Performing Your Own Necropsies

Discussion in 'Rabbits' started by Pat Lamar, Apr 26, 2005.

  1. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I thought, since the topic has arisen, I might explain a little about necropsies....you can do your own, or you can send them to someone else...but if you aren't sure what killed your animal, or if you want to know what is in your herd, a necropsy is invaluable. Let's start with the do it yourself version, eh?
    Ok, you have a rabbit dead in the cage. What now?
    First, get an area set up with the basics. Everything should be as disinfectable as possible and well away from your rabbits or feed or working areas. (Yes, those of you who have no choice can use the kitchen table but put plastic down first and disinfect WELL!!)
    The basics: Table, disinfectant, sharp knife and scalpel blade, paper towels, scissors, latex gloves, gauze sponges (optional but handy), ruler, camera with closeup lens(optional but invaluable if you find something REALLY odd), pencil and paper, apron or lab coat used only for necropsies. Other optional items: formalin jars (available from the vet), tissue biopsy tools, hemostats, tweezers or forceps, extra person to take notes and pictures...make it up as you learn. A book on rabbit anatomy (practical version) helps the novice.
    Lay the rabbit on the table; before starting anything more, put on your gloves and examine every inch of the animal looking for any abnormalities at all. Note them down. (you can use a tape recorder for this if you're alone).
    Put the rabbit on its back, press the legs out sideways firmly so it remains in that position. Use twine to tie the legs back if necessary dont be afraid to use a little force here, they aren't feeling it, I promise you. ;)
    Using the knife, scalpel, or scissors as is comfortable for you, slit the pelt from neck to genitals. Use the knife or scalpel blade to cut the tissue beneath the skin. Gradually pull the skin back, slicing lightly on the subcutaneous tissue as you go. Remove the skin to at least 1/2 way around the body's circumfrence. Slice the hide out to the wrist and hock, sever the skin at that point and remove it from the legs. Observe all bruising, lumps, and any other abnormality you observe.
    Using the scalpel or scissors, cut down between the ribcage and shoulder to free the front legs to lie flat. Perform a similar task for the rear legs; often firm pressure sideways on the knee will do.
    Use the scalpel blade to nick the belly on the midline. Using the scissors with extreme care, open the abdominal cavity. Note every portion of the gut visible, beginning with the cecum and progressing to other areas as you proceed. Look for hemorrhages or small red spots on any portion of the intestinal walls; look for any body or discoloration. Note the presence or absence of body fat.
    Remove the intestines from the cavity with care not to tear them; inspect the kidneys by gentle pulling to remove them from their anchorage and then lightly slice the outer capsule and look at the actual organ surface. Note any pitting or discoloration.
    Inspect the bladder and genitalia; note color of urine and presence/absence of sediment in the bladder and any scabs or abscesses/abnormalities on the gentalia.
    Check the stomach and intestines for blockages by running the length of the intestine lightly through your fingers, feeling for hard spots; open the gut away from the body to check suspicious places. Observe the surface of the cecum and open the cecum if any abnormalities are noted to check the interior surface as well. (this really stinks, so be prepared!).
    Remove and open the stomach; the presence of some hair is normal, the presence of a hard mass of hair and feed and mucous is generally considered a hairball. A trichobezoar, or true hairball, will be quite dehydrated and may have caused damage to the stomach lining. The presence of a hairball is not the definitive diagnosis of blockage, however, unless the stomach is obviously impacted and unable to pass feed.
    Inspect the liver closely without removing it; look at what you can see easily, then gently lift the lobes to check the remainder. Then remove the liver and inspect it thoroughly. You are looking for anything other than a smooth deep red/tan organ with clean edges. Roughness, white spots, streaks, yellow areas, all of these may indicate problems, most commonly liver coccidiosis. A hemorrhagic liver, deep red/black, engorged, and very easily broken apart into granular bits may indicate a major problem; DO NOT PROCEED FURTHER! Package up the entire rabbit (the guts separately if you opened them) and send them immediately to a veterinary pathology laboratory to be checked for a viral cause. Disinfect all areas with bleach and do not go to other rabbitries nor allow visitors as well as enforce careful and complete quarantine measures until the results return. (The concern here is Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease.)
    A light tan, very breakable liver may indicate fatty liver.
    Clean up your mess a little; prepare to enter the chest cavity. Using the scissors, shear the ribcage at the midline, keeping the points well away from the contents and toward the chest wall. Cut the diaphragm away from the ribcage and using great care and observing any abnormalities as you go, shear the ribcage on each side about three inches from the midline. It's not at all unusual to create a fair amount of bloody mess at this point, so be prepared.
    Inspect the lungs and heart; look for spotting of dark red or deep pink on the lungs (note: some changes are from normal post mortem changes and some are caused by euthanasia methods; ask your vet). Observe the area around the heart for hemorrhage or abscess. Again, if the lungs and heart are *severely* hemorrhagic, DO NOT PROCEED FURTHER. Consult your veterinarian about the amount of hemorrhage; they may recommend laboratory examination of the tissues.
    Open the neck carefully if you have spotted anything abnormal in the chest area. If not, go to the next step; all you are doing in the neck is looking for further evidence of respiratory problems.
    Using small shears like strong toenail clippers or wirecutters, insert the blades into the nose and cut the center cartilage. Repeat by cutting the bone on either side of each nostril, and use a scalpel to slice the skin up toward the eyes. Lift the resulting flap and inspect the lower sinuses for mucous or erosion of the turbinates, indicative of respiratory infection. You might want to have sterile swabs on hand to take samples for culture; have your veterinarian show you the proper procedure to minimize contamination.
    Cut off the ear as close to the skull as possible, using wirecutters; observe the bullae for any signs of infection. Disinfect your cutters and allow them to dry between each step of using them; this will let you take a clean sample of any infectious material found.
    That's it, guys...look at your notes, if you were taking pictures of what you found, go get em developed (warn the poor photo people though! :))....and see what you can learn.

