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The Muscle Anatomy of a Dog

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If you own a dog that is quite playful and energetic, you know how important it is for them to have physical activity. The speed and poise dogs have while running around is something remarkable enough, which only enhances with time. Dogs have a complicated muscular and skeletal system compared to other animals on the planet. It provides all of the essential functions for both involuntary and voluntary responses. However, since dogs do not have the same body structure and type as humans, their muscles and bones are arranged differently.

The muscle anatomy of a dog has critical functions of support and movement. However, the arrangement of the structures and physiological procedures is different from other beings’ muscle anatomy. In human muscles, there are several units of tissues connected to carry out specific types of movement to the bones, skin, and other muscles. Still, the muscular system uses aerobic energy to bring about contraction and production of movement. 

First, look at some of the essential components of a dog’s musculoskeletal system.

Components of the Musculoskeletal System


Bones are essential in providing a rigid structure to the body. They protect internal organs from any possible damage. Bones also have bone marrow, responsible for developing blood cells and maintaining the body’s stores of phosphorus and calcium. Older bones consistently change with new bone tissue in the process of remodeling. These elements make sure that the bones are healthy. 


Bones combine to make joints, and different types of these structures are present in a dog’s body. The joints provide additional stability to the body depending on the direction and degree of movements. For instance, joint with a ball and socket combination provides rotation, while hinge joints are only better for straightening and bending. Some bones do not move at all.


The ends of bones in a joint have a thick covering known as cartilage. It is a protective tissue that helps to reduce friction as bones move. 


These influential bands of connective tissue consisting of an essential protein called collagen. Tendons do not stretch and are responsible for attaching the end of a muscle to bone. They are present within multiple sheaths, which provide feasible and swift movements.


Ligaments are tight cords that develop from connective tissue, but unlike tendons and cartilage, they can stretch to an extent. These structures surround joints and provide support and stability. One bone is connected to another with multiple ligaments too. 

Structure of Muscles in Dogs 

Most dogs have muscles that perform endurance functions. Their muscles reflect this aspect in a meaningful manner. The structure of tissues in a dog is similar to its descendant animal, the wolf. The structural elements allow these canines to run, jump, approach, and engage in attack if necessary. 

Muscles can have involuntary or voluntary functions. Voluntary muscles, such as the ones found in the legs and arms, are under the nervous control of thoughts. On the other hand, involuntary muscles cannot move with thoughts and voluntary control. They automatically function by the brain and include the heart, diaphragm, and digestive system muscles.

Composition of Muscle Mass in Dogs

The muscles in the dogs body have a mass of cells combined with connective tissues. Joined with the skeletal system, skin, and additional muscles, every muscle in the body provides some kind of movement.

The connective tissue that binds muscles together in dogs is different depending on the type of tissue they form a link with. Striated muscles or skeletal muscles are the ones that directly connect with bones in the skeletal system. As mentioned earlier, tendons form the connection between bones and skeletal muscles. With the muscle contraction, the ligaments get pulled and in return, pull on the bones to carry out the support of the limbs.

Muscle fibers in a dog’s body get electrical impulses from the brain through the central nervous system. These neurological stimulations change into mechanical energy with the help of muscle structures, which bring about contraction and relaxation, thereby causing movements. The involuntary muscles of the dog’s body are responsible for the internal organs for the functioning of essential systems. These muscles activate as constituents of the function of multiple organs and are completely involuntary. 

Neurological Control of Muscles in Dogs

Like the components of the human body, a dog’s muscle anatomy comprises involuntary and voluntary control. Voluntary muscles are the ones that are under direct control by conscious thoughts and impulses. For instance, the dog’s decision to chase after a ball across the garden involves a voluntary effort.

When a dog runs after an object, the brain sends electrical impulses through the nervous system to muscles such as the pectoral infraspinatus, biceps brachii, and gluteal muscles to bring about movement. These impulses are responsible for the contraction of specific groups, so the action is possible in involving the shoulders, abduct and adduct of the joints, and other hip muscles. 

Types of Muscles

There are three types of muscular tissue present in a dog’s body. 

Smooth Muscles

Smooth muscles are present in the internal organs such as the stomach, bladder, and intestines. These are involuntary muscles and function with the impulses from the autonomic nervous system. These tissue types make up the walls of hollow internal organs. 

Skeletal Muscles

When we talk about the overall movement of dogs, the skeletal muscles bring about most of it. These types of muscles connect to the bones of a dog’s body, comprising muscle tissues and tendons. Skeletal muscles are under voluntary control, and different dog breeds can use them to help with body support and routine movements.

Some primary examples of skeletal muscles include those that control running, walking, eye movement, tail wagging, and eating. 

Cardiac Muscles

Lastly, cardiac muscles are present in the body of dogs. This particular group of muscles comprises those muscle fibers which surround the heart and strengthen its functions. Cardiac muscles are unique out of all the muscles that are present in a dog’s body. According to the appearance, they are striated just like skeletal muscles but do not have voluntary control.

