Pathology (Necropsy)

All specimens, whether an entire animal, tissues, blood samples or swabs are received first by the Pathology (Necropsy) section of the Animal Health Centre for evaluation by a pathologist. 

A necropsy is the post-mortem examination of an animal to determine cause of disease or death. It involves dissecting an animal and conducting a detailed examination of all organ systems. Necropsies are performed by veterinary pathologists, who are veterinarians with specialty training in the diagnosis of animal disease based on macroscopic and microscopic tissue examination, as well as the use of diagnostic tests.

Necropsy samples are often referred to other laboratory sections (e.g. bacteriology, virology, toxicology, and histology) for further testing. When all necessary tests have been completed, results are collated by the pathologist assigned to the case into a final written report that is mailed, faxed or emailed to the owner and/or the referring veterinarian.

Our target turnaround time, from submission to final reporting, is 10 business days. You may receive information about your case during this period at the discretion of the pathologist or case coordinator. Some cases may take more than 10 business days to complete (for example, complex cases, neurological cases, cases requiring testing by external laboratories, etc.).

The Pathology (Necropsy) section of the Animal Health Center is a modern, fully equipped, computerized, environmentally- safe, 320 square metre area with adequate capacity to handle both large and small animals.  Accompanying the main Necropsy suite are five additional rooms for sample processing, photography, and histology preparation.  There are an additional two rooms with HEPA-filtered safety cabinets that may be used to examine animals or tissues with potential zoonotic or foreign animal disease agents. 

Submission Forms

  • Complete the appropriate submission form (found on the right hand side of this page under 'Submission Forms'. Please note that these submission forms are the only ones we will accept. Clinic-specific submission forms will not be accepted.
  • A completed submission form must be received with EVERY submission in order for that submission to be processed. Incomplete submission forms will not be processed. At a minimum, this should include:
    • Complete contact information for the client and veterinarian (if a veterinarian is involved)
    • The species and/or breed, sex, and age of the animal
    • A complete history of affected animal(s) indicating suspected disease(s) if possible. Taking the time to write out a thorough but concise history will help to ensure that all factors are taken into consideration when examining the animal/specimen, selecting tests, and making the final diagnosis and recommendations.
      • Medical records or other laboratory results (i.e., bloodwork) can be included with the submission form if they are relevant to the case. However, please do not attach medical records in lieu of writing out a complete history on the submission form. Often, the pathologist will not have time to review the complete medical record before proceeding with the necropsy.
    • Any relevant treatments or vaccinations.
  • Animals or samples sent to the lab without a submission form or with an incomplete submission form will be placed on hold. Large animals will be held for 24 hours, small animals for one week, and samples for 2 weeks before they are discarded.
  • For necropsy cases and ‘portions’ cases (i.e., cases where a necropsy has been done in the field), tests will be selected at the discretion of the pathologist.
  • For all other cases, please clearly indicate on the form the specific test(s) requested.
  • The submission form should accompany the animal or specimen. For specimens shipped to the lab, please enclose submission information in a separate plastic bag and pack it at the top of the box.
  • We are able to send animals < 40 kg for private cremation at the discretion of the pathologist. For animals > 40 kg, special cremation options are available. Please contact the AHC for more information about cremation.


  • The veterinary professional responsible for your case will report their findings, diagnoses and recommendations for control (if applicable), in a written report.
  • Reports will be made available only to those parties clearly indicated on the submission form. Requests from parties not indicated on this submission form will require permission from the submitter.
  • Whenever possible, it is preferable for our veterinary professionals to report directly to a veterinarian.  The veterinarian has an established relationship with the animal and client, and can help to interpret results for the client.  
  • If results are urgently required, please contact the AHC directly at 604-556-3003 before submitting the specimen. Preliminary results can often be available within a day or two by contacting the AHC directly.

