Correlating Antemortem and Postmortem Findings in Zoological Collections
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2007

Lesa Longley1, MA, BVM&S, CertZooMed, MRCVS; Andrew Kitchener2, PhD, BSc (Hons); Alastair MacDonald3, BSc, PhD, Dr, MBA, FHEA

1Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland; 2Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland; 3Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Summerhall, Edinburgh, Scotland


Skeletal specimens from captive large nondomestic felids (n=55) were examined at the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh. Osteoarthritic lesions were assessed to give a score per specimen,1 with a higher score indicative of more numerous and severe lesions. As expected, specimens from older animals produced higher scores. Antemortem and necropsy records were then evaluated retrospectively to ascertain if clinical signs or reported pathology correlated with findings in prepared museum specimens.

For many specimens, antemortem records were brief and did not include data that could be associated with lesions found either at necropsy or skeletal examination. This likely reflects a combination of factors, including difficulties in noting clinical signs of disease in live animals.

Antemortem signs correlated better with certain diseases (for example, vomiting and diarrhea with acute enteritis, or polydipsia/polyuria with chronic renal disease). Blood samples and necropsy/histology results were useful in identifying these diseases. Although lameness was noted in some animals, several specimens with high osteoarthritis scores did not have corresponding antemortem signs. This suggests either that these skeletal findings are not associated with significant morbidity or that antemortem disease detection requires refinement.

Necropsy is an invaluable technique, but it is important to correlate the findings with antemortem observations to assess disease significance. Other techniques should be used to assess normal behavior, anatomy and pathology to improve our care of captive nondomestic animals, to benefit group health within the collection and the species’ worldwide population.

Literature Cited

1.  Morgan JP. Spondylosis deformans in the dog: a morphological study with some clinical and experimental observations. Acta Ortho Scand. 1967;96:7–87.


Speaker Information
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Lesa Longley, MA, BVM&S, CertZooMed, MRCVS
Easter Bush Veterinary Centre
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
University of Edinburgh
Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland

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