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Hernia (Hiatal) in Dogs

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia is a condition that commonly affects puppies under a year old and is typically inherited. However, trauma can also lead to an acquired hiatal hernia, which can happen at any age. A hernia develops when a part of the body protrudes through an opening or gap into another area. Specifically, a hiatal hernia occurs at the opening of the diaphragm where the esophagus connects to the stomach. In this condition, a portion of the stomach protrudes through the opening, forming a hernia. While hiatal hernias can occur in any breed and at any age, there seems to be a higher predisposition among male animals, particularly Chinese Shar-Peis and English Bulldogs compared to other breeds.


  • Regurgitation
  • Coughing
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Shortness of breath


The causes of hiatal hernia include congenital factors, particularly in puppies younger than one year old. Additionally, it can be acquired due to trauma or increased effort during inhalation. Concurrently, the lower esophageal sphincter may slide into the thoracic cavity, leading to gastric reflux into the esophagus. This reflux can cause inflammation of the esophagus.


To diagnose a hiatal hernia, various methods are utilized. X-rays can reveal soft-tissue density around the esophageal opening (hiatus) and may detect an enlarged esophagus, although lesions may not always be visible. Contrast exams provide a detailed view of the esophagus joining the stomach, helping to identify any abnormalities causing issues. Additionally, an esophagoscopy, where an internal scope is inserted, can detect inflammation and potentially show the end of the esophagus slipping into the thorax.

Diagnosis of hiatal hernia involves examining and observing one or more of the following signs:

  • Presence of foreign bodies in the esophagus or digestive tract
  • Abnormal tissue growth in the esophagus or stomach
  • Inflammation of the esophagus or stomach
  • Enlargement of the lower esophagus
  • Protrusion of the stomach into the esophagus


Treatment options for hiatal hernia depend on the severity of the condition. Surgical intervention may be necessary if the veterinarian determines the need to close the hiatal opening or secure the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent further protrusion. In cases where breathing abnormalities lead to aspiration pneumonia, antibiotics and therapeutic breathing treatments may be prescribed.

Medications can also aid in treatment. Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs to aid digestion and improve the tone of the lower esophageal sphincter. For instance, medications like cimetidine can reduce reflux acidity and promote healing of damaged esophageal tissue. However, not all hiatal hernias require immediate treatment. Conservative approaches can effectively manage symptoms. This might involve feeding the animal small, frequent portions of a low-fat diet to help control symptoms.

Living and Management

If your dog requires surgery for a hiatal hernia, it’s important to adhere to post-operative care as directed by your veterinarian. This holds true even if you’re managing the condition at home. Watch out for potential long-term complications such as aspiration pneumonia, and seek immediate veterinary attention if you notice any related symptoms, as this condition can rapidly worsen.

Some dogs may experience a recurrence of symptoms, necessitating a reevaluation by you and your veterinarian to rule out other potential causes and establish an effective treatment plan. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential for the ongoing management of hiatal hernia.

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