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Dog Anatomy

By understanding your dog's anatomy, you are giving your pet the best chance of a healthy and happy life. The following is a comprehensive guide to your dog's anatomy.

As the pace of veterinary advancement accelerates, even the most experienced veterinary teams are challenged to keep up with all the changes that impact their practice. Clients demand – and deserve – maximum value and a higher level of care. That’s exactly what we deliver every day, through a variety of resources that prescribe the right information at the right time, to improve communication, increase compliance rates, enhance the pet owner experience and most importantly better pet health outcomes.

There are many barriers to communication in a vet visit:

  • Pet owners struggle to describe the pet's symptoms
  • Pet owners are often pre-occupied with pet restraint or their children
  • Veterinarians may not always have the time they need to fully understand a case
  • The primary carer is not always present

A simple way to overcome these barriers is to use visual aids.

This resource includes:

  • Visual aid templates that can be customised to a specific case
  • Health assessments to help improve history collection and case management
  • Tips to building lasting relationships with your customers
  • Ideas to replace traditional, messy paperwork such as handouts and brochures
  • Communication tips to help improve compliance
  • Strategies to add value long after the consultation

You will find visual aids about the dog's:

  1. Anatomical terminology
  2. Pet senses
  3. Cardiovascular system - Heart & criculatory system
  4. Digestive system
  5. Musculoskeletal system
  6. Respiratory system
  7. Urogenital system - Urinary & reproductive system
  8. Nervous system
  9. Eye

Each section is accompanied with labeled diagrams.

Anatomical terminology

Understanding some common terms used by your veterinary team will help you quickly identify with key discussion points to do with your pet's health.

The use of veterinary anatomical terminology can be confusing. When discussing a pet's condition, always use both technical and laymens terminology. People think and hear in pictures. Below are a selection of visual aids to help you communicate the importance of the pet's health as well as the recommended veterinary services.

Common anatomical terminology

Here are some common veterinary terms and their meanings:

Abdomen Tummy
Dew claw First digit
Patella Knee cap
Stifle Knee
Thorax Chest
Digit Finger or toe
Flank Side of the body between chest and tail base
Muzzle Nose and upper and lower lip
Pinna Ear flap
Tarsus Hock

Pet senses

Pets communicate in a very different way than people do. They have the same basic senses like sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, but they use them differently to communicate with the world. In general, pets have a much better sense of smell, hearing, and sight than humans. This allows them to identify odours better, to hear noises at greater distances, and to see in the dark. Pets also have sharp teeth and claws that developed to help them survive in the wild.

In the wild, dogs are pack animals that require a strong leader. Their excellent senses of smell and hearing have allowed them to survive and catch prey in the wild. Because of their highly developed senses they are great trackers. Dogs identify each other by their unique scent. They have scent glands located around their bottom and use them to mark territory as their own. This is why we commonly see dogs greeting other dogs by sniffing their bottom.

Hearing Dogs have a greater hearing range than
people do. They can detect sound as low as 16 Hz frequency to as high as 100,000 Hz (people hear 20 to 20,000 Hz ). Their ears have a great degree of flexibility that allows them to funnel sounds and easily locate the direction of sound. They can hear sounds much sooner and at much greater distances than people do. Dogs with cone ears naturally hear better than those with floppy ears.
Sight People used to think that a dog’s sight is dichromatic (see in black
and white). But the latest research suggests that dogs may actually see some color, though certainly not as much as people do. Depending on the dog breed, their field of vision can vary up to 270 degrees for sight hounds like greyhounds and whippets, and as low as 180 degrees for flat-faced breeds like the bulldog or Boston terrier. People also have a narrow field of vision of 180 degrees. Dogs can see much better at night than people do. Their eyes are more sensitive to light and motion than ours. They have a structure, the tapetum lucidum, that allows them to see in dim light. Have you ever noticed their eyes reflecting back when bright lights like a car headlight or flashlight are directed at them?
Voice Different dog breeds have different voices. There are many different types of voices: bark, growl, howl, and whimper. A dog’s bark expresses different emotions like pleasure, fun, loneliness, fear, or stress.
Smell Smell is the dogs’ primary sense. Dogs have nearly 220 million olfactory (smelling) cells, compared to 5 million in people. Dogs sniff to take in air quickly to identify different smells. Their sense of smell is extremely sensitive and the government often uses dogs to track people, drugs, or explosives. They can even use smell to sense human and animal moods such as fear, happiness, or sadness from long distances.
Taste Dogs have 42 permanent teeth to chew on meat and vegetables. They have a broad tongue with only 1,700 taste buds, since their heightened sense of smell allows them to identify food. People have 9,000 taste buds.


