What is a diaphragmatic hernia?
A diaphragmatic hernia occurs when there is a break in the continuity of the diaphragm and this allows protrusion of abdominal viscera into the thorax. In small animals, such as dogs and cats, diaphragmatic hernias usually follow violent trauma such as car accidents or falling from very high. Very rare, congenital defects of the diaphragm can lead to herniation.
What are the clinical signs of diaphragmatic hernia in dogs?
The clinical signs may vary depending on the animal and duration. In the acute state of diaphragmatic hernia, there is the obvious dyspnea. The dyspnea may vary from subclinical to life-threatening. In chronic cases, there might be weight loss too. On physical examination, the veterinarian will not be able to find lung sounds and may find some GI sounds in the thorax.
Diagnosis can be made with just a physical examination but it is preferred to be confirmed with an x-ray.
Treatment of diaphragmatic hernia
It is preferable to repair a diaphragmatic hernia surgically. More than often there is additional tearing of abdominal tissues that need to be repaired. In any case, the patient needs to be stabilized before surgery. If the patient had chronic diaphragmatic hernia it is very important for the surgery to go smooth and careful because reexpansion pulmonary edema is likely fatal.
X-ray of a diaphragmatic hernia in a dog:
On the video below, you can see an emergency surgical repair of a diaphragmatic hernia in a dog right after a c-section.
“A dog in an animal shelter was spayed and crashed during recovery (breathing and heartbeat stopped). CPR brought the dog back to life and x-rays revealed a diaphragmatic hernia. This is a hole in the diaphragm (the muscular separation between the chest cavity where the lungs and heart are located and the abdomen cavity, where the stomach, intestines and most other internal organs are located. On the x-ray that dog’s intestines were inside of the chest cavity with the heart and lungs, causing her to have difficulty breathing. She was taken into surgery in an emergency to repair the hernia. This was the first time that the shelter had ever attempted a diaphragmatic hernia repair on a patient. The surgery was successful and the dog is doing well.”
If you liked this article, see “X-rays of enlarged hearts in dogs” on our blog.