Dog Hernia After Spay Surgery

dog hernia after spay

Are you worried about a dog hernia after spay surgery? An abdominal hernia is an extremely unusual complication following spay surgery for female dogs. When it does occur, it is usually easily treated. Some post spay hernias do not require further medical intervention at all. Whether the potential for a post-surgical hernia is putting you off booking a spay procedure in the first place, or you’re worried that your recently spayed dog has developed a hernia, we’ve got all the facts you need in order to understand the situation and make the best decisions for your pet.


What is a post spay hernia?

To spay a female dog, the surgeon makes an incision through her abdominal muscles, in order to reach and remove her uterus and ovaries. At the end of the operation, the muscles are sutured (sewn) together again. And the skin is sewn closed over the top. A dog hernia after spay surgery is when the incision in the abdominal muscles starts to come open again. This could be due to:

  • A weak spot in the sutures.
  • A weak spot in the muscles themselves.
  • Exercise or some kind of physical exertion (like jumping onto the couch).

When the incision in the abdominal muscles reopens, tissues and organs which should be inside the muscle wall can end up outside of it. In the case of a small hernia, only fat and omentum are likely to pass through the hole. Omentum is a specialized type of abdominal fat which protects our organs, and helps support them in the correct positions. A large hernia might let part of the intestine through too.

Is a dog hernia after spay surgery common?

These days, post-spay hernias are extremely uncommon. In general, the frequency of complications after spay or neuter surgery has gone down significantly in the last 30 years, thanks to advances in surgical technique. Where anecdotes from veterinarians are available, they are likely to report only encountering a post-spay hernia once or twice in a whole career of performing several spay procedures a week.

dog hernia after spay

Hernias are less likely when only the ovaries are removed during a spay, rather than the uterus and ovaries. This is because a smaller incision is made in the abdominal wall. But, performing an ovary-only spay through a smaller incision presents its own challenges, meaning the likelihood of complications generally is no different – they’re just different ones.

Post surgical hernias are more likely to occur in:

  • Larger dogs
  • Overweight dogs
  • Dogs who don’t rest after surgery
  • And older dogs, because their muscles are weaker.

Why are older dogs spayed anyway?

This is a good question, because it seems counterintuitive to us humans, who stop being able to get pregnant in later life. However, there is no canine equivalent of the menopause, meaning female dogs can go into heat and get pregnant throughout their lives. Many rescue shelters spay all female dogs before adoption as a matter of policy, regardless of their age. 

Signs of a hernia

When a dog’s muscle wall herniates after spay surgery, the tissue which comes through the hole will look like a bulge under the scar on their skin. It will feel squashy, and if you press it very gently it might even go back inside. If the spay was carried out recently and their skin hasn’t healed yet, the pressure of a hernia might cause the stitches in their skin to open up too.

DO NOT attempt to force the contents of a suspected hernia back inside! Your dog will not thank you for it, and if you accidentally hurt them they might bite.

How are post-spay hernias treated?

The good news is that hernias after spaying are very rarely serious, and it’s extremely unusual for them to be fatal. But whilst the prognosis is good, it’s still important to get veterinary advice about a suspected hernia. The main risk of ignoring it is that some of the intestine could come through the hole, and the muscle wall could continue to heal around it, strangling the blood supply and causing tissue death.

After your vet has examined your dog, they will confirm whether there is indeed a hernia, and recommend how to treat it. Small hernias containing only a tiny amount of fat may not need treating at all (or at least, deciding to correct it would be a purely cosmetic choice). Whilst larger hernias usually need a second corrective surgery to put the contents of the hernia back behind the muscle wall, and reclose the abdominal muscles. Repair surgery will set your girl’s recovery back a little and cost a few dollars, but it is usually less invasive than the original operation.

Other spay complications commonly mistaken for a hernia

The bulge of an abdominal hernia is pretty distinctive. But in the aftermath of surgery there are some more common complications that are easily mistaken for a hernia too. The first of these is seroma. Seroma is when fluid from damaged tissues fill an empty cavity inside the body (such as the space left by removing the uterus). Seromas also need to be assessed by a vet, who will either give you instructions for monitoring or treating it at home, or intervene to drain off the fluid.

Something else which can be mistaken for a small hernia is swelling around the knot at the end of the stitches in the abdominal muscle wall. This usually feels like a hard, pea-sized lump under the skin though, rather than a soft and squashy mass.

Finally, inflammation from a post surgical infection can be mistaken for a hernia. Other indications of infection are:

  • Pus or fluid weeping from the incision site.
  • A bad odor coming from the incision site.
  • Other signs that your dog is fighting an infection, such as lack of energy or appetite.

Weighing up the benefits of spay surgery vs the risk of hernia

The likelihood of a dog hernia after spay surgery is incredibly low. But your girl will enjoy benefits including protection from unwanted pregnancy, pyometria, and mammary cancer. Spay procedures (alongside neutering for boys) are bread-and-butter work for veterinarians. They are generally thought of as routine, and low risk. However, no surgical procedure is completely risk-free, and you can read about the pros and cons of booking your girl in for a spay here.

Monitoring your dog after her spay

After your girl is spayed, your vet will give you instructions to protect her from opening her stitches or experiencing other complications. This will include things like limiting her exercise, and supervising her physical activity closely. Making sure she rests is the best way to prevent a post-spay hernia. Signs of complications to look out for during recovery period after a spay are:

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  • Vomiting or diarrhea for more than one day after the operation.
  • Loss of energy or appetite for more than two days.
  • Signs of pain that last longer than a week, such as shaking, hiding away, or fussing at the incision site.
  • A bad smell, blood, or pus coming from the wound.
  • The incision reopening.

Always consult a vet if you suspect a hernia or notice any other signs of complications after spay surgery.

Dog hernia after spay surgery – summary

A hernia after spay surgery really is very, very rare. To keep the risk as low as possible, follow your vet’s post-surgical care instructions to the letter. And if you see any signs of hernia forming, ask your vet to examine them as soon as possible. If you dog does experience a hernia behind her spay incision, rest assured that corrective surgery is usually successful, and the prognosis is good.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website