Barking can be a very frustrating behavioral problem for pet owners and their neighbours. If your dog has a barking problem, PetCheck has a comprehensive guide to barking that can give you insight into why your pet may be barking and tips on how to reduce it.

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With hundreds of veterinary handouts from behavior experts and a thorough veterinary behavioral questionnaire, you can instantly share information direct to your customer's digital device.

View VetCheck Behavior questionnaire

View VetCheck Barking questionnaire

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Cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system refers to the organs and vessels that allow blood to circulate nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, wastes and hormones to the various cells within the body. The heart pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to the rest of the body, while pumping deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

The heart is made up of the following structures:

  • Aorta
  • Pulmonary artery
  • Right atrium
  • Right ventricle
  • Left atrium
  • Left ventricle
  • Ventricular septum

Good heart health starts with good nutrition. Taurine, an important amino acid, is essential for strong heart muscles as well as eye and brain function. Most commercial cat foods contain taurine. But, in the case of homemade diets, cats are at higher risk of taurine deficiency and heart problems.

Cardiovascular conditions are particularly complex. In order for pet owners to make sound health decisions, they need to under the risks and benefits that come with medical treatments and diagnostic tests. Studies have shown that people consider risk information easier to understand and recall when it is presented visually.


Quick thinking and a few essential steps while on the way to the vet can make a difference in the outcome of the emergency. To learn basic first aid and CPR, head to PetCheck.

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Sharing the pet emergency action plan with your customers will help them be prepared in the event of an emergency and help improve the outcome of an emergency. Start sharing your practice-branded handouts with VetCheck.

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Digestive system

The digestive system is made up of the organs responsible for processing food into a format that can be used by the body in the form of energy and nutrients. Food enters the mouth and travels through the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine before being passed through the anus as solid waste.

The digestive system includes the:

  • Mouth & Teeth
  • Tongue
  • Salivary glands
  • Oesophagus
  • Stomach & Stomach Lining
  • Small intestine
  • Large intestine
  • Pancreas
  • Liver
  • Gall bladder

Nutrition for good health

Dogs are omnivores meaning they need vegetables and meat. The ideal diet is one that is tailored to the individual nutritional requirements. This is based on the health, life stage and lifestyle.

An appropriate diet combines a high quality, balanced, commercial diet and human-grade foods. Unless you have specific recipes that have been formulated by a veterinary nutritionist, commercial diets should be considered, particularly for puppies up to 12 months of age. All reputable veterinary nutritional companies must follow strict dietary requirements to ensure the diets are balanced and nutritionally beneficial. 

Mouth and teeth

Stomach and stomach lining

The food enters via the oesophagus, into the stomach is where the food is digested so that the nutrients can be absorbed.

Small intestine

The small intestine connects the stomach to the large intestine. It can be broken into three sections - the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. It is where food absorption continues to take place after it has left the stomach.


The pancreas is a gland located near the stomach. It produces a number of important hormones that aid in digestion and regulates blood sugar.


The liver is responsible for removing toxins that come from the digestive tract.


Good gut health starts with the right diet - a complete and balanced commercial diet. But, there are some other great natural foods that your pet can benefit from. For example bananas are a good source of electrolytes, potassium and fibre, melons are a good source of vitamin A&C and minerals and berries are a good source of Vitamin B&C, calcium, magnesuim and fibre. To find out more including dose rates, sign up to PetCheck for free.

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Need to share information on diets for pets with bladder stones, dietary sensitivities, liver or kidney conditions or even start a customer on an elimination diet? VetCheck has all the professional, veterinary handouts you need to help educate your customers.

View VetCheck Allergy questionnaire

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Musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system is responsible for form, support, stability and movement. It is made up of skeletal bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissue.

