After a pet family member passes away, pet owners are sometimes left wondering why the pet died and whether anything could have been done to save him/her. A post-mortem exam is a very informative service that may be available to you through your veterinarian. Although it is minimally traumatic, often overlooked or frequently declined, this service can provide a wealth of information for you as a pet owner and for your veterinarian.
Autopsy refers to an examination of a deceased human. When the examination is done on a deceased non-human animal, the procedure is called a "necropsy." Your family veterinarian or a veterinary pathologist can perform a general necropsy. For in-depth microscopic tissue examination, a veterinary pathologist should be consulted.
In a necropsy a single incision along the center of the abdomen and chest similar to the type used to perform abdominal surgery. The internal organs are examined for signs of disease or injury, and biopsy specimens are removed from various organs and submitted for analysis by a veterinary pathologist. If cause of death can be determined based on examination of the internal organs, tissue samples may not be submitted. After internal examination and biopsies, the incision is sutured.
The most difficult organs to evaluate are the brain and spinal cord. More invasive procedures must be done to examine these organs. Because of this, sometimes the brain and spinal cord are not examined.
Information obtained from a necropsy can be invaluable. Finding the cause of death can help ease the mind of some owners, may prevent future deaths and may even help in the treatment and care of other pets afflicted with the same disease or injury.