Bulges in the body wall could mean internal organs are out of place.

A hernia is any rent or tear in the body wall that allows internal organs to push through into undesirable places. Any age or breed of horse can experience a hernia, and a hernia can occur in just about any location within the body wall.

In this article we’ll review some of the more common types of hernias and consider their significance and solutions.

Abdominal Hernia

An abdominal hernia can develop for a variety of reasons; the most common occurrence follows abdominal or colic surgery due to loss of integrity along the incision line. A horse that has undergone abdominal surgery, especially colic surgery, often has other complicating health factors that slow healing or potentiate infection.

Gary Baxter, VMD, MS, Dipl. ACVS, a professor at Colorado State University veterinary school, explains, “The number one risk factor for hernia formation after surgery is due to an incisional infection. Any efforts to prevent wound infection will reduce hernia formation.”

The choice of high-quality suture materials is also important to increase the holding power of the incision line, as well as to minimize chances of infection around the stitches. An abdominal belt or band helps relieve tension on an incision site during healing and serves as a pressure bandage. Baxter stresses the importance of reducing tension on the incision by limiting exercise until the linea alba (a fibrous band running the length of the abdominal midline) has obtained adequate strength. This can take three to four months after surgery to heal enough that the horse can safely return to rigorous training.

Baxter estimates that no more than 10% of horses develop hernias following abdominal surgery. As few as 5% of horses develop true herniations that require additional surgery. He clarifies, “Some horses will not t