Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Post-mortem technique

Contributor(s): Michael Waters, Jill Pearson, Molly Varga, Vetstream Ltd

Introduction

  • Rabbits often die unexpectedly. They may have been ill for some while but either received minimal care except at weekends, 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 case, a post-mortem examination may be requested.
  • A full post-mortem examination involves the thorough examination of all the body systems, with the taking of samples as seems appropriate.
  • A general practitioner should consider requesting the post-mortem be carried out by a pathologist if criminal proceedings are likely. In the UK the whole carcass can be transferred directly, usually to the local veterinary school or the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency facility.
  • A full written post-mortem report should be prepared and form part of the animal's clinical history. If possible it is also wise to take photographs at each stage.
  • Always collect samples and preserve 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.
  • 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, and 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 from time to time.

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


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