Umbilical Hernia

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Also Known As

Hernia, Rupture, Umbilical rupture


An umbilical hernia occurs when the muscles around the foal's navel fail to close at birth. The hernia may be the result of trauma or it may be hereditary. The umbilical hernia manifests itself as a bulge where the umbilical cord was or is attached. The swelling is tissue that envelops the internal organs, but may also contain part of the intestine.

The main danger of an umbilical hernia is that the tissue pushing through the opening may strangulate, affecting circulation, and causing bleeding, infection, and inflammation. If not treated promptly and carefully, necrosis may develop and result in death of the foal.

Most umbilical hernias in foals are reductable. This means that any intestine involved is healthy. Unless the hernia is small and the tissue and intestine can be pushed back inside the abdominal wall easily, it is important to summon a veterinarian to assess the size and status of the hernia and determine the best treatment.


  • Bulge in the area of the umbilical cord containing tissue, and possibly intestine, that has pushed outside of the abdominal cavity
  • Bulge feels like a water balloon
  • Hole in abdominal wall that can be felt behind the bulge


Trauma during birth or genetics are usually involved. In cases of older ponies or horses, an injury to the abdominal wall may cause a hernia to develop.


Careful treatment of the umbilical area during and after the birth of the foal may help prevent umbilical hernias. Allowing the umbilical cord to break naturally when the foal is born is important. The cord should never be pulled on. If it does not break on its own, the handler or veterinarian will usually find the natural indentation, approximately two inches from the abdomen, grasp the cord on each side of the indentation, and twist it until it breaks apart. The cord usually breaks easily when twisted.


Treatment of an umbilical hernia involves pushing the hernia and tissue back into the abdomen where, quite often, the condition will resolve itself. In more serious cases, and especially if the hernia is hard or painful to the touch, immediate veterinary assistance is necessary. If strangulation of the tissue has occurred, surgery is usually required to remove the damaged tissue and repair the damage to the abdominal wall.

Increasingly, veterinarians are using a method of treatment involving the use of elastrator rings. The foal is anesthetized and rolled onto its back. The veterinarian then pushes the abdominal contents back through the hole and pulls the skin together over the rings. Depending on the size of the hernia, a veterinarian may use several rings. The ringed-off clump of skin is deprived of a blood supply and dies and rots.

Care has to be taken to make sure infection does not set in and also that the skin is not damaged or pulled so tight that it eventually ruptures, causing more problems. The success rate for this procedure is high, but a veterinarian should explain the risks involved.

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