Post-mortem examination | BSAVA Library

Post-mortem examination

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A post-mortem examination is an extremely important part of the service a veterinarian can offer to wildlife carers, aviculturists and pet bird owners. A thorough post-mortem examination will often provide more information than diagnostic procedures performed on the live bird, and is an invaluable learning experience for those new to avian medicine.

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14.1 Example of a post-mortem examination form. GIT = gastrointestinal tract; MZN = modified Ziehl-Naelsen stain.
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14.2 Deceased African Grey Parrot ready to be wetted for examination. Deceased female Eclectus Parrot that has been wet down and laid out for external examination, prior to dissection. Feathers are parted to allow the initial incision.
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14.3 Typical set of post-mortem examination instruments. A typical stainless steel table and equipment used for post-mortem examinations. Stainless steel tables like these are easy to clean, which is very important. A typical workstation ready for a post-mortem examination includes good lighting, gloves, water, paper towels, post-mortem instruments, formalin, specimen jars and a chair.
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14.4 Check for individual identification. Record leg ring number or microchip transponder number.
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14.5 A prominent keel bone and loss of pectoral muscle mass are common findings in many birds that have been masking disease.
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14.6 Inspection of the keel bone. Note the bent keel bone in the bird on the right. This is a sign that the bird may have suffered with metabolic bone disease in the past. The bird on the left is normal.
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14.7 Initial incision in the skin of the cervical area down to the caudal aspect of the keel bone. The incision is extended to reveal cervical structures and the crop (arrowed). Subcutaneous and intramuscular haemorrhage from injections just prior to death are visible in this bird. Extend the incision to expose subcutaneous structures as well as the pharynx and mouth. Bird with the skin removed to reveal the underlying structures. Bird with incision to expose crop contents continued through the right mandible to reveal the underlying structures.
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14.8 An obese Budgerigar before and after skin removed to reveal excessive fat stores.
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14.9 ‘Turkish towel’ changes to the lining of the crop (arrowed) in an Indian Ringnecked Parakeet. This is a common finding with candidiasis infection of the crop and/or oesophagus. A warm saline smear of a scraping of the crop mucosa will confirm the diagnosis.
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14.10 The glottis is identified prior to incising (arrowed). Scissors placed in the glottis to open the trachea. Incision through the glottis to examine the lumen of trachea. Opened trachea in an African Grey Parrot. Opened tracheal bifurcation of a bird that died suddenly. The small moth in the foreground (arrowed) was obstructing the trachea just proximal to the tracheal bifurcation.
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14.11 Expose the body wall muscles distal to the carina in preparation for the next incision. Ventral view of the exposed body wall muscles. Once the abdomen is opened, the liver and other coelomic structures are visible; these should be avoided during the dissection. Use scissors to cut through the lateral body wall and ribs, aiming towards the coracoid. Extend the incision, elevating the carina. Having cut the lateral body wall bilaterally, the carina can be raised to reveal coelomic structures . Use large scissors to cut the coracoid bones.
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14.12 Once the thoracic inlet is open, the carina can be placed to one side and the coelomic structures examined. This Rose-crowned Conure has thickened air sacs and pale granulomatous changes to the liver. This bird has inflammation on the internal aspect of the carina and purulent material around the heart and other coelomic structures. Another view of inflamed air sacs on the internal surface of the carina. A pair of scissors can be placed in the lumen of the distal oesophagus for examination.
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14.13 Use a paper towel to place specimens collected from the patient and absorb any discharges. Grasp the heart and cut through the great vessels at the base of the heart. Heart removed from body. Note the thickened pericardium and inflammatory material present. Once the heart has been removed, the syrinx and surrounding structures can be examined.
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14.14 Use a pair of scissors to identify and elevate the distal oesophagus as it connects to the proventriculus. Continue to elevate the oesophagus and draw it up caudally to allow removal of the whole gastrointestinal tract. Once the gastrointestinal tract has been removed, incise around the vent to ensure the bursa of Fabricius is included in the structures removed (important in any bird under 1 year old). The tissues are placed to the side for more thorough examination. Note the relative size of the spleen (arrowed). This is a normal size and shape for parrots. The gastrointestinal tract is laid to one side for closer examination and dissection. Note the enlarged haemorrhagic spleen (red arrow) and feathers at the vent (black arrow). This bird was diagnosed with mycobacteriosis on histopathology.
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14.15 The remaining structures in the coelom are the lungs, gonads and kidneys. The ovary in this female bird is immature (white arrow), as is the oviduct (yellow arrow). To remove the kidneys and gonads, grasp the fascia just cranial to the gonads and caudal to the lungs – where the diaphragm would be if it was present. Elevate the fascia with the gonad and blunt dissect the fascia from the spine; the kidneys will come as well. The gonads and kidneys are elevated to reveal the underlying lumbar vertebrae. Both kidneys are removed and the underlying vertebrae and nerves are exposed.
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14.16 The lungs (arrowed) of this Indian Ringnecked Parakeet are a normal pink colour. Use blunt dissection to remove the lung lobes. Lungs are removed for examination and sampling. Note the fibrin tags on the external surface. Select and harvest samples with typical lesions.
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14.17 This enlarged spleen has been removed; impression smears can be collected for cytology and the spleen sent for histopathology. The liver is removed so the proventriculus, ventriculus and intestines can be dissected and examined. Proventriculus, ventriculus and intestines are removed after the liver, to allow examination.
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14.18 Examine the gastrointestinal tract and spleen. The proventriculus (red arrow) and ventriculus (black arrow) are opened and the contents examined.
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14.19 Once the contents have been examined, the ventriculus can be washed to reveal the koilin layer. Peel the koilin layer away to examine for parasites or other lesions.
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14.20 Tissue samples of duodenal loop and pancreas can be selected for submission for histopathology and other tests as indicated. Samples of the contents of the intestines can also be taken for microscopic examination in warm saline smears or stains such as Diff-Quik or Gram.
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14.21 The vent should be opened and dissected to reveal the mucosa of the cloaca.
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14.22 Open selected joints to examine the contents. This is a stifle.
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14.23 Dissect and remove the skin from the cranium to expose the skull. Use the points of the scissors to score and cut into the skull around the lateral circumference. The bone of this skull has been scored so it is ready to be removed. Use the points of the scissors to carefully elevate the skull. The brain is revealed. Carefully remove the bone around the cerebellum. Hold the head upside down so gravity is pulling the brain out of the cranial cavity to reveal the structures that need to be incised to allow removal of the brain. Continue to carefully incise the nerves at the base of the skull and the brain will fall out.
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14.24 When the lungs and kidneys are removed, the ribs (arrowed) and the lumbar nerves (sciatic nerves; circled) are revealed.
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14.25 Place samples in 10 times their own volume of formalin.
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