One of the most important diagnostic tools available to livestock producers is the necropsy. A post-mortem (after death) examination is extremely valuable because it provides an opportunity to examine everything, and can reveal answers to the cause of a disease problem that other laboratory procedures may not. Ultimately this may help prevent future losses for the livestock operation.
A full necropsy includes several components:
- A complete history of the animal is important because it will provide background information that may increase the chances of finding the true cause(s) of death. This includes husbandry information as well as the duration of any symptoms, any treatments and whether any other livestock are affected.
- A gross examination is performed checking for bruising, bleeding, ulcerations, burns, tumors, etc.The musculoskeletal system is also examined to assess the body condition (muscle mass) and palpated for any abnormalities.
- All internal organs are then systematically examined. The color, size, shape, and any abnormalities are noted for all tissues. Cultures for bacteria may be taken from organs that appear abnormal. Fecal material may be collected from the intestinal tract for parasite analysis or culture. And small tissue samples may be removed for submission to a diagnostic laboratory for histopathology or virus isolation.
Shortly after death, all living things begin to decompose. Autolysis (self-breakdown) is accelerated by higher temperatures. The more autolyzed the animal is, the harder it becomes to figure out the actual cause of death. It is important that a necropsy be performed as soon as possible in order to obtain optimum results.