We are providing necropsy pictorials in the Rat Guide to help owners and other interested parties to better understand how disease processes affect the internal systems of rats. The cases will be labeled by disease/abnormality and available histopathology and other laboratory reports will be included.
The post mortem examination of an animal is called a necropsy. The necropsy is a valuable tool in diagnosing the cause of death, and can provide answers as well as insight into the general health aspects of keeping rats. It can also provide breeders with more accurate data of a line’s health history as opposed to simple observations. All too often what seems obvious regarding illness and death is actually nowhere near the reality.
Much information can be gathered from a necropsy that can be useful to the pet owner on several different levels. When a rat is lost the owner’s first questions are usually, "Why did my rat die?" and "What else could I or my veterinarian have done to save my rat?" A necropsy can often give answers and alleviate the guilt that many owners experience when there is a pet loss. It can also help by identifying colony pathogens, parasite problems, and husbandry issues.
For the most part necropsies are performed either by a veterinarian, a veterinary pathologist, or a professional within a clinic, laboratory, or teaching environment. Some people may be interested in performing their own necropsies, but the resources required are rarely available to the average rat owner.
Necropsies can be basic or comprehensive, ranging from gross observation of the organs to utilizing in-depth procedures such as tissue histopathology, serology, parasitology, bacteria cultures, etc. A full case history of your rat should be provided including: age, clinical signs of illness, medications, and health history. The necropsy begins with a basic observation of the internal organs and can progress as abnormalities become evident.
If you have chosen to have an ill rat euthanized, you can request a necropsy at that time. If your rat has died on its own you will need to refrigerate it promptly, to slow down decomposition, until it can be transported in a cooler to a facility where a necropsy can be performed. Do not freeze your rat as this will cause the cells to rupture during thawing and make diagnostic procedures difficult/impossible.
The more we learn about rat health, the more tools we have to ensure the best possible lives for them.