The advantages of post-mortem examination

The health status of a farm is very important for economic and welfare reasons. By knowing the issues of your farm, you can work with your vet to establish preventative measures (with a Herd Health Plan) and reduce losses through mortality, abortion and the use of antibiotics.

Farm animal post-mortem examinations (PME) are not used often enough, but they are a very helpful tool to investigate outbreaks of disease. Without the limitations of dealing with a living animal, with a PME we can thoroughly search for changes associated with disease and take a different array of samples to try to reach a diagnosis. Many diseases have similar signs of illness, so often a well performed PME with appropriate samples taken is the only way to identify which disease we are dealing with. This can give us very valuable information, not just about the animal that died, but about the remaining members of the herd as well. It can also provide us with the information whether a single death is the first causality of a major outbreak or just one-off case.

Some herd conditions that can heavily affect the profitability of your farm, such as certain trace element deficiencies, worm infestation and viral/bacterial infection, can be identified straight away with a PME on farm. For example, white muscle disease (selenium deficiency), with clear patterns of white coloration in the muscle, can be identified almost immediately. Worm infestation, with the presence of high number of adult worms in the gut is another example. The causative agents of pneumonia can often be diagnosed based on lesion patterns in the lungs. Appropriate samples taken on PME can confirm and support any diagnosis made.

A good post-mortem diagnosis is based on the presence of specific lesions that are compatible with a good clinical history. Bear in mind that a fresh carcase will lead to more reliable findings, with putrefaction and autolysis in older carcases greatly deteriorating the tissues and hiding signs of disease. Some diseases and conditions have non-specific lesions and can be difficult to fully diagnose on PME, such as allergy, post vaccine reaction, stroke, some kinds of poisoning and heart attack.

Black leg has characteristic finds on post mortem

A PME can benefit both farmer and veterinary surgeon by providing information specific to that farm. Together, they can work on measures to prevent this problem in the future, as well as developing specific treatment protocols. For the vet, it is an excellent tool to expand their knowledge about that disease and your farm, and eventually review and improve some treatment procedures. It is the perfect way to identify things that could have been done differently for a better outcome.

Lungworm are clearly visible here

This PME service can be provided by your usual veterinary practice or your local APHA Veterinary Inspection Centre. Please call your local Westpoint practice for further information.

Written by Ricardo Borralheiro MSc MRCVS