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Dog Basics: The Anatomy of a Dog

Medically Reviewed by

Tracy Isenberg, LVT

By understanding the anatomy of a dog, you can develop a closer connection with your pup. And, have better insight to boost their health and wellness.

In this article, we'll explore dog anatomy including all the parts of your dog's body and unique anatomy found in certain breeds. Plus, common health issues related to dog anatomy.

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What is dog anatomy

What is dog anatomy

Dog anatomy is how a dog is built. In other words, a dog's anatomy includes all the parts of a dog's body like:

  • Skeletal structure
  • Internal organs
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Senses
  • Body systems

Each body part plays an important role in how your dog moves, breathes, eats, and reproduces. Keep reading to learn about the different body parts in dogs, and how each works in your dog's everyday life.

Musculoskeletal system

Musculoskeletal system

From a dog's nose all the way to the tip of their tail, their musculoskeletal system has about 320 bones and joints and 700 muscles.

Your dog's bones, joints, and muscles are designed to support them. And, every bone, muscle, and joint has a different job in the body.



Bone structures like separated shoulder blades and a flexible spinal cord allow your dog to move freely. And, they give your dog a longer stride in their front legs and rear legs when hiking and running long distances.

For hunting or working dogs, the following bones are important to keep them active and healthy:

  • A sturdy pelvic limb
  • Leg bones like the tibia and fibula
  • Metatarsal bones
  • Metacarpal bones
  • Carpal bones
  • Central tarsal bone
  • Thoracic limb

Your dog's teeth are important bones that help your dog chew, eat, and hunt. Keeping your dog's teeth healthy is important to their overall health.


Keep your dog's oral health in mind when creating their health regimen. Use dental care products like gels and treats to supplement their health. And, remember to brush your dog's teeth regularly.



The muscular system of dogs is essential for body movement and support. Muscles enable them to move with strength.

Dogs have around 700 muscles in their body. Muscles allow dogs to move by stabilizing joints and maintaining their posture. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet help grow and maintain healthy muscles in dogs.



Joints connect bones and allow your dog to move freely. They also absorb heavy movements like jumping and running to keep their bones and muscles healthy. There are three types of joints found in a dog's body.

Synovial joints in your dog's shoulder blade, elbow, knee, hip, and leg give your dog a wide range of motion. Synovial joints like the shoulder joint help dogs run, change direction, and move side to side.

Fibrous joints in your dog's skull are connected by stiff, fibrous tissues. Their primary job is to support your dog's bones and keep them from moving in ways they shouldn't.

Cartilaginous joints are the joints between the vertebrae in the spinal cord and neck. They allow some movement in your dog's spine, but these joints move less than the Synovial joints.

Joint problems in dogs

Dogs commonly face issues like hip dysplasia, arthritis, and cruciate ligament problems that can be painful. These conditions affect your dog's mobility and can reduce their quality of life.


The best way to get in front of joint pain and conditions is by adding a hip and joint supplement to your dog's diet. Hip and joint supplements aid in cartilage growth, the lubrication of joints, and reduce inflammation and pain.

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Internal organs

Internal organs

Internal organs have important functions that keep your dog healthy. There are many internal organs in dogs, including:

  • Brain
  • Esophagus
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Stomach
  • Small intestine
  • Spleen
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Rectum

Your dog's lungs, heart, and brain keep them alive and send messages to other parts of the body. The esophagus has a 'tube' for food to enter your dog's stomach, and smaller airways for breathing. The stomach and small intestine aid in food digestion and absorb healthy nutrients from food.

Kidneys, the spleen, and the liver also play important roles in maintaining overall health by:

  • Eliminating toxins
  • Producing hormones
  • Controlling their temperature

The colon and rectum carry out a dog's bodily functions like waste elimination.



Just like humans, dogs have special senses including the ability to see, hear, smell, and touch. But, dogs understand their surroundings differently than humans do.

Dogs use the special senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to navigate their environment and survive.



