Clinical Connections  –  Summer 2018

Interview with Norelene Harrington, Lecturer in Veterinary Anatomic Pathology and part of the pathology group providing the post mortem service.

Which species do you deal with?

We deal predominantly with companion animal and equine cases. About 70% of the workload is small animal cases and 30% equine. More unusually, I’ve performed necropsies on cheetahs and sugar gliders.

Where do your cases come from?

Internally, we handle cases from our colleagues at the RVC Small Animal Referrals, RVC Equine and the Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital. Externally, we work with referring veterinary practices, the RSPCA and police forces.

How do you work with referring vets and external organisations?

External veterinary practices may refer animals for necropsy where they require an independent assessment of unexpected patient death during treatment or to investigate apparent sudden or unexplained deaths. In the cases of potential prosecution for neglect, cruelty or malicious cause of death, our role as independent assessors will involve compiling legal reports and, in some cases, involvement as professional witnesses in court proceedings. A proportion of these cases require additional diagnostic imaging ahead of the necropsies.

Bladder of cat submitted for necropsy

For monitoring and research purposes, we provide necropsies in the event of the death of a greyhound either during a race or immediately after a race. In some instances, particularly with equine cases, it is the insurance company that requires the post mortem examination.

How can clients get the most from post mortem submissions?

We like to work closely with our clients to ensure that the detailed necropsy and subsequent reports generated address all specific concerns for the involved parties. Ahead of submitting a case, we would strongly encourage you to discuss the details with the laboratory staff and/or duty pathologist to ensure we can meet your expectations. It is incredibly valuable if you provide in your referral letter any considered clinical differentials and to include any exact questions you wish us to investigate. The more detail you provide us with allows us to appropriately tailor our service to your specific requirements.

Please give an overview of the process  

All animals submitted for necropsy must come from a referring vet – we do not accept them from the general public. The reason being is to remain independent and impartial. If the client is in dispute with their vet, we can liaise if required with a nominated third party vet. For optimal preservation, we recommend the animal be sent as soon as possible following death. To preserve it, we recommend for it to be refrigerated. If there is to be a delay in submission, we would recommend that it be frozen to prevent decomposition.

We would aim to perform the necropsy as soon as possible after receiving a non-frozen animal, ideally on the same day, with a view to providing a preliminary report within 1-2 working days. The final report, including histopathology data, would be available in approximately four weeks after submission. If required, additional toxicological analysis may be requested by the submitting client.
Due to the comprehensive nature of the post mortem examination, the animals are cremated following necropsy, which is arranged in conjunction with the referring vet.

How does your service support different elements of the RVC’s work?   

Internally, our clinicians submit cases to ensure we provide a comprehensive learning experience for our veterinary students. Performing necropsies provides both clinicians and students with deeper insights into the pathogeneses of various disease processes and can help with further diagnostic evaluations.

We provide an Intercalated BSc in Comparative Pathology for undergraduate veterinary students where we can foster and develop their interest and skills in pathology and research. Within the course they perform supervised post-mortem examinations, for which we are very grateful to referring vets and their clients who kindly donate suitable cases to facilitate this valuable learning experience.

To contact the team about submissions or if you can donate post mortem cases for student education, call 01707 666208 or email

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