How to Compare the Anatomy of a Dog & a Human

Written by cate burnette
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How to Compare the Anatomy of a Dog & a Human
Humans and dogs are more alike than you may think (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Susan Lloyd)

A comparison of dog and human anatomy must necessarily involve all of the body---humans and dogs share the same molecular and cellular structures, organs and systems with major differences showing only in physiology and structure.

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Identification

The gross anatomy of a dog and a human consists of a set of biological systems---the skeletal and integumentary, digestive, muscular, lymphatic and endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, urinary, male and female reproductive and urinary systems. Each system consists of organs, glands and blood vessels that work together in the animal's body to support particular functions. All mammals have the same biological systems in approximately the same places in differing bodies; varying sizes and shapes commonly being the only distinguishing features.

Function

The skeletal and integumentary systems include all the bones, skin, hair and nails of the mammal body. Protecting the organs and soft tissues from injury and disease is the primary function of both systems, while the skin and hair (or fur) insulates against heat loss.

The digestive system is made up of the mouth, teeth, salivary glands, oesophagus, stomach, gall bladder, large and small intestines, pancreas and liver. Food and nutrients are absorbed, disseminated and eventually, eliminated through the digestive system.

The cardiovascular system includes the heart and blood vessels and performs the job of pumping blood containing nutrients and oxygen throughout the entire body.

Hormones (chemical substances that cause other organs in the body to become active) are produced in the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and pancreatic glands of the endocrine system. The lymph nodes and vessels of the lymphatic system help to immunise the body against disease. This system also works with the heart and blood vessels to return accumulating body fluids into the blood stream.

The human and dog respiratory systems are made up of the nose, trachea, lungs and the bronchi (the smaller airways) of the lungs. This system is responsible for the intake of oxygen into the body and the elimination of carbon dioxide.

The urogenital system is a combination of both male and female sexual/reproductive organs and the organs of the urinary system---the kidneys, urinary bladder, ureters and urethra. The reproductive organs of both dogs and humans form the sperm and ova needed to produce offspring. Waste products and toxins are removed from the body in urine by the urinary system.

Features

Innately similar in both physiology and function, the anatomy of humans and canines differentiates in ways pertinent to the evolution of each species. The canine eye does not have the ability to see colour---it sees only black and white---while the human eye can distinguish the light spectrum through rods and cones (structures of the eye that delineate colour). A human's spinal skeleton has the same number of bones as a dog's, but the canine coccyx (tailbone) has a number of smaller bones attached to it that form the dog's tail.

Size

Because the modern dog evolved from hunting animals, the cortex of the canine brain that controls the sense of smell is much larger than that part of the human brain. In contrast, the cerebrum (the thinking, reasoning section) of the human brain is bigger than that of the dog.

The adult dog grows 42 teeth, including four extremely prominent canine teeth, in its skull due to its carnivorous past. Canine teeth are sharp and pointed to allow the dog to tear and chew meat. Humans begin life with 20 deciduous teeth that fall out and are replaced with 32 adult teeth. Dull, flat human teeth grind grain and chew meat; the tearing function did not evolve because ancient man was primarily omnivorous.

The reproductive and sexual systems of both species have similar organs, but these organs function in slightly different ways. The penis of the male dog will swell and turn downward after ejaculation, sometimes forcing the male dog to remain attached to the female and allowing the sperm to stay in the female vagina. The uterus of the female dog has two compartments, or "horns." Unlike a human uterus that only has one compartment, the canine uterus is formed to develop and nurture two or more embryos.

Significance

Because the canine and human anatomy is so similar, most human medicine has been developed using laboratory testing on dogs. Conversely, veterinarians routinely use human medications (labelled and dosed for animals) on their canine patients.

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