Ever wonder why we veterinarians perform necropsies? Postmortem exam and dissection of a deceased animal certainly isn’t the most pleasant of activities—many a stomach has been turned by the sights and smells encountered during a necropsy. Plus, it’s a physical challenge and a two- or three-person job to complete one on a 1,000 lb horse!
We perform necropsies because they yield valuable answers:
- Samples taken from brain, heart, and joints can be used to identify Haemophilus parasuis (the bacteria that causes Glasser disease) as the cause of sudden death in young pigs and can help prevent the other pigs on the farm from falling sick.
- Examination of the abdominal organs of a horse can reveal a stomach rupture, a fatal condition caused by a buildup of fluid within the stomach during colic.
- Samples taken from the brain can identify avian bornavirus as the cause of weight loss, aggression, and seizures in a flock of recovering Canada geese at a wildlife rehabilitation center.
- Examination of an emaciated dog can help determine when it was last fed, and if there might be other possible causes of death besides starvation, to help build a criminal case against the animal’s abusers.
Necropsies aren’t pretty, or glamorous. It can be hard work, and it’s often depressing. There are gross smells, slippery organs, and fluids of all colors that splash on your apron and goggles. But necropsies provide closure for grieving owners, help curb the spread of infectious disease, settle legal disputes regarding cruelty or insurance claims, identify variations in anatomy or the presentation of known diseases, and educate teachers and students alike. It’s darn important work, so we all had better respect those who spend their hours on the pathology floor.