Relevant Groups of Muscles in a Dog

In general terms, the muscle arrangement of a dog can have two distinct categories according to the body’s regions. The pelvic limb comprises the muscles present around the hip joints or the lower portion of the body. On the other hand, the thoracic limb includes the muscles in the body’s upper trunk.

Overall, seven critical muscles are present in the body’s thoracic limb, including infraspinatus, supraspinatus, trapezius, pectoral, triceps brachii muscles, and biceps brachii brachialis.

The supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles are responsible for the functions of shoulder control; these muscles also support the shoulder joint. The Supraspinatus muscle provides enough support to the dog so they can extend the shoulders during the movement, while the infraspinatus flexes the shoulder joint.

A dog’s trapezius and pectoral muscles are responsible for controlling flexing and movements on the legs. Although the pectoral muscles allow for the adduction movements of limbs, others perform different functions. For instance, the trapezius muscle abducts the thigh providing for lateral movement. These muscles also provide enough support to the dogs to elevate their legs.

The triceps brachii, brachialis, and biceps brachii control the flexing and movement of elbows. These muscles are also responsible for the extension of the shoulders. 

When talking about the dog’s body’s pelvic limbs, seven additional muscle groups/muscles provide support to the joints and carry out the movement of hip muscles and ligaments. These comprise the biceps femoris, gluteal muscle, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, cranial tibial muscles, quadriceps femoris, and Achilles tendon. 

Gluteal muscles assist a dog with extension and abduction of the hip joint. On the other hand, the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus help with the balancing of extension and flexion of the hips. Similar muscles carry out the movement of the style and tarsus features of the body. The quadriceps femoris is a healthy muscle that functions as an extensor for the stifle, and it also carries out flexion of the hip joint.

The cranial tibial group of muscles and Achilles tendon both support the dogs with the tarsus flexion, digits extension and stifle flexion. All of these muscles that are present in a dog’s body have to work together in a coordinating manner to develop consistent and seamless motion.

Regardless of your dog’s movement, from running across an open field or yard catching a ball to eating their favorite snacks, muscle anatomy serves critical functions. Their functions are quite complicated, and not just one muscle has to work, but overall the concept is quite impressive.

Movement Details of Different Muscle Types 

There are several muscle groups present within the dog’s body, and they all work together to keep it functioning, flexing, and moving. Every muscle group provides an essential purpose. In several cases, it cannot perform alone to bring support; for instance, the body’s skeletal muscles support the propelling of food through the mouth. On the contrary, smooth muscles support the bladder’s emptying functions and blood pumping from the heart.

During a particular cycle of movement, multiple voluntary muscles work in coherence with one another to have a positive outcome. Voluntary muscles are capable of pull and contraction, but they cannot push. Ultimately, they have to work in coordination with other tissues that have flexion and extension functions. 

Flexor and extensor muscles are compelling examples of these muscle groups that work in a combined manner to help the body move. Flexor muscles help joints with the bending through which dogs can pick up a limb. Extensor muscles then perform contractions to bring the leg down.

Another vital example of the intricate balance and coordination of muscle groups is the abductor and adductor muscles’ function. With the contraction of the abductor’s flesh, the limb moves away from the center of the body.

Undoubtedly, these muscles are entirely useless without any suitable blood supply linked to the muscle’s anatomical structures. These tissues need a consistent amount of oxygen; therefore, the heart pumps blood continuously to fulfill their requirements.

Arterial blood supply goes directly into muscles, while capillaries are responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the muscles to support contraction. The overall oxygen intake through the blood vessels ensures that the muscles gain enough energy to maintain the movements that the central nervous system initiates from electrical impulses. 

Just when a muscle contracts during physical activity, blood circulates throughout the muscles after the heart pumps it out. All of the nutrients and energy components become evenly distributed during any form of physical exertion. This is simply evidence of the sensitive network of connected systems in the muscle anatomy that generates movements and makes critical life functions possible.

Every single constituent of the musculoskeletal system plays a critical role to play. Whether it is vital life functions such as breathing and blood circulation or simple limb movement with voluntary muscle contractions, the system is cohesive enough to produce stability.

Physiology of Cardiac Muscles in Dogs

Cardiac muscle fibers form most of the heart, as explained earlier. These muscle fibers are present as a network of single multi-nucleated cell unites with intercalated discs. These intercalated discs are between the cell extremities for effectual functions. 

As these muscles are present on the walls of hollow organs and in blood vessels, they form associations with glands, spleen, and even the hair follicles of the skin! Smooth muscle cells receive nervous impulses from the general visceral efferent neurons and the autonomic nervous system. In some cases, they are also under humoral control. 

Regardless of the physical structure, the heart muscle beats rhythmically on its own. Because there are several pace-maker cells present in the myocardium, there is a consistent discharge, which results in an involuntary heartbeat.

