Anatomy and Physiology of Animals/Cardiovascular System/Blood circulation

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Objectives | Blood Circulation[edit]

After completing this section, you should know:

  • that the circulatory system is double consisting of pulmonary and systemic circuits with the blood passing through the heart twice;
  • the differences in the structure and function of arteries, capillaries and veins;
  • how the pulse is produced and where it can be felt;
  • what tissue fluid and lymph are and how they are formed;
  • the names of the main arteries and veins.

Blood Circulation[edit]

The circulatory system is the continuous system of tubes through which the blood is pumped around the body. It supplies the tissues with their requirements and removes waste products. In mammals and birds the blood circulates through two separate systems - the first from the heart to the lungs and back to the heart again (the pulmonary circulation) and the second from the heart to the head and body and back again (the systemic circulation) (see diagram 8.12).

Anatomy and physiology of animals Mammalian circulatory system.jpg

Diagram 8.12 - The mammalian circulatory system

The tubes through which the blood flows are the arteries, capillaries and veins. The heart pumps blood into arteries that carry it away from the heart. The arteries divide into very thin vessels called capillaries that form a network between the cells of the body. The capillaries then join up again to make veins that return the blood to the heart.


Arteries carry blood away from the heart. They have thick elastic walls that stretch and can withstand the surges of high pressure blood caused by the heartbeat (the pulse, see later). The arteries divide into smaller vessels called arterioles. The hole down the centre of the artery is called the lumen. There are three layers of tissue in the walls of an artery. It is lined with squamous epithelial cells. The middle layer is the thickest layer. It made of elastic fibres and smooth muscle to make it stretchy. The outer fibrous layer protects the artery (see diagram 8.13). The pulse is only felt in arteries.

Anatomy and physiology of animals cs of an artery.jpg

Diagram 8.13 - Cross section of an artery

The Pulse[edit]

The pulse is the spurt of high pressure blood that passes along the aorta and arteries when the left ventricle contracts. As the pulse of blood passes along an artery the elastic walls stretch. When the pulse has passed the walls contract and this helps push the blood along. The pulse is easily felt at certain places where an artery passes near the surface of the body. It is strongest near the heart and becomes weaker as it travels away from the heart. The pulse disappears altogether in the capillaries.


Arterioles divide repeatedly to form a network penetrating between the cells of all tissues of the body. These small vessels are called capillaries. The walls are only one cell thick and some capillaries are so narrow that red blood cells have to fold up to pass through them. Capillaries form networks in tissues called capillary beds. The capillary networks in capillary beds are so dense that no living cell is far from its supply of oxygen and food (see diagram 8.14).

Note: All arteries carry oxygenated blood except for the pulmonary artery that carries deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

Anatomy and physiology of animals A capillary bed.jpg

Diagram 8.14 - A capillary bed

The Formation Of Tissue Fluid And Lymph[edit]

The thin walls of capillaries allow water, some white blood cells and many dissolved substances to diffuse through them. These form a clear fluid called tissue fluid (or extracellular fluid or interstitial fluid) that surrounds the cells of the tissues. The tissue fluid allows oxygen and nutrients to pass from the blood to the cells and carbon dioxide and other waste products to be removed from the tissues (see diagram 8.15).

Anatomy and physiology of animals The formulation of tissue fluid and lymph from blood.jpg

Diagram 8.15 - The formation of tissue fluid and lymph from blood

Some tissue fluid finds its way back into the capillaries and some of it flows into the blind-ended lymphatic vessels that form a network in the tissues. Once the tissue fluid has entered the lymphatics it is called lymph although its composition remains the same. The lymph vessels have walls that are even thinner than the capillaries. This means that molecules and particles that are larger than those that can pass into the blood stream e.g. cancer cells and bacteria can enter the lymphatic system. These are then filtered out as the lymph passes through lymph nodes. (See chapter 10 for more information on the lymphatic system).


Capillaries unite to form larger vessels called venules that join to form veins. Veins return blood to the heart and since blood that flows in veins has already passed through the fine capillaries, it flows slowly with no pulse and at low pressure. For this reason veins have thinner walls than arteries although there have the same three layers in them as arteries (see diagram 8.16). As there is no pulse in veins, the blood is squeezed along them by the contraction of the skeletal muscles that lay alongside them.

Veins also have valves in them that prevent blood flowing backwards (see diagram 8.17a and b).

Anatomy and physiology of animals cs of a vein.jpg

Diagram 8.16 - Cross section of a vein

Anatomy and physiology of animals Valves in a vein.jpg

Diagram 8.17 a) and b) Valves in a vein

Note: Most veins carry deoxygenated blood. The pulmonary vein that carries oxygenated blood from the lungs to the left atrium of the heart is an exception.

