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Home / Smart Harvest

Why you must pay for postmortem for cattle

Police probe the death of six cattle at a home in Iyabe, Kisii County on January 31, 2019. [File, Standard]

I am a religious follower of your column in Smart Harvest. I have 20 dairy animals on my farm. Last month, one of them died under mysterious circumstances. I know dead animals need to be disposed off safely and I plan to do that. I spoke to my vet and he advised that we do a postmortem first. But my concern is it means extra veterinary costs I had not budgeted for. Kindly educate me more on the importance of postmortem on a dead animal.



Thanks Mr Cheruiyot for the question and for reading the Smart Harvest.

Postmortem comes from two words – post meaning after and mortem referring to life. Postmortem or necropsy is the examination of an animal after death.

The procedure is necessary in slaughter houses for any meat intended for public consumption. This is combined with ante mortem examination to give a verdict of the safety of the meat. In disease situations or suspected deaths, postmortem is always done to get the exact cause of death and inform future treatment regimes.

So why are postmortems necessary?

In the medical world, postmortem is referred to as  – “disturbing the dead to protect the living”. It is basically a systematic examination of a dead animal especially in cases like sudden deaths common in herds. It seeks to establish the cause of death.

Just like in humans, legal basis is another reason for postmortem. For instance, in case of a dispute involving an animal, postmortem can form part of the evidence to be adduced in a court of law. 

Research is another reason why postmortems are done in animals. Postmortem examination of insured animals is a requirement for compensation.

The bigger picture

For a farmer, the reason they must sacrifice and pay for the postmortem is to protect the live animals. In cases where deaths are reported in a herd or flock; postmortem gives more information that can be used to treat the living.

The procedure will shed light on cause of death and will either point to a ‘silent’ disease, bad husbandry or malnutrition that can help prevent further deaths.

Further lab Tests, External and internal examinations

When undertaking the examination, the veterinary doctor will assess the carcass externally and internally for any parasites, wounds or injuries and structure of the internal organs.

Further, the vet will collect samples for various laboratory tests that will lead to a more comprehensive report. These intense tests include microbiology, toxicology (in case of poisoning) and clinical pathology (changes in tissues and organs).

Where and how to do it

Postmortem should be done where there is enough light (preferably early in the day) and in an area not frequented by people to avoid contamination. The selected area should be easy to disinfect. For better results, it should be done as soon as possible after death; as the carcass quickly undergoes changes that may affect pathological information on the cause of death.

When never to do Postmortem

You may wonder, are there instances when a postmortem must not be done?

Yes there are. For instance, carcasses suspected to have died from anthrax or rabies should never be opened. Great caution should be exercised when handling animals suspected to have died from diseases like Rift Valley Fever which can be transmitted to man through tissue fluids. 

For safety purposes, persons helping the veterinary doctor conduct the exercise must wear protective gear.

After postmortem examination the veterinarian should ensure that the carcass is properly disposed off through deep burial or burning.

The area should be disinfected to avoid spread of the diseases.

Finally, on the cost, there is no fixed charge as it all depends on the size of the animal, the distance to your farm and cost of laboratory tests.

[The writer was the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council [email protected]]

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