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Understanding Key Veterinary Terms Can Improve Your Dog’s Next Checkup

Posted December 11, 2015 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Sad Dog with Big Ears

AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, PA, contributed to this article.

A better conversation with your veterinarian begins with a better understanding of veterinary terms. Here is a quick veterinary vocabulary lesson to help you communicate with your veterinarian more accurately, and better understand what is going on with your dog.

Right or left?
Let's start with defining what are the right and left sides of your dog, using an example of limping. It is not unusual for clients to tell us that their dogs are limping on the right when it is actually their left side. This is because they are telling us what side they are seeing the limp on when they are facing their pet. In reality, the correct side is based on watching the dog from behind. In other words, there is only one right and one left side. Picture yourself on all fours. Your right is the same side as your dog’s right.

Front and back
The next common misconception has to do with joints. Even though dogs walk on four legs, the joints are the same as ours, honest. We often here "front knee" or "back wrist." As above, if you got on all fours, your wrist would be where your pet’s wrist is, and your knee would be where your pet’s knee is.

All joints are the same, in pets and people. So the front leg includes the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist (or carpus). And the back leg includes the hip, the knee and the ankle (or tarsus or hock).

Bones are exactly the same as well. One big difference is that most of our dogs have a longer spine, full of vertebrae that allow tails to wag with happiness.

The bone in the arm is the humerus. The bones in the forearm are the radius (the bigger bone in pets) and the ulna (flimsy in pets, it makes up the funny bone).

The thigh bone is the femur. The scientific name for the kneecap is the patella. The bones in the leg are the tibia (or shin bone) and the fibula (the flimsy bone).

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at