Surface Anatomy – Another Important Learning Method of Veterinary Anatomy

I have described the systemic anatomy (best method to learn veterinary anatomy) here in anatomy learner. Today in this post, I will describe another essential anatomy learning method: surface anatomy. 

Hi dear anatomy lover, do you want to know about the surface anatomy in details with examples? Great, in this article, I will describe surface anatomy, the importance of surface anatomy, along with examples of surface anatomy. If you are new in anatomy learning, this introductory article may help you understand another best anatomy learning method – surface anatomy. 

This is the best method to learn the external anatomical features of the body of an animal. But as a new learner, you must follow the systemic anatomy learning method to start your anatomy learning. 

After finishing this post, you will differentiate the benefits of surface anatomy from the systemic anatomy learning method. 

Okay, let’s get into the central part of today’s post – another best anatomy learning method – the surface anatomy of the animal’s body. 

Surface anatomy definition 

Surface anatomy may be defined as the learning method of anatomy in which external anatomical features of the animal’s body are studied by sight and without dissection. So, you may learn the exterior parts of the animal’s body by surface approach. 

“Sometime you may confuse with the term topographic anatomy, though some authors have defined topographic anatomy as surface anatomy.”

In topographic anatomy, the relative position of various organs from the animal’s body is accurately determined. Suppose you want to study the topographic anatomy of any organs. In that case, you might include the relationship with the body’s surrounding organs or structures in a limited and particular area of the animal’s body. 

Different topographic or surface term 

Suppose you want to indicate different positions and direction of the animal’s body’s various parts or organs precisely. In that case, you might know some descriptive term, known as topographic terms. Here I will describe some topographic terms that you must know first to start learning veterinary anatomy. 

#1. Ventral surface – the surface directed toward the plane of support or ground

#2. Dorsal surface – the surface opposite to the ventral surface or away from the ground

#3. Anterior surface – the front portion of any structures 

#4. Posterior surface – the back part of any structures

#5. Lateral or external surface – directed away from the median plane of the animal’s body

#6. Medial or internal surface – close to the body’s median plane or surface directed towards the median plane or midline of the animal’s body. 

#7. Superior and inferior – superior means the above parts, and inferior means the lower part of any structure 

#8. Proximal – upper or superior or directed towards the body of the animal

#9. Distal – inferior or lower or directed away from the animal body

#10. Cranial and caudal parts – cranial means towards the head end, and the caudal means towards the tail end

#11. Axial – towards the central line of the body or any parts of the animal’s body

#12. Abaxial – away from the axis 

#13. Palmar surface – fore limb surface (example – the caudal surface of the metacarpal bone) that contact the ground in a standing condition

#14. Planter surface – hind limb surface (example – the caudal surface of the metatarsal bone) that contact the ground in a standing state. 

#15. Dorsal – again, it used to define the surface below the carpus and tarsus bone of the animal. 

You might also know the different plane of the animal’s body like median, paramedian, transverse and frontal plane. 

Importance of surface anatomy 

Surface anatomy presupposes an adequate working knowledge of systemic anatomy. This learning method helps to describe any organs’ exact location, understanding the appearance and relationship with other surrounding organs in a particular area of the animal’s body.  

  • #1. Indicates the exact location of any organs or structures from the limited area of the animal’s body 
  • #2. Understand the appearance of a palpable organ of the animal’s body
  • #3. Describe the relationships of specific organs with other organs in the limited body area

Examples of surface anatomy 

Okay, now I am going to provide some examples of surface anatomy from the animal body. Here you will find the most essential organs anatomy from the specific area of the body; you might learn all of the anatomy of the animal’s organs. 

Lung from thoracic area of the body 

You know the lung has two parts – the right and left lung, located at the thoracic cavity and separated by mediastinum. The right lung extends from the first rib to the tenth rib, and the left lung extends from the second rib to the eleventh rib. 

If you want to locate the animal’s lung by surface approach, you may follow the described process. 

Let’s locate the caudal angle of the scapula, last rib, tuber coxae and olecranon process of the ulna bone. Now you might draw the lines between the caudal angle of scapula to tuber coxae; caudal angle of scapula to olecranon process. Again, let’s draw a line between the olecranon process to the last rib of the animal. This will provide a triangular area where you will find the lung. 

Animal’s heart by the surface approach 

The base of the animal heart (cow) extends from the third rib to the sixth rib, just below the spine. Again, the animal heart’s apex located the opposite the sixth chondrosternal joint and very close to the diaphragm.

Again, if you want to locate the animal’s heart by surface approach, then you may perform the following process. 

Let’s find out the point of the elbow joint and third or fourth intercostal area in the animal body. You will find heart medial to elbow joint (cranio-dorsally) in between the third and fourth ribs. 

Systemic anatomy – best learning method 

I always suggest you start with systemic anatomy as this is the best learning method to learn veterinary anatomy. In systemic anatomy, you will learn the different organs or structures of the animal body serially and system-wise without studying the details anatomy of the surrounding organs from other systems of the animal’s body. 

If you want to start learning veterinary anatomy online, then you may begin with an anatomy learner. You will get a lot of articles with a vast collection of images, videos and other different valuable resources to learn anatomy online. 

You may start with the following article from anatomy learner – 

#1. Osteological features of the scapula with labelled images and video by anatomy learner

#2. Anatomy of the male genital system and the female genital system of animal 


I hope you could understand the term surface anatomy, another best learning method of veterinary anatomy. If you think this article is helpful to know the difference between surface anatomy and systemic anatomy, then you may share this article with your friends who want to start learning veterinary anatomy. 

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