What is Hiatal Hernia?
Hiatal hernias are rare in dogs. It is largely thought to be a birth defect, although in some cases trauma is considered the cause. In the case of a birth defect, it is thought to be extra elasticity in a ligament that allows excessive movement of the esophagus. English Bulldogs, Chows, French Bulldogs, Pugs and Shar Peis are the most commonly affected although, all breeds can suffer from a hiatal hernia. Males are more likely to undergo a hiatal hernia than female dogs. If dogs are going to undergo a hiatal hernia, most do so within their first year of life, in the case of inheritance. Traumatic causes can happen at any time in the life of the dog.
A hernia is defined as to when a part of the body protrudes abnormally into another part of the body. A hiatal hernia is defined as when part of a dog’s stomach and possibly esophagus is pushed out through its thoracic cavity (right near the diaphragm.)
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Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia in Dogs
Dogs can be asymptomatic. A visual hernia can be intermittent, pulling the tissue back into place and recurring. When seen, the bulge will be at the base of the diaphragm. As with other hernias, vomiting is common. In the case of a hiatal hernia, the dog will often vomit at times of excitement or exercise. Sometimes pneumonia develops as a complication of a hiatal hernia due to the dog vomiting and accidentally breathing food particles back into the lungs. On rare occasions, the dog may develop jaundice.
- Nasal discharge
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
A sliding hiatal hernia is the most common of these uncommon hernias in small animals.
- Type 1 - A sliding hiatal hernia happens when parts of the esophagus and stomach are pushed through the thoracic cavity
- Type 2 - A paraesophageal hiatal hernia happens when the esophagus and the esophagus sphincter remain in place but parts of the stomach are pushed out
- Type 3 - This is a (rare) combination of both 1 and 2
- Type 4 - This is described as Type 3 with further complications of the stomach being pushed into the paraesophageal sac
Causes of Hiatal Hernia in Dogs
The reason for a hiatal hernia seems to largely be a birth defect in dogs. Trauma is sometimes to blame although not as likely. If there is a traumatic event it could also be said that dogs with a genetic predisposition are more likely to suffer. Because of the early occurrence of an inherited hiatal hernia, it should be easy to eradicate affected dogs from breeding programs.
Diagnosis of Hiatal Hernia in Dogs
Diagnosis will include the dog’s history (recent illnesses, injury, current medications) and clinical symptoms. Relay to the veterinary team how long your pet has been exhibiting the signs such as weight loss and regurgitation. Any other information you can pass on will aid in the diagnosis, particularly because many illnesses can have similar symptoms, for example, esophageal cancer.
Your veterinarian will make a definitive diagnosis with x-rays. Abnormal tissue growth, lesions, and inflammation in the stomach or esophagus will help your veterinary caregiver come to a diagnosis. Because the involved tissues can intermittently slide back into a normal place, diagnosis in some canines can be difficult.
Treatment of Hiatal Hernia in Dogs
In some cases, the veterinarian may suggest an attempt to treat a hiatal hernia with medication, diet changes, and possible supplements. This will probably reduce the frequency of symptoms but may not alleviate the trouble entirely. Medications used to help relax the esophagus sphincter may be prescribed as well as common acid blockers. Feeding small, frequent low fat, low acid, high fiber meals can help. A diet comprised of highly digestible proteins and fiber is sometimes recommended. Supplements that promote tissue repair are sometimes administered. If your dog has contracted aspiration pneumonia, antibiotics may be included, as well as fluid therapy. Many pet owners opt for surgical repair after finding medication and meal management to be not enough to relieve their dog of the symptoms.
Recovery of Hiatal Hernia in Dogs
Prognosis can vary depending on which type of hiatal hernia the dog has experienced and if there are any other complications such as aspiration pneumonia. Most pet owners will see marked improvement in their pets after surgery. Some dogs will experience symptoms after surgery such as vomiting, but usually with much less frequency.
Hiatal Hernia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hi. Our dog Abby was just diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. She was prescribed the medicine that I have included and she is still vomiting but not as much as previously. The vet also told us to moisten and dissolve her dry dog chow. I was wondering if there is anything else I can do to help with this. Thanks!
Medical management is normally attempted before surgical correction as in some cases medical management is curative; medical management normally consists of an antiemetic (metoclopramide), a low fat soft diet fed from an elevated position and gastroprotective medications if required. Apart from that, there is no other treatment apart from treating any other symptoms that occur symptomatically. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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