Understanding Umbilical Hernias

By Julia M. Crawford

If a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy has an umbilical hernia, it will be apparent by 6 weeks of age as a bubblelike protrusion at the navel. This occurs when the umbilical rings fail to close fully after birth. Umbilical hernias can be caused by heredity, cutting the umbilical cord too short, or excessive stress on the umbilical cord during delivery. The frequency of occurrence of this type of hernia in Berners should indicate that heredity is a factor. The mode of inheritance is unknown. The concern that this condition poses for the future of the breed is small in comparison with far more weighty matters such as structural soundness, excellence in breed type and longevity.

In more than 30 years of experience with Bernese Mountain Dogs, only once did our veterinarian feel surgical correction of an umbilical hernia was necessary The size of the protrusions we have seen range from minuscule to the size of a nickel at 6 weeks, and if makes note of the presence of a hernia, the pup is monitored. Not once have any of the puppies had a problem. In the highly unlikely event that an umbilical hernia becomes painful to the touch, swollen or red, the dog should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours. Experienced Berner breeders have found that bitches with umbilical hernias - some quite large - are unaffected by repeated pregnancies, even with large litters.

Some veterinarians are unaware that umbilical hernias can be a common occurrence in Bernese. They alarm new owners with recommendations for surgical correction and a call to spay or neuter the pup regardless of its quality.

A Bernese Mountain Dog's status as a candidate for future breeding should not be determined by the presence of an umbilical hernia. While concerns about the condition may be justifiable with some other breeds, not so with Bernese. The call for surgical repair is usually unnecessary, other than for cosmetic reasons.

One veterinarian actually told the new owners of a 9-week-old potential show puppy that the pup's small umbilical hernia (identified by the breeder and her attending veterinarian as being no problem)) would have to be repaired for the health of the dog even if it would disqualify the dog from showing because of the surgical alteration of appearance. In fact, the AKC's disqualification applying to all breeds regarding hernia surgery mentions only corrections of inguinal (in or near the groin), scrotal or perineal (near the anus) hernias, not umbilical hernias. Fortunately, inguinal, scrotal and perineal hernias are very rare in Bernese.

The presence of an umbilical hernia should, of course, be called to the attention of the prospective owner. We have found it helpful to provide a written, referenced discussion of umbilical hernias in Bernese Mountain Dogs that can be presented to the puppy's veterinarian to assist in making knowledgeable recommendations to the owner.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is presented in support of the fact that ours is not the only breed that finds umbilical hernias common. Unfortunately, too many veterinarians would like us to believe Shih Tzu are the exception. If you substitute "Shih Tzu" for "Berners", the information would be the same. The ASTC Education committee has been working on a flyer to give to vets describing this and other conditions (e.g. late teething, undershot bites, tight nostrils due to teething that do not require surgery, etc.) normal in Shih Tzu but not "understood" as such by most veterinarians. Let a committee member know of your experiences.

Reprinted with the permission of the author from the Bernese Mountain Dog column in the July 2000 AKC Gazette.