Umbilical Hernia

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 main danger of an umbilical hernia is that the tissue pushing through the opening may become strangulated. If not treated promptly and carefully, necrosis may develop and result in death of the foal. Most umbilical hernias in foals are reduce-able. This means that any intestine involved is healthy.


  • 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 is 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.


Timing and treatment of hernia’s depends on size and contents.

  • Smaller, simple hernia’s can be treated with elastrator rings between 1 and 4 months of age. 
  • Larger hernia’s obtaining intestine/adhesion's usually require surgical resection and repair of the defect in the body wall.Hernia’s with strangulated abdominal contents require immediate surgical treatment!Signs include colic, off suck and they progress rapidly.