ISSN 2398-2969      

Post-mortem technique

Clapis

Introduction

  • This topic is intended for reference by general veterinary practitioners who occasionally undertake post-mortem examinations.
  • Rabbits often die unexpectedly. They may have been ill for some time, but either received minimal care or shared accommodation with another rabbit that has eaten all the food - so the sick rabbit's decline has gone unnoticed. At other times, the death may be very sudden and unexpected. In either scenario, a post-mortem examination may be requested to ascertain the cause of death.
  • A full post-mortem examination involves the thorough examination of all body systems, with methodical sampling.
  • Information gleaned from this examination should then be combined with other data relating to the case, eg behavior, ante-mortem clinical signs (if any noted), imaging, histopathology and culture.
  • A general practitioner should consider requesting a post-mortem be carried out by a qualified pathologist if criminal proceedings are likely. In the UK, the whole carcass can be transferred directly, usually to a local veterinary school or the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency facility. Confirm with the institution in advance of submission.
  • A full written post-mortem report should be prepared and form part of the animal's clinical history. If possible, it is also advisable to take photographs at each stage to supplement the records.
  • Always collect samples and preserve them even if further investigation is not anticipated. Two samples from each tissue, one frozen and one preserved in 10% formalin, would be ideal to allow both toxicological and DNA evaluation as well as histopathology.
  • Although the investigation of colony problems is probably best left to the professional pathologist, investigation into the cause of death of individual rabbits can be very useful for the general practitioner and their clients.
  • Should the post-mortem findings form part of the evidence in a criminal case, it is wise to record a 'chain of evidence', stating where each sample was stored, and the date and time of the transfer of the sample to another agent (a commercial laboratory, the RSPCA or the police).

Be aware of the ease with which VHD can survive and spread via fomites, and of the zoonotic potential of Yersiniosis, which is not common, but is seen occasionally.

External examination

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Post-mortem

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Urinary and genital tracts

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Thorax and head

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Davies R R, Davies J A (2003) Rabbit gastrointestinal physiology. Vet Clin Exot Anim Pract 6 (1), 139-53 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • O’Malley B (2005) Clinical Anatomy and Physiology of Exotic Species. In: Structure and Function of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians. 1st edn. Saunders Ltd.

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