    Reprinted with the permission from
    The Rabbit News and Research Quarterly
    Volume 3, Number 2
    Pamela Alley, RVT
     
  2. MikeD

    MikeD Well-Known Member

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    I hate to disagree with anyone that is more knowledgeable than I am on any given topic. Having said that, I'm going to anyway, Pat. :D Having had several dozen necropsies performed on reptiles for both educational and evidentiary purposes (cruelty cases, etc), from everything that I have been told by veterinarians time is usually of the essence in performing a necropsy. In addition, should further examination be required or blood or other lab work be necessary valuable time could be wasted and accelerated deterioration or contamination of tissues could occur if all tests are not performed in a sterile envrionment or if an already exposed carcass needs to suddenly be transported to an appropriately trained veterinary facility. Add to that, should you actually be dealing with anything potentially contagious you may be putting yourself at risk of either personally contracting or carrying an unknown pathogen to the rest of your healthy herd or, in some cases, to other animals or family/friends etc.

    Maybe it's just due to my experiences and background in having dealth with animals in various stages of health/neglect/death. I just think that the risks far outweigh the benefits in performing "home necropsies".
     

  3. Tim'nLes

    Tim'nLes New Member

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    Tim here. Pat, I have been reading the posts on this site for about two years but couldn't post from my WebTV. I am using my wife's computer today because I want very much to say to you: My wife and I wanted to start a rabbit "farm" and we depended very much on the advice on this website. We have had many successful litters and any time we needed help with an issue, I would go into the archives and have found everything I needed to know. Because of the information posted there, we worked with our vet and aquired the medication we needed without being charged an office visit. I learned to butcher from this site as well. I appreciate ALL of the information that you share, including necropsies because I don't want to just run to the vet for things that I can do myself. You also did advise when we should take the rabbit to the vet. Our vet told me that while I was butchering, and I ran across something I didn't know about, than I should put it in the fridge and take it in the next day. Anyway, I just appreciate you being there. Thank you! I hope I don't ever have to use this particular information, however; if I did, I am glad it is here for me to use. ;)
     
  4. Pat Lamar

    Pat Lamar Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Mike...

