You’ve probably never given much thought to your pet’s belly button. Maybe you didn’t even know that she has one – they’re not quite as cute or kissable as baby belly buttons, after all. But, like all mammals, our cats and dogs do indeed have belly buttons.
However, if your pet has been diagnosed with an umbilical hernia, you probably do think about your pet’s belly button from time to time. Umbilicus is the medical term for belly button, and just like in humans, it is where the umbilical cord attached when your dog or cat was in its mother’s uterus. After birth, the umbilicus closes up, forming a small defect in the skin (or belly button).
Every once in a while, the umbilicus doesn’t close up like it should. When this happens, the only barrier between the environment and the content of your pet’s abdomen is the belly skin over the umbilicus. Though the skin where the umbilical cord attached heals, a hole in the abdominal muscles allows abdominal fat (and other contents) to poke through, causing a noticeable “outie” belly button.
Usually, this condition is noted by your veterinarian at the first puppy or kitten visit. You may have already noticed a larger-than-normal belly button, as the abdominal fat that pokes through forms a small bump. Your vet will check to see if the hernia is open (allowing for free passage of abdominal fat back and forth through the hole) or closed, and assess how large the hernia is.
Most umbilical hernias are nothing to worry about. When they are small, the chances of complications are also small, and the hernia can easily be repaired while your pet is already under anesthesia during his or her neuter or spay surgery. Some hernias are so small that they need not be repaired.
Large hernias are a little bit more worrisome. When the hole in the abdominal wall is large enough for the intestines to pass through, there is cause for concern. Occasionally, loops of bowel that herniate through the abdominal wall become trapped. When this happens, healthy tissue can be deprived of much-needed oxygen and eventually die, which leads to pain and fever. Additionally, herniated intestines are at a high risk of obstruction. Both of these conditions are life-threatening.
If your puppy or kitten has a larger than normal belly button, be sure to have your veterinarian check it out to ease your mind. If you already know your pet has an umbilical hernia, but there is a sudden change to it, such as enlargement, redness, warmth, or pain on palpation, contact your vet right away.