Common joints include the:

  • Elbow
  • Shoulder
  • Hip
  • Stifle (knee)


The shoulder joint is made up of the scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus (large arm bone).


The pelvis is where the femoral (large leg bone) head fits into the hip joint.

Stifle and patella

The stifle is the knee and the patella is the knee cap. They are both positioned in the hindlimbs of the cat.


Pets can sustain a sprain or strain when they have not been warmed up before exercise? By not addressing minor muscle issues, your pet can sustain more severe musculoskeletal injuries such as rupture cruciate ligaments or luxating patellas. To help prevent sprains or strains, always warm up before exercise with a leash walk before a jog or run off the leash and perform muscle stretched and joint rotations 1-2 minutes before exercise. For more information on preventing musculoskeletal injuries, visit PetCheck.

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Using visual aids in a consultation can greatly increase a client's understanding of the problem. Start sharing VetCheck handouts that covers conditions such as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Ruptures, Luxating Patellas, Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, Intervertebral Disc Disease and more.

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Respiratory system

The respiratory system is responsible for bringing oxygen into the body and removing wastes in the form of carbon dioxide. Pets cannot regulate their heat through their skin in the form of sweat - the respiratory system is responsible for regulating the body temperature for example panting when the pet is hot.

The respiratory system includes the:

  • Nose
  • Pharynx
  • Larynx
  • Trachea
  • Bronchi (smaller airways)
  • Lungs


Excessive panting can be a sign of a serious problem such as heat stress, anxiety and more. Learn to pick up early behavioral changes and know when to seek veterinary attention with PetCheck.

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Need your customers to calculate their pets Resting Respiratory Rate? VetCheck has a great handout on "How to perform a Resting Respiratory Rate" to share with your customers.

View resting respiratory rate tool

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Urogenital system

The urogenital system refers to the urinary system that includes the kidneys, ureter, urethra and bladder in the excretion of liquid wastes and the reproductive system that includes the female uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina and the male testes, epididymis, vas deferens and penis.

Lower urinary tract

Female genitalia

A spey or ovariohysterectomy involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. Without desexing, your pet will proceed to puberty and leave bloodstains around the house during each heat cycle.

Benefits of desexing:

  • Prevention of unwanted litters
  • Health benefits for females such as womb infections (pyometra), breast cancer
  • Health benefits for males such as reduced prostate disease, testicular cancer, perianal tumours
  • Behavioural benefits such as reduced spraying, marking, fighting if castration occurs before 6 months of age or before the onset of these behaviours
  • Prevention of hormonal changes that can interfere with the medical management of pets with diabetes or epilepsy

Desexing is usually recommended before puberty between the age of 4 and 9 months but can occur at any age. Six months is an ideal age as the puppy vaccination series is usually completed. Males undergo a castration which is the removal of both testicles from beneath the skin. Females undergo a spey or ovariohysterectomy which requires abdominal surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries.

Male genitalia

A castration involves the removal of the testicles from within the scrotal sac.


A pet may experience a number of changes after desexing. This includes a more consistent and calmer personality. But, their evenergy levels will also decrease, so it is important to modify their diet and exercise levels to help maintain a healthy weight. Find out more at PetCheck.

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Desexing before 6 months of age can help reduce the onset of bad behaviors such as spraying, marking and fighting. Find out more about the benefits of desexing and other behavioral changes that may occur.

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Help your customers understand what to expect after surgery with post-surgery handouts, desexing handouts and more.

View post-surgery handout

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Nervous system

The nervous system is responsible for the transmission of messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. The spinal column is protected by the boney spinal vertebrae.

The nervous system includes the:

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Nerves


Just as in humans, a dog's brain can start to shrink with age. To help reduce old age signs such as disorientation, decreased interaction, inappropriate toileting, try adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet. Studies show that Vitamin C & E or the use of veterinary prescription diets can decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Find out specific lifestage tips at PetCheck.

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Do you ever see cases of Intervertebral disc disease or cognitive dysfunction? Help your customers understand these complex conditions with the VetCheck handouts.

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The eye is responsible for collecting light from the environment and converting this into an image in a three dimensional, moving image.

