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Post-mortems can be positive

for profit and performance!

Veterinary surgeon

Lee-Anne Oliver

XLVets practice

Scott Mitchell


Why bother with a PM?

Lee-Anne explains: ‘Post-mortems enable

diagnoses to be made of tyre wire disease,

coccidiosis, nematodirus, ruptured uterus,

twisted gut, lamb dysentery, poisonous plants,

acidosis, internal abscesses, fluke, Johne’s

disease, and ruptured bladders, to name but

a few examples.

‘But also, post-mortems can often lead to

other significant conditions being identified,

which might not be the cause of death but

are valuable to know. For example, revealing

a fluke infection when the cow died of

staggers. Post-mortems of cull ewes can be

particularly useful in identifying Ovine

Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma (OPA), Johne’s

disease or presence of fluke.

‘Knowing the cause of death may provide the

opportunity to treat other susceptible animals

in the herd or flock and protect their health

and performance. It may also prevent money

being wasted on administering the wrong

medicine, or identify when a change in

management is needed.

‘A high percentage of post-mortem

examinations can provide a cause of death

on ‘gross examination’ or require only limited

further testing in the vet practice’s own

laboratory. So the cost is often not that high

versus the value of information that can be


‘However, some pathogens, e.g. for pneumo-

nia or scour, will need samples to be submit-

ted to a lab for further testing to identify the

specific pathogen eg RSV or rotavirus.‘

XLVets post-mortem initiative

Lee-Anne is involved in running a new

post-mortem scheme set up by XLVets which

will ultimately help provide information for

regional disease forecasts e.g. the first case

forecasts of nematodirus or liver fluke in an

area. The database will also serve as a

learning resource for vets and their farm


Lee-Anne explains: ‘Vets upload their

post-mortem reports and these are collated

monthly and shared with all XLVets practices.

These results are provided anonymously and

just give a regional location.

‘Of the post-mortem reports submitted to date,

75% have enabled diagnoses of the cause

of death to be made on gross examination


‘All PM reports submitted to the initiative will

be stored for later use. These documents

are useful when planning vaccination

programmes and making health plans.‘

Maximising success

To maximise the chance of a successful

diagnosis, carcases need to be as fresh as

possible – less than 24hours old. For

abortion cases, the placenta is needed as

well as the foetus.

‘Many of the APHA sites have shut down

and so many farms are a long way from

government laboratories and subsidised PMs

these days,‘ says Lee-Anne. ‘So farmers

should find out what their options are, ready

for the time when quick action is needed.

‘Some deadstock centres offer a PM service

which takes the hassle out of taking a dead

beast to the nearest APHA! But as a first step,

farmers should talk with their vet. Sometimes,

if a vet is already on the farm then an initial

examination can be done promptly.

‘There is an argument that all stock that die

on a farm should have a post-mortem to build

up a disease profile. For example, when

investigating pneumonia, examining one

dead animal can provide the answer instead

of taking samples from live individuals.

Similarly, it’s also the case with ticks,

parasites, Johne's, and OPA in sheep.

Lee-Anne Oliver,

Scott Mitchell Associates

There’s a cost to having a post-mortem carried out on a dead animal. But

there’s frequently a benefit too. Here, Lee-Anne Oliver of Scott Mitchell

Associates, near Hexham, outlines some of the benefits and gives an

insight into some recent findings in a new XLVets scheme.