When an animal dies unexpectedly it can be unsettling moment for any owner, as a farmer losing an animal under your care isn’t just emotionally hard it is also a large financial loss, but can something good come out of such an event? Can we find a silver lining?

Post-mortem might seem like a grim undertaking and the very word can send shivers up and down people’s spine, yet as veterinary professionals its often one of the most useful tools we have at our disposal to get that elusive yet oh so essential definitive diagnosis.

Some diseases have non-specific clinical signs such as dull and depressed, which make identifying a causative agent difficult if further diagnostic tests are not available or unaffordable. Common signs such as these are often seen in issues such as Johne’s disease, traumatic pericarditis (Tire wire / hardware disease) and left displaced abomasum (LDA), all of which have different causative agents and different predisposing factors.

This photo shows cancer in the lymph nodes of an adult dairy cow. The animal was showing clinical signs of inappetence, dull, depressed, elevated temperature with pale mucous membranes and blood in the urine. Several other animals in this herd were showing similar clinical signs.

This animal was euthanized, and an on-farm post-mortem was performed. Signs such as this with the clinical history were suggestive of Enzootic Hematuria or bracken poisoning. Following further discussion with the farmer, this group of animals had previously entered a forested area which was densely populated with ferns. The toxins in bracken cause necrosis and internal haemorrhages as well as gastro-intestinal tract cancers which can spread to other areas of the body, in this case the lymph nodes. The combination of the history with the post-mortem signs allowed for definitive diagnosis. Allowing us to put into place a system to ensure cattle avoided bracken heavy areas in future.

In addition to getting a concrete answer, post-mortems allow farmers opportunities to make changes to current husbandry or treatment protocols. Liver fluke (fasciolosis) is a condition of ruminants which causes subclinical and clinical disease, leading to ill thrift and even deaths. The disease is caused by the trematode Fasciola hepatica which primarily parasitizes the bile ducts of sheep and cattle. This photo shows liver fluke on a bovine liver, the bull was euthanized for an unrelated issue, the liver fluke was discovered secondarily. This led to a discussion with the farmer regarding correct anthelmintic drug usage and dosing, as well as the formulation of fluke prevention plan which included fencing off wet and boggy areas of grazing during high-risk periods as well as the positive effects of using ducks as natural predators for the mud snail (the flukes intermediate host).

Post-mortems provide a great opportunity for vets and farmers to learn about the real time issues which are affecting animals, they enable us to work together to make positive changes to husbandry and treatment to improve productivity and animal welfare, as well as providing definitive answers to cause of death to the animals under our care.

If you would like further information on Westpoint Farm Vets, please contact our St Columb practice on 01637 889231 or visit www.westpointfarmvets.co.uk