Should I Allow a Post-Mortem Exam of My Dog?

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If you are like most families, when your dog crosses the rainbow bridge, it can feel just like you have lost a child. At the same time, you are likely to spend plenty of time wondering why your family's furry friend died and if there was anything else that could have been done to save him. Your vet may ask your permission to perform a post mortem exam or autopsy. Many pet owners and some vets often overlook this or decline to have this service performed, but completing the procedure can provide both you as the pet owner and your vet with a wealth of vital information that could be used to save someone else's dog in the future.

What Is an Autopsy and How Is It Performed?

In human beings, an autopsy refers to an examination that is performed after the person has died. When this same procedure is performed on an animal, it is called a necropsy. It can be performed by either a veterinarian or a veterinary pathologist.

During the procedure, the vet will make a single incision that runs along the centerline of the abdomen and chest. Once the incision is made, the vet will be able to examine all of the dog's internal organs, looking for signs of injury or disease. In many cases, biopsy samples will be taken from each of the organs for examination by a veterinary pathologist. However, in the event that the cause of death can be determined by the initial examination, taking samples may not be needed.

Why Should I Allow a Necropsy to Be Performed?

While you cannot be ordered to allow the vet to perform a necropsy or post-mortem exam, there are a few good reasons why you should do so. Even though you might not want to know the details of why or how your dog died, it does matter to your vet. The reason for this is that the why and how of your dog's death can have a major impact on how the vet will treat other dogs who have similar illnesses or injuries.  Simply put, by agreeing to allow the necropsy, the death of your dog may help to save another family pet's life.

In certain cases, there may be a legal reason why you should allow the vet to perform a post-mortem exam. For example, what if your dog's sutures broke down or he had an allergic reaction to one of the medications he was given. What if a mistake was made in his veterinary care? Knowing the cause can have a significant impact on the future care of other animals or change the way in which certain drugs are manufactured or administered.

A necropsy may also be able to tell if your dog has been abused, treated poorly, or poisoned either accidentally or by someone on purpose. No matter how you look at it, there is much to be learned from allowing the vet to perform a necropsy. 

What If My Vet Doesn't Offer a Necropsy?
Once your pet passes on, your vet may not offer a necropsy. This may simply be because they tend to be expensive. It does not mean that your vet doesn't care, it simply means that the vet is confident that he knows what caused your dog's death and that performing a post-mortem exam will not reveal any more information on his death. 

Consider the Potential Benefits

Bear in mind that a necropsy can be very important and if your vet asks your permission to perform one, giving your permission may help another family's furry friend to survive. Vets realize how hard making this decision can be and will understand if you choose to decline. But, please be aware that agreeing to do so may help to further veterinary medical knowledge in a way that could save an untold number of pets in the future.