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Farm Animal Practice
Postmortem examination of cattle and sheep
  1. Ian Griffiths

    Ian Griffiths graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 1973, and spent seven years in mixed practice and two years on a cattle infertility project in Colombia, South America. In 1983, he joined the Veterinary Investigation Service in Cambridge. He is now a senior veterinary investigation officer at the Luddington Veterinary Laboratory Agency regional laboratory near Stratford‐upon‐Avon, Warwickshire. He holds an MSc in tropical veterinary science and is a fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (large animal species).


A THOROUGH postmortem examination in which all organ systems are assessed is an underrated diagnostic procedure. When allied to good descriptive skills, it allows a concise interim pathology report to be produced. This report should describe lesions, outline preliminary conclusions and, if possible, include a morphological diagnosis (eg, lobar pneumonia). Microbiology, parasitology, biochemistry or histopathology may be needed to assist in establishing a diagnosis. Although pathologists may disagree on the conclusions in a report, there should be no disagreement concerning its descriptive content if more than one pathologist is involved in the same necropsy. Various methods may be used to perform necropsies and, as long as all organ systems are examined thoroughly, each technique has its merits. Ideally, necropsies should be conducted in a postmortem room, but if this is not possible, they may be carried out in a knacker's yard. It should be remembered that on‐farm examinations may be limited and may only involve sample collection. This article describes how to perform a postmortem examination at a knacker's yard, where much of the equipment commonly found in the postmortem room is not available. A well designed form should be used to accurately record the necropsy findings. It may also be necessary to review the necropsy findings when other laboratory or histopathology results become available, before firm conclusions are reached.

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