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Dog Leg Anatomy: How to Identify Different Parts of Your Dog's Legs

Dogs are more than just our pets; they are our companions, our best friends, and they are part of the family. We are constantly trying to make their lives better, just as they make our lives better; and having a better understanding of your dog's physiology (particularly dog leg anatomy) can help us to provide our faithful pets with a higher standard of living.

Understanding how our dogs move, what can cause injury, and where they can feel pain in their legs is important for their care, and for that reason, it's always good to learn a thing or two about a dog-leg bone structure or dog-knee anatomy! 

Dog-leg bone anatomy and dog-leg muscle anatomy are very different from human anatomy, of course, and each different breed has its own unique muscle and bone layout too. The basics, however, hold firm across all dogs, and it's that fundamental dog leg anatomy that we'll be looking at in this article today. 

Dog leg anatomy: Parts of a dog's leg

Dogs are four-legged creatures, and that means that they spend almost the entirety of their lives on four legs (apart from when they jump up to greet you!). If you find your dog limping, then it's good to know which part of their leg might be affected so you can make them more comfortable.

Dogs have two sets of legs, the dog’s hind leg (or rear legs) and the dog front legs. Both are different (similar to how humans have different anatomy when it comes to arms and legs), with the hind legs having the larger bones and muscles, and the front legs having the smaller bones and muscles. Interestingly, though, it's the front legs that carry most of the weight and provide the most support (carrying up to ⅔ of your dog's mass!).

Just like humans, there are also important dog leg joints and ligaments which allow your dog to actually move around and stay stable. Because they spend so much time on their legs, dog legs (both front and back) are prone to injury, both in the short term and the long term. 

Dog rear leg anatomy 

A dog's rear legs are where the largest bones and muscles are found. Just like humans, dogs actually have knees, and these are located where the tibia and fibula meet with the femur (where the lower leg meets with the thigh in dog back leg anatomy). 

The knee joint is known as the stifle, while at the rear back of the leg, dog's have a hock, which works similarly to an ankle. At the top of the rear legs, the bones connect to the dog's hip joint, which provides support and allows for rotation and movement. 

Dog front leg anatomy

The front legs carry much more weight when the dog is standing, walking, or running. Dogs have an upper arm that extends from the dog's shoulder towards the ground. 

The upper arm is connected to a lower foreleg by an elbow joint (yes, similar to human anatomy again!). This lower leg consists of two bones, the radius and ulna, which connect to the elbow. They are connected to the front feet by a dog's wrist.' 

Dog feet anatomy

Dog hind leg anatomy and front leg anatomy both feature dog feet, which are constructed in the same manner. Both front and back feet have padded paws, which provide comfort and protection. Each toe on the foot has nails, which extend outwards. 

Dog joints and ligaments 

Joints are found where bones meet (in humans and dogs), as they provide much needed supporting and connective tissue. One of the most important features of joints are the ligaments, and in dogs, the most important ligament is the CCL.

The CCL is the Cranial Cruciate Ligament, which is found supporting the dog's knee on the hind legs. Unfortunately, torn CCLs are one of the most painful injuries a dog can suffer!

Dog leg anatomy: injuries and treatment 

Because they spend their lives on their legs and feet, dogs are susceptible to many different types of leg injuries, ranging from sprains to broken bones. A basic understanding of dog leg anatomy can help you to identify these injuries, but remember, it's always in the best interest of your dog's health to take them to a qualified veterinary practice. 

Dogs can sustain injuries in a number of ways, and they could be the result of falls, slips, collisions, or even long term chronic diseases or illnesses. Dogs can also frequently injure their paws if their pads are penetrated by foreign objects. As dogs get older, they become frailer and are more likely to sustain injuries to the front or hind legs. 

Importantly, if you see your dog limping around or struggling to stand, then they are likely to have sustained an injury. If your dog has any of the following symptoms, then you need to act fast and take them for treatment:

  • Your dog is dragging its legs on the floor (it can't support its own body weight).
  • Your dog is bleeding severely from its legs.
  • Your dog has visible swelling.
  • Your dog has a visible fracture, break, or dislocation. 

How do you treat a dog's leg strain?

While you should always take your pet to the vets, you can treat minor injuries to make them more comfortable in the short term. 

Sprains often occur around the knees, wrists, or ankles, for instance, and you can alleviate the pain by applying ice packs. It's important to isolate your dog, too, as continued movement can exacerbate the injury and make it worse. 

Once the vet has seen your dog, they'll usually prescribe medication and rest for your pet. It's important to make your dog comfortable, and you could even consider a bed ramp for dog to help them climb onto comfier sofas or beds where they can better recuperate. 

Walking should only begin once your vet has approved it and your dog is clearly recovering. Take exercise easy at first, so as not to cause extended injuries in the legs or joints again. 

Can a dog's leg heal on its own accord?

If you're concerned about any potential dog leg injuries, then don't hesitate to take them to the vets. While dogs are hardy animals, they often suffer in silence, and it's not always clear what the extent of the problem actually is until a closer inspection has been made. 

Dog legs can heal on their own, over time, but this causes unnecessary and prolonged suffering for the animal. If they have fractures or breaks in the bone, then these will heal over time, but they can heal in the wrong direction, causing pain and suffering for much longer than is needed. 

Dog leg anatomy FAQ

Do dogs have knees?

Yes, similar to humans, dogs have knees. These are only found on the hind legs, where they allow for movement and support. The knee is also known as the stifle. 

Do dogs have elbows?

Yes, much like humans, dogs also have elbows. These are found on the front legs and also provide movement and support. 

Do dogs have ankles and wrists?

Dogs also have ankles and wrists. The ankles are found connecting the rear legs to the rear feet, while the wrists are found connecting the front legs to the front feet. 

The final say on dog leg anatomy

Just as humans have complex anatomical makeup, so do dogs, but having a basic understanding of dog leg anatomy can help you provide for their long term health and comfort. Remember, dogs feel pain, they can sustain injuries, and they can suffer too, just like humans. 

Why not bookmark your guide to dog leg anatomy, so you can better understand your own pets at home?

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