If your veterinarian determines that the hernia is potentially going to cause a problem, it could mean surgery at some point, whether on its own or while your dog is being neutered. Again, you will be given instructions on monitoring your dog in the meantime, and if you aren’t planning to have your dog neutered, or will be neutering them later in life, you may decide to go ahead and get the surgery done sooner.

Immediate Surgery

Lastly, some puppies will need urgent surgery if the umbilical hernia is large enough that the dog’s guts can slip in. This type of hernia will be operated on within a few days to prevent problems. If the gut is already trapped, the surgery should be done as soon as possible to save it. Surgery is a lot more risky at this stage, and recovery is longer.

Are There Home Remedies for Dog Hernias?

There are no home remedies for hernias in dogs, but most cases can be monitored at home and may never need surgery. It’s a good idea to check with your vet at the earliest opportunity if you suspect a hernia so you know exactly how likely the hernia is to cause a problem and what warning signs you should be on the lookout for.

Cost of Umbilical Hernia Surgery for Dogs

The cost of umbilical hernia surgery will depend on when the hernia is repaired, and whether it’s an emergency. A standard repair, done at the time of neutering, will usually be an “add-on” cost and likely under $100. 

If your dog isn’t being neutered at the same time, additional anesthetic will be required, in which case the costs are likely to go up — although you can still expect them to be under $400 in most cases.

In serious cases, where emergency surgery is required, costs will go up again. This is because your puppy will need more medication, more specialist care, and more surgical skill. In the worst cases, your dog will lose a portion of their gut, which is a complex and risky surgery that will require several days of hospitalization. Costs could be in the range of $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the severity and the geographic region.

The sooner hernias are treated, the cheaper and easier the surgery is likely to be. If costs are a concern, explain this to your veterinarian — they will help you find the most cost-effective solution so your puppy can have the surgery ASAP.

Umbilical Hernia: Puppy Care Post Surgery

The most important thing after umbilical hernia surgery in puppies is to limit their exercise, including play and jumping. The hernia is usually repaired by cutting the muscle and then stitching it back together again, just like an incision would be repaired after a neuter surgery or other abdominal surgery. But excessive exercise can cause swelling, and jumping could even cause a stitch to break, opening the hernia back up again. 

You’ll also need to prevent your puppy from interfering with (licking, chewing, scratching, or biting) the wound, as this can cause infection or break the stitches. Recovery from this sort of surgery is usually seven to 10 days, but it will vary with the seriousness of the hernia and whether the dog was neutered at the same time. Of course, your veterinarian will give you detailed post-surgical advice for your dog, and you should contact them if you have any questions.

How to Prevent Umbilical Hernias in Puppies

It’s not possible to prevent umbilical hernias after a puppy has been born. If you are purchasing a puppy, you can ask whether hernias have been found in previous litters from the same mother, or whether the mother herself had a hernia, but this isn’t a guarantee. Most people won’t remember or don’t know whether their dog had a hernia as a puppy, and hernias can still occur even if the dam didn’t have one herself. 

If you are thinking about breeding your dog and you want to prevent umbilical hernias, be sure to look at your dog and their siblings, as well as the potential father and their siblings. The fewer hernias are seen in the dog’s family history, the better the chance of preventing them in the pups. Do not breed dogs with umbilical hernias, or whose close relations had umbilical hernias.


Gonzales, K.L., Famula, T.R., Feng, L.C., Power, H.M.N. and Bullis, J.M. (2021), “Folic Acid Supplementation Does Not Decrease Stillbirths and Congenital Malformations in a Guide Dog Colony.” J Small Anim Pract, 62: 286-292.

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