The MSU VDL’s necropsy service conducts post mortem examinations on all types of animals—pets, farm animals, fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, laboratory animals, and zoo animals—to determine the cause of illness and/or death. The section also evaluates fresh and fixed tissue samples submitted by veterinarians who have performed necropsies at their local practices (field necropsy) and forwarded samples to the laboratory for diagnostic evaluation. The necropsy service works in concert with the other laboratory sections at the VDL in cases where additional testing is needed, helping owners and veterinarians determine underlying causes and contributing factors to animal illness and death.
The VDL Anatomic & Surgical Pathology Section is the hub of the nation's largest veterinary pathology residency program and works closely with the animal agriculture industry to ensure the health of the country's food and production animals.
For complete information about necropsy and/or disposition services, specimen requirements, or submittal procedures please see our catalog of available tests. Please call 517.353.1683 if you have any questions about necropsy and/or disposition services.
The necropsy service accepts the following live animals during regular business hours Monday-Friday: cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, laboratory animals, and fish. All animals are humanely euthanized prior to examination. If a necropsy is not performed, there is an additional charge for this service.
We do not accept live horses, bison, dogs, cats, mink, emus, non-human primates or ferrets. These animals must be euthanized by a local veterinarian or brought to the MSU Veterinary Medical Center for euthanasia prior to delivery to the VDL. Euthanasia of horses must be scheduled with the MSU Veterinary Medical Center prior to arrival on campus.
Live animals are not accepted after hours or during business hours on Saturday.
Specimen Preservation and Handling
Animal remains should be kept cool, but not frozen. Freezing creates artifacts which interfere with optimal gross and microscopic examination, and also causes considerable delays while the tissues are thawed. Refrigerate or store the animal on ice until it can be delivered to the laboratory. The MSU VDL facility is equipped with large coolers to hold animals pending necropsy.
Turnaround Time for Results
Gross reports are issued to WebView and by mail, fax, or email within three (3) business days of the necropsy. Final reports, which include histopathology and other ancillary laboratory results, are issued within 10 business days. Specialized testing which can include toxicology, nutrition, certain microbiology, and outside referral tests may take longer and will be reported in a separate addendum.
After hours, the laboratory accepts large animal necropsy submissions (equine or farm animals greater than 200 lbs.) in cases of emergencies. Please contact the necropsy after-hours service at 517.353.5275 for coordination. Necropsy personnel will meet the client at the laboratory, unload the animal, and place it in the cooler. There is an after-hours fee for this service in addition to any applicable necropsy and/or cremation fees.
Small or companion animals should be held until the following morning for drop off. If after-hours drop-off is required, clients may bring the animal to the MSU Veterinary Medical Center. The animal will be delivered to the laboratory for necropsy and/or cremation on the following business day.
Disposition and Cremation Services
The laboratory has a small crematorium which is used exclusively for private cremations. This allows the MSU VDL to offer private cremations for pets up to 200 lbs. In addition, the lab offers private memorial cremations for larger animals which can include the head, tail and hooves of the animal. Private cremation fees apply in addition to any other applicable fees.
Communal cremations are available at a significantly lower cost than a private cremation and are included with a necropsy. In cases where no necropsy is requested, the fee for the communal cremation is based on species. These can be done for animals of any size. Owners have the option to receive representative ashes at no additional cost.
Remains (individual or representative ashes) can be picked up at the laboratory or mailed to clients directly for an additional fee.
Only animals less than 200 lbs. may be released to a commercial pet cemetery. For safety reasons, animals will not be released to owners after they come to the lab.
Veterinarians may wish to perform a necropsy in the field and submit specimens for histopathologic examination and/or additional bacteriology, virology, parasitology, nutrition, immunodiagnostic, or clinical pathology testing. These submissions are considered field necropsies. A field necropsy is a fixed price necropsy with the exception of toxicology charges or any referral testing. Please note that if the cost of ancillary testing exceeds this fixed price, the pathologist, after discussion and confirmation with the client for approval, may order tests, as needed, which will be billed in addition to the fixed price.
When submitting a field necropsy:
- Describe the gross lesions. Indicate appropriate herd history on the submittal form, including number of total number of animals in the group, number of animals affected, etc.
- Clearly indicate and label all specimens (tissue, serum, blood, urine, feces, etc.) being included in the submission.
- Place tissue for histopathologic examination in a leakproof container containing 10% neutral buffered formalin. During winter months we recommend adding 10% Isopropyl alcohol to the formalin solution to prevent freezing.
- Tissue slices should be not more than 1-2 cm thick, and should be representative of lesions identified. Identify the tissues collected on the outside of the formalin container, as well as on the submission form. Tissues may be pooled for histopathology.
- Tissues for bacteriology, virology, toxicology or other laboratory testing should be placed into individual clean leakproof containers, labeled, sealed, and mailed overnight on cold packs. Identify the tissues collected on the outside of the container, as well as on the submission form.
- Upon receipt, a pathologist will review the provided clinical history and determine which additional testing is deemed necessary based on this information.
Abortion necropsy includes gross examination of the fetus and placenta (note that the placenta is critical for a full abortion work-up) as well as microscopic examination of select tissues, depending on the case history. This protocol includes two PCR assays, two bacteriologic cultures, a trace nutrients and vitamin E analysis of tissue, and serology on paired serum samples from the dam (or serum/thoracic fluid from the fetus if serum from the dam is not available). Individual tests selected for a given abortion case will be at the discretion of the pathologist. If additional testing is required, after discussion and confirmation with the client for approval,, these tests will be added to the case and billed accordingly.
Special Necropsy Services
Legal: Our board-certified pathologists can perform a "legal necropsy" for legal or insurance cases in which additional documentation, such as photographs, may be needed. The pathologist must be notified of the need for this special service at the time of submission. The non-refundable fee for this service is in addition to the necropsy charge.
Spinal Cord Evaluation: In some instances where spinal cord disease is suspected, removal and examination of the spinal cord may be warranted. The spinal cord will be removed, examined for gross lesions, and several representative sections will be examined histologically. An addition charge to will be added to the full necropsy charge in these instances.
Rabies Testing: All rabies testing is performed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) laboratory at no charge to the client. The MSU VDL will submit samples to the MDHHS by courier during normal business hours.