SlimDoggy Health Check: Muscular & Skeletal Systems

Share Button

A dog’s muscular system, like humans, is designed to support movement. A basic understanding of the major muscles and how they work together is important to help you diagnose any potential issues and determine whether it is a muscular, skeletal or a nerve disorder. We will look at all three, but start this section of our Health Check Series with muscles and ligaments.
Let’s start with this image of a dog’s muscular anatomy and then discuss some of the potential problems.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

The muscles in dogs, while different in structure, perform the same function as they do in humans. They connect to the skeletal system, the skin and other muscle structures. They are connected to the bones of the skeletal system through tendons – strong and elastic fibers that hold them in place. Also like humans, some of the muscles are voluntary (striated muscles) and take orders from the brain – i.e. to run after a ball that’s been thrown and other muscles are involuntary (smooth muscles) and operate without conscious thought, i.e the heart and lungs.
The most common muscular problems in dogs are strains and sprains, and yes, they are different. A strain is injury to a tendon and a sprain is an injury to a ligament. What do these soft tissues structures do? A tendon connects muscle to the bone, so that when the muscle is contracted, the tendon moves the bone. A ligament is the tissue that connects two bones together across a joint.
Either of these injuries can be very painful and reoccur if not healed fully and correctly. Symptoms of a strain would include limping, decrease in activity, swelling and possibly vocalization of discomfort. Strains are typically treated using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation). You can also administer pain killers or anti-inflammatories as recommended by your vet.


Sally after her 2nd ACL surgery with her pretty pink cast.

Sally after her 2nd ACL surgery with her pretty pink cast.

Sprains can be more severe and vets sometimes grade their severity from Grade I, a simple stretching with a slight tear of the ligament to Grade III, a full tear of the ligament requiring surgery to repair. Nine out of ten ligament injuries come from torn ACLs (anterior-cruciate ligament). We’ve had three dogs with that injury and as a matter of fact, our Sally tore the ACL in both of her knees – luckily not at the same time! Both were treated with surgery, the second injury was treated with the more advanced TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery which is done arthroscopically to minimize invasiveness and reduce recovery time.
Neither strains or sprains can be diagnosed with xrays, only through manual manipulation or a more advanced MRI scanning. Although, your vet may take xrays to ensure there’s no accompanying fracture or break.
Most strains and sprains are caused by accidental injury. We all know our dogs can be fearless, especially puppies and young adults. They’ll jump off cliffs, climb canyon walls, leap and roll and twist and turn while playing in the backyard. It’s hard to prevent these types of injuries without keeping your dog in a box. But, that’s not going to happen, so just be aware of potential hazards and if your dog does suffer an injury, make sure you take the time to properly heal it.
Next we will look at muscular diseases that may befall our canine companions.


Additional Readings:

The Muscle Anatomy of a Dog

Strains and Sprains Spell Pain for Dogs

Doggie Strains and Sprains


Share Button
Barksandbytes150 We are joining the Thursday Barks and Bytes Blog Hop Co-hosted by our friends at 2Brown Dogs and Heart Like a Dog. Grab the badge and join the fun!  


  1. I agree with you, it’s hard to prevent such injuries… and it happens that dogs will not show the pains and we can’t detect what’s wrong in an early state :o(
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog A LETTER TO:My Profile

  2. So interesting and timely. Jax decided to leap off of the lounge chair two days ago and got his back leg caught in the arm rest – Ouch! After an emergency visit to the vet, it’s a bad sprain/strain – no real or permanent damage. He’s on anti-inflammatories for a few days and I’ve been asked to keep his still #forreal He seems to be on the mend, considering he just leaped off the back of the recliner. #helpme:)
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…THE MONTH OF MAYMy Profile

    • Yikes…but pups are resilient. Our dog Sally leaped off a porch when she was about 6 months…luckily Steve was able to break her fall a little and she didn’t get injured, but sometimes they have no fear.
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy Health Check: Muscular & Skeletal SystemsMy Profile

  3. You know it’s funny….all this time I never knew the difference between a strain and a sprain! haha! Wow!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Kurgo: Tru-Fit Dog Harness – Car Safe And No Pull!My Profile

  4. We’ve been pretty fortunate in 20+ years of dog family members. No real injuries. Old age cancer in our last dog, but they’ve been healthy critters, for the most part. Well, Gadget was found with a lot of health issues, but by the time he came to me, he was healthy. He’s on a weird diet now.
    Flea recently posted…Why You Should Attend Blog PawsMy Profile

  5. Because they never complain, it’s even more important to closely watch how they act. Thanks for sharing the graphic. It gave me an even better perspective on those muscles that are the most developed in Sam and how they work (mostly against me ;).
    Monika recently posted…Disneyland or Disaster?My Profile

  6. We have to be so careful with Bentley to avoid any type of strains and sprains. He is prone to them as a Basset.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Homemade Grain-Free Dog Food With Veg-To-BowlMy Profile

  7. What interesting information, there was a lot I didn’t know there, like the difference between a strain and a sprain. It certainly is hard to slow dogs down…Luke leaps over anything in his path, including his sisters. We’ve been lucky…knock wood…with no injuries like that yet, but of course Luke’s knees are a big concern too. But we do just have to let them be dogs, don’t we?
    Jan K recently posted…Questioning Pet Vaccinations (Part 5A – Non-core Vaccines)My Profile

  8. I feel I should remind everyone to not be in a rush to spay or neuter your pet at a young age. See There is mounting evidence that specifically spaying females before their first heat, impacts orthopedic health later in life.
    Anne recently posted…Your Pet’s Medical RecordsMy Profile

  9. Great post, thank you for adding it to the blog hop.

    We know all to well about ACL surgery. 🙁 I am however interested in the surgery Sally had, I have never seen a dog in a cast before. How did she manage with it and how long did it stay on for?
    Jodi recently posted…You Better Run Squirrel – Barks and BytesMy Profile

    • She had casts after both surgeries…she was fine with it – didn’t hold her back at all. She had it on maybe 4 weeks?? IT was a long time ago (2000) so maybe they don’t use them anymore.
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy Health Check: Muscular & Skeletal SystemsMy Profile

  10. Paws crossed that we never have any of those super serious things happen. Right now we are just enjoying the chiropractor getting us into alignment. I feel so much better, not that I felt bad, but I needed an adjustment.
    Emma recently posted…Revolutionary Dog Dental Care With Emmi-Pet {Giveaway}My Profile

  11. Just like Jodi, I have also never seen a dog in a cast, and a pink one at that!
    Thankfully, our pups haven’t had any sprains or strains yet ~ paws crossed that it’s going to stay that way.
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Last Week’s Value-Priced Food Score: Chicken Hearts & GibletsMy Profile

  12. Thunder had a ligament injury in his wrist from jumping in ponds that were too shallow, (but the ortho vet called it a strain not a sprain). The vet treated it conservatively, but eventually had to cast it so that it would heal. It worked and he has not come up lame since and it has been 2 1/2 years.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–Short But SweetMy Profile

  13. Great article, awesome job.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Interpreting Lab Results in Context: Cookie’s Elevated Kidney ValuesMy Profile

  14. Great information in this post. Norman had a TPLO when he was 4, never had a problem after that.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…A Glorious Thank You To ThunderMy Profile

Comments are now closed on this post.