AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - July 2000

Understanding Umbilical Hernias in Berners

If a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy has an umbilical hernia, it will be apparent by 6 weeks of age as a bubble-like protrusion at the navel. This occurs when the umbilical rings fail to close fully after birth. Umbilical hernias can be caused by heredity, cutting the umbilical cord too short, or excessive stress on the umbilical cord during delivery. The frequency of occurrence of this type of hernia in Berners should indicate that heredity is a factor. The mode of inheritance is unknown. The concern that this condition poses for the future of the breed is small in comparison with far more weighty matters such as structural soundness, excellence in breed type and longevity.

In more than 30 years of experience with Bernese Mountain Dogs, only once did our veterinarian feel surgical correction of an umbilical hernia was necessary. The size of the protrusions we have seen range from minuscule to the size of a nickel at 6 weeks of age. Our veterinarian gives our litters a health exam at 6 weeks, and if he makes note of the presence of a hernia, the pup is monitored. Not once have any of the puppies had a problem. In the highly unlikely event that an umbilical hernia becomes painful to the touch, swollen or red, the dog should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours. Experienced Berner breeders have found that bitches with umbilical hernias - some quite large - are unaffected by repeated pregnancies, even with large litters.

Some veterinarians are unaware that umbilical hernias can be a common occurrence in Bernese. They alarm new owners with recommendations for surgical correction and a call to spay or neuter the pup, regardless of its quality.

A Bernese Mountain Dog's status as a candidate for future breeding should not be determined by the presence of an umbilical hernia. While concerns about this condition may be justifiable with some other breeds, not so with Bernese. The call for surgical repair is usually unnecessary, other than for cosmetic reasons.

One veterinarian actually told the new owners of a 9-week-old potential show puppy that the pup's small umbilical hernia (identified by the breeder and her attending veterinarian as being no problem) would have to be repaired for the health of the dog even if it would disqualify the dog from showing because of the surgical alteration of appearance. In fact, the AKC's disqualifications applying to all breeds regarding hernia surgery mentions only corrections of inguinal (in or near the groin), scrotal or perineal (near the anus) hernias, not umbilical hernias. Fortunately, inguinal, scrotal and perineal hernias are very rare in Bernese.

The presence of an umbilical hernia should, of course, be called to the attention of the prospective owner. We have found it helpful to provide a written, referenced discussion of umbilical hernias in Bernese Mountain Dogs that can be presented to the puppy's veterinarian to assist in making knowledgeable recommendations to the owner.

Correction. In the January 2000 column "Milestones in Berner History," the entry for 1991 stated that the BMDCA's draft test regulations were approved that year by the AKC. It was actually the BMDCA that granted approval.

- Julie Crawford, 26391 May Twilley Rd., Delmar, MD 21875,- breed Web site: www.akc.org