AHL LabNote 42-Field and clinic postmortems: Simplified protocol and image list

 Josepha Delay DVM, DVSc, Diplomate ACVP, Mammalian Pathologist

Digital images captured during postmortem (PM) examinations provide a permanent record of lesions. The images are a very useful communication tool when consulting with pathologists and other specialists. PM images provide valuable supplemental information for pathologists evaluating tissue samples submitted to a diagnostic laboratory for histologic examination. Images may be emailed to AHL pathologists at ahlpath@uoguelph.ca

The image list below provides both a step-wise guide to the postmortem procedure and a suggested set of images that are applicable to all species of companion and food-producing animals. Establishing and following a standard routine for PM procedures is important. This allows the practitioner to spend more time identifying and interpreting lesions, rather than concentrating on the logistics of the exam. Developing a PM routine is similar to having a routine protocol for physical examination in a live patient.

Remove ear tag or create ID label, and include with all photos.

Image 1.  External views: full body, head, thorax/abdomen, perineum

  • For unexpected deaths, take image in situ, in location and position where body was discovered.
  • Include views the depict body condition, hydration (eyes), evidence of predation or trauma, etc.

Open abdominal and thoracic cavities.

Image 2/3.Opened thorax (with organs in situ).  Heart in situ, with pericardial sac opened (check for fluid, exudate, etc).

Remove pluck.

Image 4.Pluck, with focus on lungs (dorsoventral view, with right and left lung visible).

Image 5.Cross-section of right and left lung.                                                                                                                                                                                             


Image 6.Cross-section of heart through both ventricles.

Image 7. Larynx (including thyroid glands) and trachea: opened and mucosal surface exposed


Image 8.Opened abdomen (with organs in situ)

Image 9.Opened abdomen with intestines fanned out.


In ruminants, remove omentum. In all species, fan out intestines and locate cecum and ileum.

Image 10.Open cecum, ileum, and jejunum to expose mucosal surface.

Image 11.Open colon to expose mucosal surface.                        


Image 12.Open duodenum to expose mucosal surface.        

Image 13.Liver – capsular surface. For ruminants, include opened caudal vena cava.

Image 14.Liver – cross section.                                                     

Image 15.Abomasum/stomach – serosal and mucosal surface                                                                                             

Image 16.Ruminants: rumen – serosal surface.                         

Image 17.Ruminants: rumen – mucosal surface and content.

Image 18. Kidney: sagittal sections, with cut surfaces exposed.                                               

Image 19. Spleen: capsular surface and cross section.           

Image 20. Adrenal gland: cross section.

       Image 21.Brain.


Unexpected death / neurologic cases: Remove brain. Also remove spinal cord if required, based on clinical signs.

For details, see LabNote 33:

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