The post-mortem examination of an animal conducted by humans is called a “necropsy”. The word necropsy is derived from the word necro (“death”) and the word opsis as mentioned above. The purpose of a necropsy in horses is to determine
what caused the horse’s death or the extent of disease that led to the horse’s death or euthanasia.
A necropsy is not something most horse owners contemplate until they are faced with the death of their horse. Particularly in cases where the death is sudden, a grief-stricken owner may not be in the right frame of mind to consider if a necropsy is warranted. The unfortunate thing, however, is that sudden deaths, especially sudden deaths where the cause is not obvious, are the most important cases in which to have a necropsy performed. As a Friesian owner, we’d encourage you to think about just how important a necropsy can be. Considering this information now can help you prepare for the future. Here are a few reasons to consider performing a necropsy:
Peace of Mind or Closure.
The most obvious reason to perform a necropsy is to determine the cause of death or the event leading up to the necessity for euthanasia. This is often for the owner’s peace of mind but is also a requirement for insurance or legal documentation. It is difficult for all parties, including owners, managers, and veterinarians, to experience a death loss without an explanation. The primary goal of the necropsy is to answer the question: Why did this happen? Often, owners find a bit of closure in understanding why a death occurred.
While research may not be a critical reason for other breeds, it requires special consideration for Friesian horses. As most owners are aware, there are a number of suspected genetic diseases affecting Friesian horses. Without the crucial data gained from a necropsy, gathering data, and conducting research is incredibly difficult. A necropsy also allows for critical blood DNA and tissue samples to be taken for use in genetic research before it’s too late.
Confirmation of a Disease.
When a suspected disease is clinically diagnosed prior to death or euthanasia, owners and veterinarians often wish to confirm this is indeed what lead to the death. In some cases, a second or predisposing condition is present that exacerbated the disease or made it difficult to treat. This information provided by the necropsy may help owners and veterinarians understand the full extent of the illness.
Adverse Reaction to Treatment.
In some cases, owners or veterinarians may wish to confirm if previous treatments had any effect, side effects, or unintended reactions. Reporting adverse reactions to treatments is vital to ensuring other horses are not harmed by similar therapy.
An extremely important reason, particularly in cases of sudden or multiple deaths, is to determine if other horses in the same herd or barn are at risk for contagious illness or death. A timely diagnosis can prevent future death losses.
A necropsy can be performed in the field or, if logistics and time allow, arrangements can be made to conduct the necropsy in a clinical setting. A necropsy involves multiple procedures, but the first step involves a very thorough examination of the entire body inside and out. The examiner will have access to any relevant medical history which will help provide relevant context. Based on the observations and history, relevant samples may be taken from the body for analysis or testing. Microscopic analysis (histology) of samples may lead to further testing. Toxicologic analysis may be performed on samples to check for specific toxins. Necropsy procedures and analysis may be quite basic when the cause of death is obvious. If the cause of death was initially unknown, the analysis may be quite extensive and require significant time. In any case, a pathologist will consider all the evidence collected and arrive at a diagnosis. All the relevant information is compiled into a report that is supplied to the owner.
One of the most common reasons owners may choose not to pursue a necropsy is cost. Average necropsy fees range from $150 – $500. However, if the horse is located at a university or teaching hospital at the time of death or euthanasia, most of these facilities perform necropsies at no cost to the owner. Additionally, the Fenway Foundation for Friesian Horses provides limited reimbursement (up to $400) upon receipt of necropsy reports through our Necropsy Assistance Program. If you have already had a necropsy performed, we encourage you to donate it to the Fenway Foundation in the interest of furthering our research efforts.
Owners are highly encouraged to report the death of their Friesian to FHANA or the KFPS. This information is critical and helps the studbook gather important health-related data. However, it unfortunately often goes unreported. FHANA members can report a death by logging into their profile on the FHANA website. Select the “My FHANA” tab at the top of the home page, then under “My Administration” select “Report the Death of a Horse”. If your FHANA membership is not current, you can report the death by calling the FHANA office at (859) 455-7430. Members can also report a death by logging into their profile on the KFPS website. Select the “My KFPS” tab at the top of the home page, then under “My Administration” select “Report the Death of a Horse”. If your KFPS membership is not current, you can report the death by calling the KFPS office at +31 512 523 888
Despite our best efforts, every Friesian owner will eventually bid farewell to a beloved Friesian horse. Many times, their departure will be after a long and rewarding life. Unfortunately, there will be times when a horse’s departure is totally unexpected and completely premature; in those occurrences, we at the Fenway Foundation, in cooperation with the KFPS and researchers from around the world, hope to learn from those events. To accomplish this, we need your help. Your horse’s necropsy may be the key to unlocking the answers researchers are desperately searching for.