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Medical Index
First Posted: Sept 1, 2010
Sep 1, 2010

Umbilical and Inguinal Hernias In Horses

Preventative Measures After Foal's Birth

Be extremely careful with the foal's umbilical stump. It can infect easily. Infection can spread to the liver through the blood vessels and then systemically. Make sure the environment is clean. It is generally recommended not to use shavings but rather straw for the foal's first week of life. Know that tincture of iodine can cause tissue damage and increase the risk of infection. Also, Betadine is not usually recommended as an antiseptic for this area because it is not strong enough. Your vet will tell you what to use and what to do to the umbilicus after birth.

What Are Hernias?

"The common hernias affecting the horse involve the herniation of intestine and are inguinal, scrotal, or umbilical in location. The inguinal hernia is created when a piece of intestine slips down the area adjacent to the inguinal canal (the passage, just under the pelvis, that the stalk of the testicles travels from the abdomen to the scrotum) and dissects into the tissue between the hindlegs. The scrotal hernia is formed when the intestine slips down the inguinal canal and goes directly down into the scrotum (the sack of skin that houses the testicles). The umbilical hernia occurs when a piece of intestine protrudes down into a body wall defect in the umbilicus (the navel area)." Umbilical Hernias

Umbilical (umbilicus is the bellybutton) hernias are usually noticed within the first sex weeks of the foal's life. You will see a large swelling in the abdominal area and when palpated you will feel a ring underneath the skin. These hernias are congenital birth defects. They are caused by an abscess on the horse's umbilical cord or from a weak area in the abdominal wall of the horse.

"An umbilical hernia is a protrusion of tissue through an abnormal opening in the abdominal wall around the umbilicus (belly button). They are fairly common in foals, and can be present at birth or occur within a few weeks after birth. Many conditions can cause or worsen an umbilical hernia. It is always best to allow the umbilical cord to break naturally when the foal is born, because manually breaking the cord can cause a hernia. Never pull on the umbilical cord while it is still attached to the abdomen. Allow it to break naturally if possible, but if it becomes clear that it will not break on its own, find the natural indentation, approximately 2 inches from the abdomen. Grasp the cord on each side of the indentation and twist. The cord should easily break apart. Foals who have diarrhea should be monitored for the occurrence of a hernia - the straining from the diarrhea can weaken the body wall." Caring for the Umbilicus/by Frosty Franklin, DVM

Inguinal hernias are caused by pressure in the abdomen. In the male horse this swelling is near the scrotum. A difficult birth can be the cause. Also an enlarged inguinal ring can cause the hernia. Sometimes both causes area present. Image of inguinal hernia in horse/Merck Veternary Manual/Illustration by Dr. Gheorghe Constantinescu


In the past umbilical hernias were usually not immediately treated. It was a wait and see proposition to see if they would regress with time. However, now hernia clamps or surgical repair is often performed. If a hernia is large, or has not resolved within 4 to 6 months, your veterinarian will probably recommend that it be repaired. A general anesthesia is needed for both treatments. "The clamp is suitable for smaller hernias, no larger than two inches in diameter. It works by compressing the sides of the hernia with enough pressure to cause the hernia to slough off, while promoting healing underneath the clamp. The foal must be kept under observation during the process, which might take several weeks. Surgical repair is required for larger hernias, but requires a shorter convalescence. The surgical process is more complicated, and thus more expensive" Inguinal hernias need to be tended to as soon as possible. In time they get larger and can cause serious problems. Many vets are concerned that the opening can enlarge and that there is more chance of obstruction or incarceration of the intestine. This can prove to be deadly! Presently the only treatment for an inguinal hernia is surgery. Elastrator rings are used, at times, when treating the inguinal surgery. These rings are used to dilate an area. They are not without risk.

Post Operation

After the hernia has been treated it must be watched for any secondary issues and infection. Check for any further swelling, oozing, discharge of any kind, elevated temperature, bad odor, diarrhea, etc. The environment must be kept clean. Follow your vet's instructions carefully.

For More Information:

Umbilical Hernias
Umbilical Hernias

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