By Prof Ed Hall, JISBC Health Coordinator
The loss of a beloved companion can be the worst part of owning a pet. And when that tragedy is because of an unexpected and premature death through illness, the feelings of loss and grief are magnified. At such times one often feels that one’s pet has suffered enough and burial or cremation will allow closure. At that time the thought of a post mortem examination is anathema to many owners.
Regrettably, nothing is ever going to bring one’s pet back, but some solace can be gained by finding out the exact cause of an unexpected death. However, even more importantly, other dogs can benefit in the future. Whilst a post mortem examination clearly cannot help your pet, it can help vets understand diseases and ultimately learn something that may make a difference to the next dog to suffer the same condition. In addition, dogs specifically donated to Vet Schools provide essential training for tomorrow’s vets.
Yet even knowing the benefits that a post mortem examination can bring, many still will not contemplate this for fears that their pets will be experimented upon and that their organs will be retained for research. As someone who works in a Vet School, I can assure you that this does not happen; animals are treated with the same respect as if they were alive.
Post mortem examinations undertaken for legal cases do incur significant costs, and your local practice may charge for the examination. However, many Vet Schools will provide a post mortem service at a reduced cost or even for free for donated animals; they may only charge if you want a full written report. Unfortunately after a post mortem examination, release of the body for burial at home is not allowed because of the risk of infections; but individual cremation with the return of ashes can be arranged, although this service does incur a cost.
Finally, the JISBC Health Committee has become aware of a number of cases of unexpected sudden death in Irish setters due to internal bleeding. Post mortem examinations will be essential to identify the prevalence of this emerging problem, and to investigate its cause, with the ultimate aim of finding a solution. Recently reported cases have occurred in Scotland, and Dr Tennant at the Scottish Agricultural College has said they are willing to provide post mortem examinations at minimal cost on setters that have died suddenly.
So whilst saying goodbye is always hard, please think whether some good can come out of the loss of your pet by considering a post mortem examination.