Incisional hernias (protrusion of abdominal contents through a gap in an incision beneath the skin) occur in up to 17% of horses receiving abdominal surgery, reported Gal Kelmer, DVM, MS, clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, during the 2007 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Orlando, Fla. These hernias are often repaired with stitches alone or with mesh implanted beneath the musculature, but Kelmer reported excellent success and a lower risk of complications by placing mesh just beneath the skin, over primary suture closure of the hernia defect.

Subcutaneous mesh for horse hernia repair

Subcutaneous mesh can prevent incisional hernias.

He was quick to note that not all hernias need repair; horses with light work schedules might not require surgery. However, harder-working horses, such as jumpers or racehorses, might need this procedure. Abdominal bandages to support the incision are used after surgery for a variable time period, and patients are rested from heavy exercise for three months.

“The advantages of this procedure include secured closure with two closures in one procedure–the primary closure with sutures is backed up with mesh placement,” Kelmer said. “The cosmetic appearance is good. Sutures alone often end up with several small defects, which are not a problem, but they’re cosmetically not good. We’ve repaired hernias on more than 50 horses with this technique and have had a very low complication rate.”