Dogs' keen sense of sight helps them identify colors and shapes from a far distance. A dog's vision has been specifically tailored to help them hunt and move in various surroundings.

Unlike human eyes, dogs have a third eyelid that protects the eyeball from scratches and damage. A dog's vision spectrum also differs from a human's. Dogs can see color, but only in shades of yellow and blue. This is called dichromatic vision — only seeing two colors.

Eye disorders

Eye issues like cataracts and glaucoma are not uncommon among dogs. And, they may lead to diminished eyesight or poorer quality of life.


Inside your dog's eye is a lens that focuses light on the retina to see. Cataracts occur when your dog's 'lens' is damaged.

Dogs with cataracts have eyes that look "cloudy" or opaque. This condition affects your dog's vision, and may lead to blindness over time.


Glaucoma is an eye condition where there's an elevation in the pressure within the eye, known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Glaucoma is caused by poor drainage of aqueous fluid, and is more common in some dogs than others.


To help prevent eye disorders, visit your vet regularly for check ups and eye exams. Eye exams help identify problem areas and monitor ocular health in the long run.



Dogs' superior hearing allows them to pick up on sounds at higher frequencies and farther distances than humans. Dogs have an amazing auditory capacity with the ability to hear sounds between 40 and 60,000 Hertz (Hz). Humans can typically only hear up to 20,000 Hz.



Among the most impressive of a dog's special senses, your dog's nose has a powerful sense of smell. Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors compared to just 6 million in humans.

Their strong noses allow them to hunt effectively in their natural environment. A strong sense of smell makes dogs great companions when assisting with activities like:

  • Search-and-rescue operations
  • Detection tasks involving narcotics or explosives
  • Tracking objects and people accurately from far away

Taste and touch

Taste and touch

Dogs, like humans, have taste buds. But, dogs have less taste buds than humans. Dogs can taste sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors as well as water.

Have you ever noticed your dog's whiskers on their face and chin? Dogs' sense of touch is highly developed due to the whiskers on their skin which help them with navigation and communication. A dog's whiskers can detect vibrations and changes in air currents around them.

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Body systems#

Body systems

Maintaining your dog’s health and wellness involves the cooperation of various body systems. From the respiratory system to the cardiovascular system, keeping all body systems healthy and understanding their functions is important to achieve pet wellness.

Respiratory system

Respiratory system

The respiratory system supplies oxygen to your dog's body. The respiratory system includes important organs like:

  • Nasal passages
  • Nasopharynx
  • Larynx
  • Lungs
  • Trachea
  • Bronchi

The respiratory system supplies oxygen into dogs' bodies to provide energy. And, the respiratory system releases waste gasses like carbon dioxide.

The respiratory system also helps your dog regulate body temperature when they are too hot through panting.

Respiratory system conditions

Common conditions that affect a dog's respiratory system includes:

  • Allergies
  • Tracheal collapse
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome

Genetics, environmental factors, or other underlying health problems may cause these conditions. Some other respiratory system conditions include:

  • Kennel cough
  • Rhinitis
  • Upper respiratory system infections (like dog flu)
  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung diseases

Cardiovascular system

Cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system is an essential component of a dog’s overall health. The cardiovascular system includes the heart and vessels that move the following biomolecules:

  • Nutrients
  • Oxygen
  • Carbon dioxide waste products
  • Hormones

The role of the cardiovascular system is to pump blood to the rest of the body. The heart, specifically, pumps deoxygenated blood from all areas back to the lungs for re-oxidation.

Then, the blood circulates again throughout the body with new oxygen molecules. The heart is the hub of the cardiovascular system. So, keeping your dog's heart healthy is important to give them a long, happy life.

Cardiovascular system conditions

Heartworm disease is a serious health risk that affects a dog's cardiovascular system. Heartworm is spread by infected mosquitoes that bite your dog and transfer heartworm larvae to their blood.


Heartworm prevention medications stop the development of heartworm larvae. To protect your dog's cardiovascular system from the effects of heartworm disease, protect your dog with monthly heartworm prevention.