Regulation Of Blood Flow[edit]

The flow of blood along arteries, arterioles and capillaries is not constant but can be controlled depending upon the requirements of the body. For example more blood is directed to the skeletal muscles, brain or digestive system when they are active. Regulation of the blood flow to the arterioles of the skin is also important in controlling body temperature. The size of the vessels is adjusted by the contraction or relaxation of smooth muscle fibres in their walls.

Oedema And Fluid Loss[edit]

Oedema is the swelling of the tissues due to the accumulation of tissue fluid. This may occur because the tissue fluid is prevented from returning to the bloodstream and accumulates in the tissues. This may be caused by physical inactivity (e.g. long car or plane trips in humans) or because of imbalances in the proteins in the blood. This is what causes the “pot-belly” of the malnourished child or worm-infested puppy.

Loss of body fluid can be caused not only by drinking insufficient liquid but also through diarrhea and vomiting or sudden loss of blood due to haemorrhage. The effect is to reduce the volume of the blood which decreases the blood pressure. This could be dangerous because the supply of adequate blood to the brain depends upon maintaining the blood pressure at a constant level.

To compensate for the loss of fluid various mechanisms come into play. First of all the blood vessels contract in order to try and maintain the pressure. Then, since the loss of fluid tends to make the blood more concentrated and increases its osmotic pressure, fluid is drawn into the blood from the tissues by osmosis.

The Spleen[edit]

The spleen is situated near the stomach. It has a rich blood supply and acts as a reservoir of red blood cells. When there is a sudden loss of blood, as happens when a haemorrhage occurs, the spleen contracts to release large numbers of red blood cells into the circulation. The spleen also destroys old red cells and makes new lymphocytes but it is not an essential organ because its removal in adult life seems to cause few problems.

Important Blood Vessels Of The Systemic (Body) Circulation[edit]

Blood is pumped out into the body via the main artery, the aorta. This takes the blood to the head, the limbs and all the body organs. After passing through a network of fine capillaries, the blood is returned to the heart in the largest vein, the vena cava (see diagrams 8.8, 8.12, 8.18 and 8.19).

Arteries and veins to and from many organs often run alongside each other and have the same name e.g. the renal artery and vein serve the kidney, the femoral artery and vein serve the hind limbs and the subclavian artery and vein serve the forelimbs. However, blood to the head passes along the carotid artery and returns to the cranial vena cava via the jugular vein.

One variation on this arrangement is found in the blood vessels that serve the digestive tract. A variety of arteries take blood from the aorta to the intestines but blood from the intestines is carried by the hepatic portal vein to the liver where the digested food can be processed (see diagram 8.12). This vessel is unlike others in that it transports blood from one organ to another rather precious Betine Diagram 8.18 - The main arteries and veins of the horse

Blood Pressure[edit]

The blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the main arteries. The pressure is highest as the pulse produced by the contraction of the left ventricle passes along the artery. This is known as the systolic pressure. Pressure is much lower between pulses. This is known as the diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury. A blood pressure that is higher than expected is known as hypertension while a pressure lower than expected is known as hypotension.

Main arteries of the body.jpg

Diagram 8.19 - The main arteries of the body


  • The circulatory system is double with the blood passing through the heart twice.
  • Arteries carry blood away from the heart. They have thick elastic walls that stretch and can withstand the high pressure of the pulse.
  • Capillaries are small, thin walled vessels that form a network between the cells of the tissues.
  • Veins return low pressure blood to the heart. They have thinner walls than arteries.
  • The pulse is the spurt of high pressure blood that passes along the arteries when the left ventricle contracts. It can be felt where arteries pass close to the body surface.
  • Tissue fluid is the clear fluid that leaks from the capillaries and surrounds the cells of the tissues. Lymph forms when tissue fluid enters lymphatics.
  • Important blood vessels include the vena cava, aorta, pulmonary artery, carotid artery, jugular vein, renal artery and vein and hepatic portal vessel.


This Circulatory System Worksheet will help you learn the main vessels of the circulatory system, the difference between arteries and veins, and what happens in a capillary bed.

Test Yourself[edit]

1. Give 2 differences between arteries and veins


2. What is systole?

3. Circle the correct answer below.

Blood flows by this route through the blood vessels of the body.
a) heart | veins | capillaries | arteries | heart
b) heart | arteries | capillaries | veins | heart
c) heart | veins | arteries | capillaries | heart
d) heart | capillaries | arteries | veins | heart

4. Name the vessel that carries blood:

from the heart to the main organs of the body:
from the aorta to the brain:
from the aorta to the kidneys:
from the intestines to the liver:
from the aorta to the heart muscle:
from the aorta to the heart muscle:

Test Yourself Answers


  • Wikipedia has good information on the circulatory system, although remember, most of the material is on the human system.