    Necropsies are generally performed on *ISOLATED* cases when there are no outward physical symptoms. In the event of something as dangerous as what you describe, there would likely be more than one death.... in which case I would be RUNNING to a veterinarian or laboratory! Likewise, there are extremely few diseases carried by rabbits which can be communicated to humans, and they usually have outward physical symptoms, anyway. Necropsies are a common activity among commercial rabbit breeders and I have never heard of anyone causing or having experienced problems from performing necropsies on rabbits.

    Just as Tim has mentioned, even my own vet relies on me for such details.

    To transport a dead rabbit to a laboratory, first wet the rabbit down and carefully wrap it in a plastic trash bag. Then, set it in a cooler with ice. It is important that the carcass *NOT* be frozen! If multiple deaths have occurred, draw a map of the cage locations of the affected rabbits. Provide as much information as possible, including the type of feed (include the ingredient tag), supplements given, birth dates, etc.

    Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
    Chairperson, ARBA Commercial Department Committee
     
  5. MikeD

    MikeD Well-Known Member

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    I fully understand that certain basic measures can be performed by a farmer onsite without specific diagnosis, Pat. And in many cases it may be warranted and justified. Unfortunately, part of the problem that I have with this particular issue and even the posting of such information is that it is illegal to either perform or even publicly post veterinary medicine/procedures without a license to do so in my state.

    I've had to deal with this previously on several occasions the most noteably being one particularly disturbed individual that took great delight in publicly instructing owners of giant green iguanas in "proper" home amputation methods with regard to tail and/or limb removal due to necrotic tissue (gangrene) or other ailments. Of course, no use of any form of anesthesia was ever mentioned.

    I would just hate to see someone get their hands on this information and then have to go before a judge and explain exactly how, why and what they were doing if such action is considered illegal anywhere else in the country. Like it or not, animal cruelty investigators (at least here) have authority over livestock and farm animals in general. Should one of them happen upon someone performing their own necropsies or anything else of a veterinary nature they may not be as understanding as fellow farmers, etc.

    Having the relationship that I had with my reptile vet he too relied on us for much information as we were able to concentrate on particular species and implement the most up to date husbandry and basic diagnosis of health issues. I was actually fortunate enough to stumble upon a remedy for nutritionally induced paralysis and associated bowel obstruction in iguanas which ultimately saved the life of one of the rescues that was brought in with some rather common symptoms. After trying some common remedies with no success I tripped over some information, presented it to my vet who administered it, and within literally two hours the iguana was beginning to walk normally again.

    I fully understand that with several hundred head of whatever is in your herd it may not be feasible to "run to a vet" with every little problem. I just hope that anyone that decides to diagnose/treat etc. their animals knows that there may be laws on their state's books that consideres such actions illegal despite whatever best intentions may be involved.
     
  6. dugan

    dugan Well-Known Member

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    The animal is dead so where does cruel enter the picture.Sounds kinda like peta bull*** to me.
     
  7. MikeD

    MikeD Well-Known Member

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    It has absolutely zero to do with PETA or any other animal terrorist group dugan. It is simply state level law in some states. Just because an individual may not have been properly informed or otherwise does not know which laws affect them either at the state or federal level does not mean that they do not apply to them. In other words, ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense. Depending on the various laws of your state this may very well be a violation of animal cruelty, board of health, CDC or other state or federal statutes that may apply. I would just hate to see someone get pinched because they thought that what they were doing was ok.