Whole Animal Submissions

  • Up to 8 chickens, 5 fish, and 3 animals of any other species may be included in a single submission as long as all animals are believed to be suffering from the same disease process.
  • Samples from animals included in a single submission will be pooled and a single report will be issued. If it is important to separate animals for testing, then that should either be clearly indicated on the submission form (extra charges will apply) or those animals should be separated out into different submissions.
  • Poultry <8 kg and fish of any size may be submitted alive for euthanasia (live fish must be submitted in water).
  • All other animals should be submitted dead. The AHC will NOT euthanize live animals other than poultry or fish (as described above).

Post Mortem Examination

The routine post mortem examination fee includes opening the animal, full gross examination by the pathologist, incineration of the body and preparation of either an interim or final interpretive case report. Every post mortem is conducted at the sole discretion of the pathologist who shall determine what, if any, procedures and tests are necessary to complete the case following the gross examination. The pathologist may include, at his/her discretion, up to 5 additional tests under the post mortem examination fee for case completion. Individual tests included in the fee: up to 10 histopathology slides, routine bacterial culture of up to 5 tissues, fecal floatation and PCR analysis or viral culture of single or pooled tissues. If the pathologist determines that additional testing is necessary after employing the 5 included tests, the submitter will be contacted and the case discussed. If further tests are approved by the submitter, additional charges as per the fee schedule will apply. Once all tests are completed, the pathologist will prepare the final interpretive case report, including the results of all tests conducted, for the submitter. Submitters are welcome to discuss, over a reasonable time period, the final case results with the pathologist. Tests deemed unnecessary for case completion by the pathologist can be requested by submitters for their interest at an additional charge for each test.

Tissue Specimens

  • Samples for bacteriology, virology, or molecular diagnostics should be sent fresh or frozen.
  • For fresh and frozen samples, submit tissues in individual containers that are clearly labelled with the name of the tissue. Submit separate samples for each test required as they are sent to separate lab areas.
  • When requesting histopathology, please try to submit formalin-fixed rather than fresh tissues. This will prevent rotting while in transit. 
    • For proper fixation, tissues should be no more than 0.5 cm thick at the thickest point.  Please use 10% neutral buffered formalin to fix tissues and ensure that a ratio of one part tissue to 10 parts formalin (by volume) is used for initial fixation.
    • Note that formalin fixed tissues do not need to be placed in individually labelled bags. Simply mark the bag with the words “Fixed” and “Histology” and indicate the fixed tissues included in the submission on the submission form.
    • Do not freeze samples for which you may require histopathology.

Abortion Specimens

  • Please detail all relevant clinical history on the submission form.  For example, parity of the dam, signs of illness, nutritional status, previous illnesses or stresses, vaccination history, general level of management and herd health status, recent additions to herd, previous abortions or indications of infertility.
  • If possible, please submit the entire fetus.  If that is not possible, please submit the following tissues:
    • Frozen or refrigerated: Placenta, stomach contents, fetal heart blood, lung, liver, kidney and spleen, brain.
    • Fixed: Lung, liver, kidney, spleen, brain, heart, adrenal gland, ileum, thymus, thyroid, eyelid, skeletal muscle.

Specimen Packaging and Shipment

  • At a minimum, specimens should be placed in a watertight package and surrounded by absorbent material before being placed into a secondary watertight package. The secondary watertight package should, in turn, be placed into a sturdy outer package.
    • A specimen may not be processed if contamination of the packaging poses a risk to personnel or if the specimen is spoiled, contaminated, or inappropriate.
  • For whole animals and fresh/frozen samples, the outer package should be well insulated. Use a Styrofoam box or other insulated container and keep samples cool using ice packs, filling empty spaces with newspaper, bubble wrap, etc.
  • For formalin-fixed tissues, to avoid transporting large volumes of formalin and/or to reduce risk of leakage, fix samples for at least 24 hours (depending on the size of the tissue – brain samples will require longer to fix) then drain the formalin and wrap the samples in a formalin or water-soaked paper towel. 
  • Animals and samples may be dropped off at the laboratory or sent to the laboratory via courier.
  • Do not ship samples to arrive on weekends or holidays. 

Please contact the Animal Health Centre directly at 604-556-3003 if you have any questions.