Hernia in Horses

By PetMD Editorial on Oct. 2, 2008

Equine Hernia

A hernia is one of many afflictions that can affect foals during birth. There are two types of hernia that a foal can suffer from, both of which may go by unnoticed until they have grown a bit more. They are caused by some type of defect in the wall of the abdomen, either affecting the umbilical area or the inguinal canal -- a passage in the anterior abdominal wall. This is a congenital defect, one that should be repaired as soon as possible, as it poses a host of health problems for the horse.

Symptoms and Types

  • Umbilical Hernia
    • Appears during first six weeks of life
    • A rotund swelling in the abdominal area
    • Ring felt underneath the skin
  • Inguinal Hernia
    • Enlarged or weakened inguinal ring
    • Swelling in the inguinal area and, in males, near the scrotum
    • As time passes, the swelling will become larger



Umbilical hernias are due to a congenital birth defect. This defect can cause an abscess to form in the horse's umbilical cord or weaken its abdominal wall, both of which can cause a hernia. Inguinal hernias, on the other hand, are a result of an increased pressure in the abdomen due to a difficult birthing and/or an enlarged inguinal ring -- found at the entrance and the exit of the inguinal canal.


It is not difficult to diagnose a hernia, at least with the help of a veterinarian. At times, foals do not begin to display symptoms until they are older. A veterinarian can diagnose a hernia within minutes by examining the horse's abdomen.


Inguinal and umbilical hernias must be treated differently. In addition, inguinal hernias are more urgent than umbilical hernias, as umbilical hernias generally regress after the first few weeks, but inguinal hernias only get larger and more serious.

Surgery is required to treat an inguinal hernia; there is no other method of treatment that has been found to be as effective. Conversely, umbilical hernias are generally left to heal on their own, most going away within the first year. If the umbilical hernia is larger, elastrator rings -- a tool used to dilate an area -- may be used. However, because it may trap the horse's abdominal contents within the abdomen, it should only be attempted by a veterinarian.

Living and Management

After the hernia has been treated, be watchful of any secondary issues or infections.

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