    Add to that, while I understand that there are basic symptoms that are visable to the naked eye not even experienced commercial growers/farmers will necessarily catch everything that may be wrong with a diseased animal if they do not have the proper educational background. Example: I've been dealing with snakes and lizards for a good part of my life now. I had more than 20 snakes come in from a cruelty case and knew that the majority of them were ill but due to the nature of the symptoms it was next to impossible to determine what was wrong with them without a blood draw. Even then it was difficult until one actually had died and it was possible to perform a proper necropsy. Turned out that just about everything that came in in that case (upwards of 100 reptiles, amphibians) was dealing with a massive amoebic infestation. Despite having dealt with illnesses in reptiles I never would have known exactly what I was up against if the necropsy hadn't been performed by a licensed, practicing, experienced veterinarian. Why risk the health of your entire herd of livestock if it is easy enough to bring the body to a vet and have a thorough necropsy performed by someone that is trained to do it properly especially in this day and age when we are dealing with things like bird flu, cryptosporidiosis, and a host of other potentially devestating diseases? Now I understand that some animals are simply too large to transport in their entirety and I'm not addressing that here but something as small as a rabbit, duck, chicken, or anything else that can easily be wrapped up and transported certainly falls into this catagory. For lack of a better analogy why play Russian Roulette with your livelihood? To me that is exactly what you are doing if you don't have the proper training and education to handle something like a "do it yourself" necropsy. Yes, I understand that there are individuals that MAY be able to recognize the basics and if they are comfortable doing their own necropsies then so be it but I don't want John/Jane Q. that grow on the side and maybe sell the ocassional rabbit/chicken/duck etc to think that this is something that THEY can do simply by reading it on the internet. That creates entirely too many potentially hazardous scenarios.
     
  8. Tim'nLes

    Tim'nLes New Member

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    Les here:

    I agree with dugan....Hmmm, MikeD are you a PETA spy? Do you even have rabbits? Do you feed rabbits to your snakes?

    Listen, Pat didn't say anything about drawing blood - the rabbit is dead! I appreciate the fact that if a rabbit by itself is found dead on the floor of its cage with no visible signs of illness and I WANT to look it over on the inside...to see if I find something out of the ordinary, then I can do it; and, if I don't know what it is, I will take it to the vet.

    Lemme see here, according to what you are saying, if I butcher my rabbits, and while doing so, since the guts are all out on the table anyway, I check the liver, lungs and so on to double check and ensure that it is healthy enough to feed to my family...I am practicing veterinary medicine with out a license.

    Did you know that you can grow your own veggies? That you don't have to go to the store to BUY them. Did you know that you can homeschool your own children and give them a better education than public schools can do? You can make your own soap, make your own clothes too. People are too institutionalized these days.

    QUOTE: [I've had to deal with this previously on several occasions the most noteably being one particularly disturbed individual that took great delight in publicly instructing owners of giant green iguanas in "proper" home amputation methods with regard to tail and/or limb removal due to necrotic tissue (gangrene) or other ailments. Of course, no use of any form of anesthesia was ever mentioned.]QUOTE

    These rabbits are not abused or rescued from abuse. AND I am not practicing veterinary medicine on someone's rabbit & charging money for same. I just butcher my rabbits and at least I know what to look for with regards to a healthy rabbit..healthy dead rabbit, thanks to Pat and the others on this board. Mike if everyone thinks like you we would all be running to the hospital every time we got a scratch or a sniffle...because none of us are qualified to practice medicine on ourselves. Grrrrrr :bash:

    What is wrong with you, did you read this?
    "Pat Lamar
    President
    Professional Rabbit Meat Association
    http://www.prma.org/
    Chairperson, ARBA Commercial Department Committee"

    I HARDLY think this qualifies her as a "particularly disturbed individual" NOT TO MENTION A-A-AGAIN, IT IS D-E-A-D.
     
  9. Rancher

    Rancher Well-Known Member

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    Hey MikeD
    Lighten up Pal. Its ok. Breathe In.... Breathe Out..... Breathe In...... Breathe Out. It'll be ok.
    Rancher