Digestive system

Digestive system

A dog's digestive system is essential to keeping your dog healthy. This system starts with ingestion and then passes through several organs including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

The majority of digestion takes place in the stomach, which extracts nutrients from food before it moves into the small intestine. Then, the small intestine compounds the rest of the food to be digested through poops.


To keep your furry friend healthy, be sure they have a balanced diet. Add supplements to their diet and feed them food with the probiotics and vitamins and minerals they need to stay energized and active.

Nervous system

Nervous system

The nervous system plays an essential role in maintaining their overall well-being. The nervous system of a dog is made up of their:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Nerves

This network of body parts enables dogs to process sounds, smells, and sight from their environment around them via sensory information. And, coordinate different bodily functions based on the information it is receiving.

Urinary, urogenital, and reproductive systems

Urinary, urogenital, and reproductive systems

The urogenital system of canines has two essential components: the reproductive system and urinary system.

The urinary system includes the:

  • Kidneys
  • Ureters
  • Bladder
  • Urethra

The urinary system plays an integral role in eliminating waste products and managing internal fluid balance by producing urine.

The urogenital and reproductive systems support the production of reproductive cells. This allows two dogs to mate successfully and produce puppies.

How anatomy varies by breed

How anatomy varies by breed

Different breeds have different features and health conditions they are prone to. Aside from body systems and structures, there are other special physical features that make dogs unique.

Coat variations

Coat variations

There is a wide range of coat colors, textures, and markings shown by different breeds. Genetics play a major part in coat variation.

A dog's coat is designed to regulate their temperature. Long-haired breeds historically come from cold climates, whereas short-haired and hairless breeds come from warm climates.

Nowadays, dogs of all coat variations reside all over the world with their owners. It's safe to have a long-haired breed dog in warm climates, as long as you know how to keep them cool in the heat.



Dog tails come in many shapes, lengths, and sizes, ranging from straight to corkscrewed. Tails have various functions like:

  • Aiding balance while moving
  • Expressing feelings through wagging
  • Carrying odors away with scent glands

Feet and footpads

Feet and footpads

Dogs have the ability to adapt and survive in multiple environments. This is shown by their feet and footpad adaptations.

Footpad adaptations range from a circulation system of blood that returns warmth to the body, as well as slightly rough skin on its pads for better grip.

For example, certain dogs like Labradors and Doberman Pinschers have webbed feet that help them move quickly through water and muddy areas.

Anatomy-related problems for dog breeds

anatomy-related problems for dog breeds

Every breed is unique, and most domestic dogs make great companions for humans. But, there are some health conditions that are more prominent in some dog breeds.

Here are some breeds with a higher risk of health issues due to their anatomy.

German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) are one breed that often faces health problems. Over the years, GSDs have been bred to emphasize certain features, which has made them more likely to have health issues.

GSDs are prone to musculoskeletal disorders and digestive issues. Some common health issues GSDs face include:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus
  • Perianal Fistula



Pugs suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). BOAS affects your dog's ability to breathe, and may cause them to snore, wheeze, or snort and have labored or open-mouth breathing.

The shape of their skull makes a pug's nostrils abnormally smaller than other dogs. These smaller airways obstruct airflow and affect their ability to breathe.

Shetland Sheepdogs

Shetland Sheepdogs

According to Nationwide’s Pet Health Analytics, Shetland sheepdogs are the dog breed most likely to develop kidney disease. Kidneys filter blood, and when kidneys lose 75% of their functionality, they fail.

To avoid kidney failure, owners of Shetland sheepdogs should follow specific prescription diets. These diets reduce the amount of toxins the kidneys have to filter out.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, like many other toy and small-breed dogs, are more susceptible to senior cardiac diseases. Congestive heart failure is the most common cardiac disease found in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Learning about how dogs are built helps us love and care for our furry friends. And, knowing about the health issues some breeds may have is important for pet owners.

Consider your dog's anatomy, breed, and health conditions to help you take good care of your pet and make sure they stay happy and healthy.

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