CVMA | On Post Mortem

On Post Mortem

A veterinarian may be asked to examine the remains of an animal. Any remains, even skeletal remains, can provide useful information. Never refuse to conduct a post mortem because the body has deteriorated.

  • Perform a thorough necropsy regardless of an obvious cause of death.
  • Look for evidence of blood, chemicals, foreign bodies, or accelerants on the coat, mouth, or paws.
  • Take radiographs of the whole body. These are important regardless of the cause of death, as healing or healed fractures can establish a history of repeated trauma.  In the attached slide, the two top and left bottom photos show old healed fractures (evident callus formation), while the bottom right photo shows recent fractures.
  • Estimate the time of death based on gastric emptying, body condition (liver, algor, and rigor mortis) and forensic entomology. (For more information, see M Merck Veterinary Forensics: Making the Case - Proving Cruelty Through Forensics, and also visit
  • Look for evidence of starvation
    • Look for other causes of death in emaciated animals.
      • An emaciated animal may have an underlying disease that contributes to its condition and may provide mitigating circumstances for its death.
    • Note the loss of external and internal fat. Pericardial and perirenal fat are lost late in starvation. Bone marrow is the last fat lost during starvation.
    • Look for evidence of pica in stomach or feces, gastric ulcers, and melena.
  • For more detailed information on evidence of drowning, heat stroke, asphyxiation, and traumatic wounds (gunshot and knife) please see The Veterinarian's Role in Handling Animal Abuse Cases : Veterinary Forensics : Making the Case - Proving Cruelty Through Forensics or visit
  • Also watch for the upcoming book Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty by Leslie Sinclair, DVM, Melinda Merck, DVM, and Randall Lockwood PhD.