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Making Sense of Dog Leg Anatomy

A dog's legs are very different from yours. You have two arms and two legs. Your dog has four legs, but his front and back legs are built a bit differently than ours. His hind legs are built for running fast and long distances, while his front legs are built for short bursts of speed and agility

Even though dog anatomy is different from ours, they do experience similar health problems involving their legs.

There are a number of ailments that can affect your dog’s leg movement, but we’ll discuss the most common ailments, what bones they involve, and how they affect your dog’s mobility. 

You may notice the names of the bones that make up the anatomy of a dog’s leg can be difficult to understand. At least, I know they were for me when I was first learning about canine anatomy. So, take it slow and, if possible, try printing out the images of dog leg bone anatomy below before we dive in so you can understand what each condition involves.

Dog leg anatomy

Dog Hip Anatomy

A dog’s hip is made up of two bones: the ilium and the pubis. These two bones are joined by a joint called the coxofemoral joint. The femur, which is the longest bone in your dog's body, connects to this joint. The femur also connects to your dog's stifle (knee) joint, which makes up the hind leg.

The hip joint is located in the middle of your dog's pelvis, where it connects to the sacrum bone at one end and attaches to the femur bone at the other. 

This joint has several other parts that work together with it.

  • The acetabulum—this part of the pelvis helps to hold your dog's femur in place while they walk around on four legs
  • The ilium—this part of your dog's pelvis helps support its weight as it walks around on four legs
  • The pubic symphysis—this part of your dog's pelvis helps hold together two bones that meet at an angle so they can form a hinge between them

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a painful and crippling condition that affects dogs. It's caused by a malformed hip joint, which can cause the femur (the thigh bone) to slip out of place. This can lead to arthritis and shortening of the leg, but it can also cause lameness and pain.

You may notice your dog struggling to do things he once did gracefully, like walking up and down the stairs, jumping in and out of the car, or even getting up from her bed after she’s taken her afternoon nap. 

Most dogs develop hip dysplasia as they get older, but this condition can also be found in young dogs. The condition is inherited, so if one parent has it, there's a good chance that their puppies will as well. If you have a dog whose parent(s) developed hip dysplasia, professionals recommend getting them tested for the condition. Most breeders offer a certificate of health, with hip dysplasia being one of the most common tests done.

There are several ways to treat this condition: surgery can remove damaged tissue from around the hip joint; medications like glucosamine and chondroitin help reduce inflammation; physical therapy can help strengthen muscles around the hips; and regular exercise helps keep your dog's muscles strong and supple.

Hip dysplasia has been linked to genetics as well as diet and exercise habits. Certain breeds are more likely than others to develop this condition, including German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds, Dachshunds, Rottweilers, and Poodles.

Dog Knee Anatomy

Your dog’s knee is a complex system of bones and ligaments that work together to provide dogs with the ability to stand, walk, run, climb stairs, and even jump. 

The knee is made up of two bones: the femur and tibia. The patella (or kneecap) sits between these two bones; it helps to protect the knee joint and improve efficiency when walking or running. 

There are two ligaments that help stabilize the knee joint: the medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament. The medial collateral ligament attaches to the inside of the femur, while the lateral collateral ligament attaches to the outside of it. 

These two ligaments prevent excessive movements from happening within your dog’s knee joint, which can cause damage over time if not corrected early enough.

The cruciate ligaments are another important component of your dog’s knee anatomy because they help with stability during movement by connecting both femurs together at an angle where they meet each other inside of your dog’s leg muscles near their hips (called their stifle joint).

ACL Injury in Dogs

You’ve probably heard of ACL injuries before. That’s because they’re fairly common in both people and dogs. 

One of the four major ligaments that keep the knee joint stable is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), also known as the cranial cruciate ligament in dogs. It connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). 

The ACL helps prevent excessive movement of the shin bone relative to the thigh bone and keeps the knee stable. The ACL can be injured by twisting or sudden stops while running, jumping, or landing from a jump. 

Dogs with short legs are more likely to injure their ACLs because they have less muscle mass around their knees than taller dogs do.

Signs of an ACL injury include:

  • Lameness
  • Inability to bear full weight on the leg after initial injury
  • Dropping one or both rear legs while walking
  • Swelling and pain on palpation of the injured knee joint

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation is a common problem in dogs, particularly small breeds. The kneecap, called the patella, is a bone that sits in the groove of the thigh bone (femur). The patella helps your dog move his legs back and forth.

The kneecap normally glides smoothly in its groove. If it pops out of its groove, your dog will be unable to straighten their leg properly. You may notice him limping or hopping on three legs when he walks. He may also have difficulty rising from a sitting position or jumping up on furniture.

The first step in diagnosing luxating patellas is to take your dog for an examination by a veterinarian who specializes in dogs' joints and musculoskeletal system. Your veterinarian will be able to tell if your dog has a dislocated knee by examining its legs and how it moves.

If your vet suspects that your dog has a dislocated knee, he or she may recommend some tests for further evaluation: x-rays, blood tests, urine tests and other imaging tests (such as CT or MRI). Your vet can use these tests to determine if there's any underlying medical condition causing your dog's problem with its knee ligaments.

If left untreated, this condition can cause permanent damage to your dog's joints and ligaments, which can lead to arthritis and lameness later in life.

Dog Anatomy

Natural Options for Skeletal and Joint Health in Dogs

CBD can be used to help dogs with skeletal, joint, and muscular health issues. CBD works by targeting the endocannabinoid system, which is present in all mammals. 

There are receptors for the endocannabinoid system all over the body, including in joints, bones, muscles, and connective tissue. When CBD interacts with these receptors, it reduces inflammation and pain while also promoting bone growth by stimulating cells called osteoblasts.

Whether your dog currently has a condition that causes mobility issues or you have a healthy puppy, a daily CBD treat like Canine Cush can be useful. 

Aside from interacting with the body's receptors to improve the overall health of the puppies' muscles and bones, stimulating bone cells can also help puppies keep their bones healthy for longer. Dogs that have already been diagnosed with a skeletal or muscular condition in their legs can benefit from pain relief and increased mobility.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If you think your dog might have skeletal or muscular problems, it's important to see a veterinarian right away. This is especially true if your dog is having trouble getting around or no longer enjoying her favorite activities. 

If you’re looking for a more natural route, visiting a holistic veterinarian is recommended. 

You can also provide a daily CBD supplement to reduce inflammation, decrease pain, and improve overall health and wellness.

Read More:

Role of cannabinoids in the regulation of bone remodeling

Cannabidiol, a Major Non-Psychotropic Cannabis Constituent Enhances Fracture Healing

Effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on Canine Inflammatory Response

Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs