Diaphragmatic hernia in dogs results from a break or weak point in the diaphragm that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The abdominal organs may protrude into the chest cavity through this weak spot. In dogs, automobile accidents are the usual cause of hernias in the diaphragm, but occasionally congenital defects of the diaphragm may be responsible.
The symptoms of diaphragmatic hernia depend on the severity of the condition. Hernia from sudden injury may make breathing difficult. It may be a barely noticeable difficulty, or extremely labored breathing that may even culminate in death. Sometimes, the stomach may get trapped in the torn spot, causing it to get bloated, making the animal’s condition critical. In mild cases of hernia, the condition may remain undetected for a long time, with the dog displaying only general symptoms of illness such as weight loss or mild respiratory distress. Observation of typical sounds of the digestive system inside the chest during a physical examination may lead the veterinarian to diagnosis. Normal sounds of lung function may be absent or faint.
An x-ray of the chest and the abdomen may help in confirming the diagnosis. Sometimes an x-ray using special dyes to outline the abdominal organs may be used for a more definitive diagnosis. Fluids aspirated from the chest as well as the abdominal cavity may be tested in the lab. Blood tests and electrocardiographs may follow. Sometimes surgical examination of the abdomen may be conducted.
The only way to treat hernias is to repair the affected area surgically. If the trauma that resulted in the hernia has caused other serious damages, the surgery may be undertaken after the dog has become stable.