Anatomy of a Necropsy: What It Is and Why You Should Care


Are you familiar with the word “necropsy”? No? Actually, you are. You’ve just heard it called an “autopsy.”

Not to split hairs, but strictly speaking, an autopsy is when a human doctor performs a postmortem ("after death") examination on another human. A necropsy is the appropriate term used for any such evaluation performed on an animal.

Why the Post-Death Procedure Is So Important

All veterinarians do necropsies at some point in their careers. In fact, one of the first things that we learn at veterinary school is how to perform one.

In routine dog and cat practice, a necropsy can be useful for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because knowing what lies beneath is critical to a scientist's understanding of the disease process at hand.

Sometimes, it’s the only way that we have of identifying how an animal died. Not only is this important for the pet owner’s peace of mind, but increasingly, it's also because legal issues may be in play in some cases.

Why Not All Vets Perform Necropsies

According to some estimates, animal forensics is one of the fastest-growing specialty areas in veterinary medicine today.

Many veterinarians are keenly aware that to investigate pets after death is to advance our skills and knowledge base for the betterment of animal medicine. But not every vet will perform a necropsy in the course of daily practice.

For one, the procedure can be stressful — asking owners for permission to investigate a pet's remains is an emotionally fraught situation that requires extreme sensitivity and a deft way with words.

Moreover, we put ourselves at the mercy of the judicial system's often frustrating machinations when we undertake forensic cases. This can be especially trying for general practitioner veterinarians unaccustomed to depositions and legal wrangling.


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