Necropsy Services: Everything You Need to Know

What is a necropsy? While the term necropsy and autopsy are sometimes used interchangeably, technically they have different meanings. An autopsy is a postmortem examination of a human body, but a necropsy is performed on an animal. Most necropsy laboratories have teams of experts that are highly experienced in performing necropsies on rodents and non-rodents like snails, birds, fish, goats, sheep, and pigs.

The purpose of performing a necropsy is to determine the cause of death of the animal, and the procedure varies depending upon the size, age, and other historical information. The process of a necropsy generally includes a complete postmortem gross necropsy examination as well as a microscopic examination i.e., histopathology of selected tissues, if required.

What Does a Necropsy Involve?

In technical terms, a necropsy examination refers to the dissection of the body of a deceased animal in order to be able to determine the time and potential cause of death. It also helps establish the absence or presence of contagious or infectious diseases. Additionally, a necropsy laboratory documents the presence of injury, trauma or abuse in an animal.

As mentioned earlier, histopathology refers to the process of evaluating the tissue samples collected during the necropsy with a microscope. These tissue samples must first be fixed in formaldehyde or formalin and then trimmed. This technique is implemented for microscopic slide preparation during special processing.

Additional Tests During a Necropsy

Sometimes further testing may be required such as microbiology, radiology, toxicology, and immunohistochemistry. Toxicologists and pathologists perform scientific tests on the animal’s bodily fluids and tissue samples to identify chemicals or drugs present in their system. Through the use of highly sophisticated equipment, chemical reagents and precise methodologies in necropsy laboratories, they can determine the absence or presence of specific toxic substances in the animal tissue sample.

Necropsy laboratories also use the medical specialty of radiology to diagnose diseases through medical imaging. This includes imaging techniques such as an X-ray, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) scans.

Types of Necropsy Services

Laboratories that perform necropsy services have teams that are well-trained in all aspects of the requisite procedures. These may include special tissue harvesting for biomedical devices such as implants and stents, reproductive studies as well as PCR analysis. They are also well-versed in the use of whole-body and organ perfusion technology. This technology is routinely employed in conjunction with neurotoxicological protocols and studies that have ultrastructural requirements.

A few of the services offered by necropsy laboratories are mentioned below:

  1. Travelling team of necropsy experts that provide training and support
  2. Supervision of necropsy procedures by certified pathologists
  3. Specialized tissue collection which includes whole-body and organ perfusion
  4. Freezing of tissues for molecular pathology such as immunohistochemistry (IHC)
  5. Tissue collection techniques for the purpose of PCR analysis
  6. Providing an in-depth understanding of regulatory guidelines and specifications.

The Importance of Necropsy Services

The work done in a necropsy laboratory greatly contributes to scientific knowledge by helping to increase the understanding of animal anatomy and physiology in health and disease. Necropsies complement clinical medicine by providing an invaluable educational tool for pathologists and lab technicians. They also help save lives by alerting pathologists to the presence of diseases that could potentially be transmitted to other animals or even humans. Public health authorities and regulatory veterinarians use necropsy as a surveillance tool in order to monitor emerging or foreign animal diseases.

In a necropsy laboratory setting, the postmortem examination is often used to help determine the safety and effectiveness of new pharmaceuticals before they are launched in clinical trials. It also serves important legal functions i.e. it provides photographic and written documentation of the post-mortem findings that are critical in cruelty and insurance investigations.

How Necropsy Laboratories Work

Sometimes, necropsy laboratories support contract research organizations (CRO), chemical, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries. This is done when there is a special requirement such as perfusion technology or during times of heavy workload. They may also provide support for Developmental And Reproductive Toxicology (DART) studies for clients. This is done by conducting a caesarean section as well as the external examination of rat and rabbit foetuses. Most necropsy laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to provide fast, accurate and reliable results to their clients.