The myocardium is the thickest middle layer of the heart wall, and the pacemaker cells are the structures that keep a balance within the synchronization of the muscle movements.

Physiology of Skeletal Muscles in Dogs

Skeletal muscles in dogs are made up of individual muscle fibers, developed together to form a cohesive structure. Every muscle fiber runs in a parallel line between the tendons and most of the muscle fibers initiate and terminate at the cords. The way that these fibers of muscles exist makes the contracting force additional. This means that when a muscle contraction occurs, the power along the muscle structure adds up more energy to have extra strength.

Overall, three essential protein filaments start up the contraction process in the skeletal muscles: actin, myosin-II, and tropomyosin. Tropomyosin further comprises three sub-structures. 

Skeletal muscle consists of thick and thin filaments. The muscle contraction happens when the thin filaments slide over the thick filaments. According to the explanations, a power stroke occurs with the help of a lever mechanism. 

An attachment from the thin filament detaches from the thick thread, moves down the strand, re-attaches, then pulls and flexes the muscle shorter. The distance which these filaments cover is only a few nanometers. However, the movement occurs in hundreds and thousands of these levers, ensuring that all threads move simultaneously. As a result, considerable shortening of the muscle takes place.

Types of Muscle Fibers in Dogs

Based on the physiology of the muscle fibers, there are two types of muscle fibers present in a dog’s body:

Type I is the red muscle that mostly comprises a variety of I fibers and is darker. This type of muscle fiber responds slowly and has a long latency. for example, I am also responsible for the maintenance of posture and carry out slow and prolonged contractions. 

Type II is the white muscle that is responsible for refined and precise movements. These muscle fibers have short twitch timings and are found around some essential types of tissues. 

Some Essential Muscle Functions in Dogs

The primary function of muscles in dogs is distinct enough: movement and support for the body. Skeletal muscles are essential to stabilize joints to prevent falls or collapse under stress. Different groups of muscles ensure that the dogs can walk, run, jump, or perform any routine activity without a hassle. 

On the other hand, smooth muscles are responsible for the maintenance of organ functions such as blood circulation from the heart, elimination of waste products, and movement of food through the intestines. 

Muscles also have an involvement in the control of temperature functions of the body. During cold weather, these tissues help to generate heat with shivering movements. Voluntary skeletal muscles cannot pull. Therefore, they have to work in pairs to extend and flex and cause end movements.

Some Common Muscle Disorders in Dogs

It is extremely viable to keep the muscles and bones of your dog healthy. You can have your pet healthy and active if you gain information on some of the underlying muscle diseases. Their prevention and limitation are quite feasible, as well. 

Congenital Disorders

Congenital or genetic disorders related to muscles are sporadic in dogs. You will only note these in pure-bred dogs as they are likely to inherit them from their parents. 

Muscular dystrophy is one of the common congenital disorders. It is a sex-based disorder, so in most of cases, females carry the marker for it while males show clinical symptoms. This disease affects an extensive range of dogs, including golden retrievers, Alaskan malamutes, Rottweiler, Irish terriers, and Welsh corgis. The only way you can prevent your dog from going through it is through proper diet and physical activity. 

Congenital myotonia is another prevalent disorder that has some critical signs of involuntary muscle contraction. The dog shows shivering movements after some form of voluntary effort or stimulation occurs in the muscle. This disease frequently happens in the chow, Labrador retrievers, and white terriers. 

Inflammatory Disorders

One of the most common inflammatory disorders is polymyositis. The dogs go through inflammation of a group or several groups of muscles at once, along with degenerative changes. Muscle weakness is a clinical sign present in some breeds as well.

Eosinophilic myositis is a chronic or acute inflammation that occurs in the striated muscles of dogs. It influences the muscles of the head necessarily and to some extent the shoulders. This inflammatory condition mostly occurs in larger breeds of dogs. 


This is a form of muscle cancer that is rare but life-threatening to dog breeds. Except for the malignancy of the skeletal muscles, most tumors are present in older or adult dogs. 

Secondary tumors may originate from the attached bone, soft tissue, and cartilage, and these organs may invade muscles eventually. 


Keeping in mind the structure and functions of muscles in a dog’s body, you can make sure that you keep your pet healthy and active. Diet plays a vital role during this process because it provides all the essential nutrients and balanced elements for healthy functioning. If you are worried that only one diet is not sufficient for your pet dog, go for health supplements to ensure a proper regime.

Physical activity is also essential. If it is possible, take your dog out for a walk or running daily so their muscle structure and physiology remain supportive enough. Multiple diagnostic tests can identify muscle issues if they show any signs of discomfort or agitation. 

Recent years have seen more significant improvements in the lifestyle and lifespan of dogs because of the diagnostic and healing aspects of muscle disorders. With this information, you can have a healthy pet animal with the strongest muscles possible. You can also follow the signs and indications of the disease to have a primitive treatment process for your pet dog! We hope you found this information useful and engaging to read.

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