Dog skeleton: all about the anatomy of the canine skeletal system

 Dog skeleton: all about the anatomy of the canine skeletal system

Tracy Wilkins

Have you ever wondered what a dog's anatomy looks like? It may not seem like it, but the soft coat hides a complex and robust skeleton, with many more bones than humans! Just to give you an idea, while an adult individual has 206 bones, an adult dog has more than 300 - but it doesn't stop there! Even the tail of this animal has vertebrae and therefore, in the case of the dog, skeleton is divided into several parts:head, neck, torso, limbs and tail. For you to be aware of the details about canine bones, check out this article that Patas has prepared for you.

The dog's anatomy has more than three hundred bones!

When it comes to dog anatomy, bones change depending on the breed and sex of the animal. On average, dogs have 319 to 321 bones and cats have up to 230 bones, while the human skeleton consists of 206 bones.

Another difference between the dog and human skeleton is in the teeth: compared to the human dental arch, the canine dentition is stronger and more robust, with well-developed canines. An interesting detail is that because they are quadrupeds, the spine of dogs (and also of felines) are a bridge to support all their weight, while our spine acts as a support base to keep us upright

Generally, the composition of canine anatomy is the same for all breeds, but there is a category for each type of muzzle: a brachycephalic breed has a short muzzle, mesocephalic is a medium muzzle and dolichocephalic are the longest.

The vertebrae in the dog skeleton have four parts: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and caudal.

A dog's vertebrae are made up of odd, irregular bones that run from the head to the tail. Made to protect various organs, especially the spinal cord, they support the entire weight of the animal and are essential for locomotion and flexibility.

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Just like cats, they have seven cervical vertebrae, 13 thoracic vertebrae, 7 lumbar vertebrae and up to 20 caudal vertebrae. But while felines have more flexibility in the spine, dogs carry more firmness. If you are curious about how the dog's skeleton is divided, check out the list below that details each one:

  • Cervical vertebrae: are connected at the base of the nape of the neck and hold part of the scapula which is in the thoracic region. Basically, they are the bony base of the neck.
  • Thoracic vertebrae: with the outside at the bottom and the thorax at the back, these components secure the ribs and organs of the abdomen as well as the scapula. They are wide, strong and connect much of the rib cage.
  • Lumbar vertebrae: is the strongest and thickest part to support the entire weight of the dog's spine (so it is more susceptible to bone problems). They are the largest vertebrae in the spine, and also support the sacrum, which is triangular with a set of fused vertebrae.
  • Caudal vertebrae: is literally the dog's tail. The number of bones varies depending on the breed, and can be from five to 20 vertebrae. They are connected to the spine and are fundamental to expressing canine emotions, being an extension of the spine. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to pull the dog's tail or cut it for aesthetic purposes - it can affect locomotion.

Dog skeleton: forelimbs start at the scapula

  • Scapula: The scapula is a flat bone that allows various movements of the chest wall, supporting the muscles of the region and articulating distally with the humerus.
  • Humerus: considered the "dog's shoulder." It relates proximally to the scapula and distally to the radius and ulna.
  • Radius and ulna: These form the "arm" of the dog. The radius is posterior and the ulna inferior. Both are long and support each other during movement.
  • Carpus, metacarpus and phalanges: carpus is the palm, metacarpus interconnects the palm and fingers and phalanges are the toes of the dog's paw. Carpus and metacarpals have sesamoids, which allow movement. The dog's forelegs, like the cat's, have five phalanges, four long and the fifth small, like a thumb. The dog's paws are protected by pads and they are classified as a digitigrade animal.

Dog bones are strong in the pelvic region

The pelvic limbs support up to 40% of the animal's weight and are more robust due to the function of propelling locomotion and supporting the body. It is separated into: pelvis, femur, patella, tibia and fibula and tarsus onwards.

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  • Pelvis: is the pelvic region formed by the pelvic girdle with the ilium, ischium and pubis. It is responsible for fixing the lower limbs and stabilizing the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Femur: is a cylindrical bone between the pelvis and the patella, which ensures more support for the limb.
  • Patella: seen as the "dog's knee." It is a short sesamoid bone that articulates distally with the femur, connecting several muscles in the region.
  • Tibia and fibula: The tibia is a long, large bone like the femur and its function is to transmit mechanical force. The fibula performs muscle attachment.
  • Tarsus, metatarsus and phalanges: Like the front paws, the tarsus is the palm, the phalanges are the fingers and the metatarsus connects one to the other. Unlike the front paws, they lack the fifth phalanx, but carry nails filled with keratin and dermis at their root.

Canine skull also holds several bones of the dog

The dog's skull consists of a maxilla with a mandible, an incisor bone, palatal fissures in the muzzle region, the nasals curved to allow air to pass through, a maxilla on each side, a frontal bone, an interparietal bone, a parietal bone, an occipital bone and a temporal bone. The latter has a temporomandibular joint, which is responsible for the movement of opening and closing the mouth. In addition, the skull has a bonetear ducts for each eye and two tympanic bullae that protect hearing.

There are two phases to canine dentition: one that develops while the dog is a puppy and another that replaces the first between the fourth and sixth month of life. The long canines serve to facilitate the chewing of dog food and the rest of the teeth serve to grind the food.

Is the skeleton of a "sausage dog" different?

There is always a lot of curiosity about the skeleton of the sausage dog. After all, the elongated torso and short legs, characteristics of the breed, draw a lot of attention. However, the anatomy of this breed, created by German hunters and developed to hunt rabbits in burrows (hence this shape), is the same as that of other dogs. The difference, however, is in the longer back and limbsHowever, the Dachshund is prone to various spinal problems such as dysplasia and "parrot beak" (spondylosis).

Tracy Wilkins

Jeremy Cruz is a passionate animal lover and dedicated pet parent. With a background in veterinary medicine, Jeremy has spent years working alongside veterinarians, gaining invaluable knowledge and experience in caring for dogs and cats. His genuine love for animals and commitment to their well-being led him to create the blog Everything you need to know about dogs and cats, where he shares expert advice from veterinarians, owners, and respected experts in the field, including Tracy Wilkins. By combining his expertise in veterinary medicine with insights from other respected professionals, Jeremy aims to provide a comprehensive resource for pet owners, helping them understand and address their beloved pets' needs. Whether it's training tips, health advice, or simply spreading awareness about animal welfare, Jeremy's blog has become a go-to source for pet enthusiasts seeking reliable and compassionate information. Through his writing, Jeremy hopes to inspire others to become more responsible pet owners and create a world where all animals receive the love, care, and respect they deserve.