The eye is made up of the:

  • Cornea
  • Iris
  • Ciliary Body
  • Vitreous Body
  • Retina
  • Lens
  • Anterior Chamber
  • Optic disk
  • Optic Nerve

Common eye condition terminology

Here are some common eye condition terms and their meanings:

Conjunctivitis Inflammation of the pink tissue inside the eyelids.
Uveitis Inflammation of the middle layer of the eyeball. Represented by eye redness, pain and poor vision.
Corneal ulcer Painful hole in the cornea (the clear membrane on the front of the eye).
Keratitis Inflammation of the cornea.
Glaucoma Increased pressure within the eyeball that can lead to sudden blindness. This is an emergency situation.
Lens luxation Movement of the eye lens out of normal position.
Cherry eye Permanent exposure of the third eyelid.
Dry eye Chronic lack of sufficient eye lubrication that results in irritation of the eye.
Retinal detachment Where the retina comes away from the back wall of the eye. This is an emergency situation.
Entropion The rolling in of the eyelids where the eyelashes constantly rub on the cornea, causing irritation and ulceration.
Distichia Eyelashes that grow from an unusual spot and causes irritation and ulceration.
Retinal Dysplasia Abnormal retinal development that can lead to retinal detachment.

Breed predispositions

Some dog breeds are prone to eye conditions. Knowing if the dog is genetically predisposed can help pick up early signs of a problem and prevent blindness. Annual vet visits with an eye examination will also help pick up early changes and determine whether further eye examinations are required. This is particularly important for dogs that will be put into a breeding program.

Here are some common eye conditions and some breed predispositions*:
Progressive Retinal Atrophy Australian Cattle Dog, Collie, Dachshund, Irish Setter, Irish Wolfhound, Lhasa Apso, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Golder Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Tibetan Spaniel, Welsh Corgi
Glaucoma Maltese, Chinese Crested, Basset Hound, Shiba Inu, Retriever, Siberian Husky, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Spanish Water Dog.
Hereditary Cataracts Bichon Frise, Alaskan Malamute, Australian Shepherd, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, German Shepherd Dog, Giant Schnauzer, Irish Setter, Red Setter, Miniature Schnauzer, Old English Sheepdog, Poodle, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Siberian Husky, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Primary Lens luxation Border Collie, Bull Terrier, Fox Terrier, Jack Russell
Collie Eye Anomaly Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog
Cherry Eye Bull dog
Dry Eye Cavalier, Chinese Crested
Entropion Chow Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Golden Retriever
Retinal Dysplasia Bedlington Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Labrador Retriever

* This is not a comprehensive list of genetic eye conditions or breeds. For a comprehensive list of genetic diseases by dog breed, visit the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals

Common eye tests that can be performed at the vets:

Schirmer tear test Used to meature the tear production. Normal tear production is 10-15mm in one minute.
Swab Sample collection to investigate foreign cells, bacteria or viruses.
Fluorescein staining To check for ulcers that will absorb the stain and fluoresce. It can also be use to check the functioning of the tear duct, where the stain will appear from the nostrils within 5-15minutes if healthy.
Tonometry Tests the pressure within the eye.
Gonioscopy Tests the drainage angle of the eye.
Imaging techniques The use of radiographs, ultrasound or MRI to investigate diseases of the eye or surrounding tissue.
DNA swab The collection of cheek cells or blood to investigate genetic disorders via specific genetic markers.


Watery eyes, squinting, tear staining, crusty discharge, cloudiness or redness are common signs of an eye problem in cats. Simple homecare such as keeping the hair around the eye short and removing any discharge with a damp cotton pad can help prevent some eye conditions. For more eye care tips, visit PetCheck.

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Managing a case of sudden blindness, cataracts, chronic conjunctivitis or persistent corneal ulcers? Help educate your customers on homecare and give the pet the best chance to recovery.

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Garcia-Retamero, R., & Cokely, E.T. (2013). Communicating health risks with visual aids. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 (5), 392-399.

These illustrations are available with permission by the copyright owner, Hill's Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy. This illustration should not be downloaded, printed or copied except for non-commercial use. © Hill's Pet Nutrition Pty Ltd.