Skeletal Anatomy of Dogs

Written by dondi ratliff
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Skeletal Anatomy of Dogs
A dog's skeleton retains similarities to other carnivorous four-legged animals. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Dogs may look different on the outside, but inside they have the same general bone structure. Everything found inside a Chihuahua is also inside a Great Dane. A dog's skeleton divides into two sections: the appendicular and axial skeletons. The appendicular skeleton includes the front and back legs and the hips, while the axial skeleton includes the head, spine, tail and chest area.

Head, Neck, and Spine

A dog's skull comprises a lower maxillary (jaw) and contains orbits where the eyes sit. It has a strong construction to protect the brain, and it contains 42 teeth. The neck, spine, and tail are known collectively as the vertebral column. A dog has four sections in its backbone: the cervical at the neck, the thoracic at the torso, the lumbar at the lower back near the hips and the caudal for the tail. Twenty-seven bones make up the spine from the skull to the caudal's start.


The ribcage, or thoracic cage, protects a dog's torso and all the organs within. A dog has 13 ribs in the ribcage, though the last pair do not attach to one another or the breastbone. The breastbone itself works just as a human's does: as the mainline connection for the ribcage and as added protection and stability for the upper body.

Pelvis and Shoulders

Dog legs connect to the body in two areas: at the torso and at the hips. To allow for this connection, the canine body developed two bone structures: the scapula and the sacrum. At the front end of a dog, the scapula (shoulder blades) work exactly as our own in connecting the dog's front leg bones to the spinal column. On the hind end, the sacrum is a large, triangular vertebral bone connected to the last lumbar vertebra to link the spine to the pelvis.

Legs: Front

A dog's legs contain several bones, some actually quite small. The front, or forelegs, connect to the scapula via the humerus. At the end of the humerus are the elbows, which then connect to the radius and ulna --- the dual arm bones in a dog. The radius then connects to the carpus, a group of small bones that make up a dog's wrist. From there, the metacarpus appears and connects to the toe bones, or phalanges.

Legs: Back

The hind legs begin with the pelvis, which includes a socket for the large femur bone. From this thigh bone come the fibula and tibia, dual bones of the back leg. The stifle joint, or knee, spans between the femur and the tibia. The tibia is stronger, but the fibula connects to the bone cluster called the tarsus, or ankle joint. The tarsus links to the metatarsus, and the dog has one for each toe.

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