I'm sure you have heard it said many times - "If you have livestock, you will always have deadstock." What do you do with your animals when they die? I suppose that if you are participating in a CWD monitoring program, you have to send the head (or part of it) to the lab for testing.
What about the rest of the animal that has died? If you just bury it, or burn it, you may lose valuable information regarding your health management program. An experienced veterinarian can obtain much valuable data from a complete autopsy. A post-mortem, which can be completed quickly, allows all the internal organs to be directly viewed and sized. The tissues can be cut open and touched for texture. It takes the guesswork out of a diagnosis.
Several questions can be answered by a thorough autopsy:
1. Is this an individual animal problem? If yes, then there are no concerns for the rest of the herd?
2. Is this an infectious disease? If so, what can be done to prevent its spread to the rest of the animals?
3. How long has the disease been in the animal? Did we miss seeing it for some time? What can we change in order to detect the clinical signs better in future cases?
4. If treatment was initiated to combat the disease? Why did the treatment fail?
5. Did the animal have any parasitic or nutritional problems?
Producers are often distraught and want reassurance about whether they missed signs of the disease and whether the death could have been prevented.
Post-mortem examinations on sudden deaths are especially important because clinical signs were not evident. Several serious diseases such as blackleg, anthrax and plant poisonings have sudden death as the only symptom.
Most animals bloat after death. To help the veterinarian, the carcass must be preserved as much as possible. Decomposition only takes a few hours on a hot summer day. Keep the carcass covered in a cool location until the veterinarian arrives. Make sure predators such as coyotes or your dogs don't ravage it.
The opposite occurs in winter when fresh carcasses make diagnosis easier. While freezing has a tendency to disrupt tissues, it is a far better storage method than allowing the carcass to rot.
Liver samples can be sent to the lab to check for analysis of trace minerals such as copper, iron or zinc. Labs can also perform culture and sensitivity tests. If bacteria are the cause of the ailment, these tests can determine the best choices of antibiotics. This can give an effective option for farmers with outbreaks of such diseases as pneumonia. Veterinarians can preserve the necessary tissues at the clinic in the event that other cases appear. Abortions can be studied this way.
Post-mortems done for insurance reports should be documented, with a complete identification of the animal. Photographs as part of the records are useful. Some farm insurance policies cover acts of God such as lightning or drowning, but a veterinary examination will be necessary. Most auction marts carry insurance, so most unexplained deaths are autopsied primarily to find out when the problem started. For example, it can determine if injuries occurred during the transport or at the facility.
Use your veterinarian to study most deaths on your farm. This can go a long way toward preventing other disease situations in the future. Most cases can be easily diagnosed and preventative measures, if necessary, taken quickly.