Anatomy of a Dog's Throat

"ryder image by Colette MacDonald from

Dogs may be man's best friends, but people don't usually think of the two as being physically similar. In some cases, though, they are. Certain parts of the body are very much the same from species to species.

The throat is a good example; the basic anatomy of a dog's throat is virtually identical to that of a human's, and they even share many of the same health issues.


Tonsils are small lymph nodes located in the back of the throat. Like humans, dogs have two tonsils, one on each side. In a healthy dog, the tonsils kill germs that are brought into the body through the mouth. Sometimes, the tonsils become infected, and the dog develops a condition known as tonsillitis, which causes frequent or chronic sore throats, just as it does in humans. However, while tonsillitis in humans is usually the result of a virus, in dogs other factors are more likely to blame. These factors can include persistent infection, irritation from coughing, or even changes in temperature. Removal of a dog's tonsils is recommended only in chronic or severe cases.


The epiglottis is a small piece of flaplike cartillage located at the back of the mouth. When a dog's tongue is not moving, the epiglottis directs air into the lungs. But when the dog is eating, the motion of the tongue forces the epiglottis to close over the larynx so that food is prevented from going into the lungs when the dog swallows. This action also keeps air out of the dog's stomach, an important function because air in the stomach can lead to stomachaches or much more serious conditions such as bloat.


The larynx, whether canine or human, is the part of the throat that houses the vocal cords. Many of the problems that can occur in a dog's throat may affect the larynx. If you notice that your dog is having trouble barking, the problem may be something as simple as laryngitis, or inflammation of the larynx usually caused by straining the vocal cords in some way. More serious laryngeal problems include paralysis, a disease which usually affects older dogs of larger breeds and can be hereditary. Laryngeal trauma or collapse are other conditions associated with barking problems.


The trachea is also called the windpipe, a name which is fairly self-explanatory. This "pipe" is actually a tube made of rings of cartilage that carry air to and from the lungs. One condition that some breeds, usually toy breeds such as Yorkshire terriers and Maltese, are at risk for is tracheal collapse. Why the tracheal rings collapse is unknown, but this condition restricts the dog's airways and causes a distinctive loud breathing. Using harnesses instead of collars and keeping your dog's weight down can help avoid this occurrence.


A dog's oesophagus is the last link between his throat and his stomach. This tube quickly carries food from the mouth to the stomach, just as it does in humans. And just like humans, dogs can have trouble in their esophageal area. Esophagitis, or inflammation of the oesophagus, can be caused by a number of things, including aspiration pneumonia. But one of the most common causes of an irritated oesophagus is a condition that affects a dog's human friends as well: acid reflux.