Q: I am thinking about getting a black Lab pup from a friend. He has one, with a tiny swelling about the size of the end of a pinky finger in the middle of its tummy. He says this is a hernia and won’t be a problem. I don’t really want to upset him by arguing. What do you think?

A: It totally depends on the size! How big is your pinky?!

This is most likely an umbilical hernia. These are generally congenital defects and are inherited. People talk about them being caused by over exuberant pulling at the placenta/umbilical vessels by the bitch at whelping but this is probably rare.

Essentially, the muscle fails to close properly, leaving a hole into the abdomen. Abdominal fat then protrudes through this hole, which can make the hernia appear much larger than it is. complications can occur if the protruding tissue becomes strangulated.

Tiny hernias (less than a match head) can be ignored (although they can cause problems later in a pregnant bitch where the increased abdominal weight enlarges the defect). My rule is that if you can poke a finger in it then it needs to be repaired!

This is fairly simple but anaesthesia is required. The skin is opened, adhesions to the tissue are broken down and the fibrous hernia ‘ring’ is excised before the abdominal wall is closed. Note that there is a correlation in male dogs between umbilical hernias and cryporchidisim (retained testicles) so check for two!