We often receive phone calls or emails from producers who have lost goats to health problems and are asking us for advice.
Unfortunately, none of the producers involved had the dead animal(s) examined. Examination of a deceased animal to determine cause of death, like an autopsy in a human, is referred to as a “necropsy.” The purpose of this examination is to attempt to determine the cause of death and whether or not it represents a concern for the herd or flock of origin. For instance, the necropsy may reveal presence of parasites or pneumonia, or other potential herd problems. Without performing a necropsy on a recently-dead animal, it is often impossible to determine the cause of death.
Some animal deaths are the result of obvious causes: death caused by a predator, by an electrified fence, by the weight of a round bale of hay, etc. When the cause of death is unknown, a necropsy may be useful in determining the cause and whether or not it represents a concern for the herd. When you encounter a dead goat, (regardless of the type of animal: doe, buck, growing kid, recently born kid, kid born dead, or a dead fetus), and you cannot determine the cause death:
- Immediately put the dead animal in a plastic bag, and store it in a refrigerator or a large cooler with ice. The purpose of the refrigeration is to limit the natural decomposition and make it more likely that a cause can be determined or that an organism, if present, might be identified. DO NOT FREEZE THE DEAD ANIMAL. Handle the dead goat with disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards because some diseases are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted to humans.
- Call your local veterinarian and/or your local cooperative extension livestock agent for help, or call the nearest NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (NCDVL - see list below) for advice. A veterinarian can perform a necropsy and, if familiar with the herd, that can be useful information for the producer and veterinarian. Another option is to bring the dead animal immediately or as soon as possible to the nearest NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the sooner after death or discovery of the fatality the better. The list of NCVDL fees is located at the end of this document.
- If the dead animal is already in a state of decomposition, bring it to a licensed rendering facility or bury it on your property at least 3 feet deep and no closer than 300 feet to any flowing stream of public body of water.
The NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories (NCVDL) where dead animals, feces, blood and tissue samples can be brought for examination fall under the Veterinary Division of the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Guidelines for sample of animal submittal are as follows:
- Live and non-decomposed dead animals, fresh and formalin-fixed tissues, whole blood, serum, milk and feed are commonly submitted specimens.
- Animals for necropsy are accepted from both veterinarians and owners. Submissions through veterinarians are preferred, as veterinarians are important in interpreting laboratory results and implementing corrective health measures in the herd.
- Submittal forms are available from the laboratory website and printed forms can be requested from the laboratories.
- A complete history should accompany all submissions and include the address and telephone of the owner as well as the age, breed and sex of the animal. A complete history is important in assessing the situation.
- Specimens mailed to the laboratory should be clearly labeled, and submittal forms should accompany the specimens sealed in a separate plastic bag.
- In all cases the method of shipment should be an overnight service to maximize the reliability of any diagnostic test findings. (Keep in mind there are numerous regulations about what can be shipped and how it needs to be shipped and labeled).
- Contaminated, decomposed, or inappropriate specimens will not be processed.
Once on the website home page, the following links are available: About NCVDL, Newsletters, Facilities Directory, NCVDL Services, NCVDL fees, Specimen Submittal, Submission Forms, Utilizing the NCVDL System, Veterinary Division, Reportable Diseases, Staff Directory, Contact Us. In case you have a username and password, test results can be accessed and viewed online.
NCVDL fees vary with the type of animal (food or companion animal), the size of the animal to be incinerated, and the type of service performed. These fees are available on the NCVDL website.
2101 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: (919) 733-3986; Fax: (919) 733-0454
From I-40 take Exit 289 (Wade Avenue) toward Raleigh
Take first exit ramp (Blue Ridge Road Exit)
Turn left at stoplight on Blue Ridge Road
Go 0.5 miles and turn left into the Laboratory parking lot
785 Airport Road
Fletcher, NC 28732
Phone: (828) 684-8188; Fax: (828) 687-3574
Contact: Dr. Richard C. Oliver
From I-26 take Exit 9 (Airport Exit)
Go west 0.9 miles
Turn into first drive on left past Agricultural Center
1689 N. Bridge Street
Elkin, NC 28621
Phone: (336) 526-2499; Fax: (336) 526-2603
From I-77 take Exit 83, onto Hwy 21 North toward Sparta
Go to first exit (Hwy 268 bypass) turn left
Go to second traffic light, turn right onto North Bridge St.
Go 75 yards, turn left into the Laboratory parking lot (behind Highway Patrol Station)
401 Quarry Road
Monroe, NC 28112
Phone: (704) 289-6448; Fax: (704) 283-9660
From US 74/US 601
Turn onto Venus Street (Across from Hospital), go to end of road
Take a right on Quarry Road
Turn immediately to the left into the Laboratory parking lot
Publication date: Sept. 29, 2015
Revised: July 13, 2020
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