This second of two articles on the fundamentals of forensic veterinary medicine describes the protocol for investigating and reporting cases in which abused animals have died or been euthanized. Forensic postmortem examinations must be performed with utmost care and attention to detail to avoid being open to legal challenge in the courts. Veterinary pathologists in academic, commercial, or government laboratories who have experience with the species in question are best qualified to conduct these examinations. Standard operating procedures are essential to ensure consistency, objectivity, and thoroughness. The written report should use simple language that is understandable to lay persons, with any technical or anatomic terms clearly defined. Adequate precautions must be taken to guard against zoonotic infection or spread of disease during the examination.

Full detail of the preferred methods for collecting, maintaining, and recording the “chain of
evidence” is described. All coverings, identifications, wrappings, and accompanying objects should be noted. Next, the cadaver is labeled with a unique identification number, photo-
graphed, weighed, measured, and scanned for a microchip. A detailed external examination is performed, followed by radiography and complete internal postmortem examination. Samples are collected for testing as indicated. Photographic documentation is essential and digital images must be properly stored, labeled, and dated. The authors conclude with several common scenarios that might prompt a postmortem forensic investigation.

Commentary: This article provides excellent guidelines on conducting a forensic postmortem examination, covering key findings associated with neglect and blunt force trauma. The authors emphasize important issues to consider for all types of potential legal cases, also appropriately pointing out that pathologists should interpret their findings with consideration for the circumstances of the case. It is critical that postmortem examinations and reports for legal cases be conducted in a manner that withstands scrutiny in the courts. Because formal training in forensic medicine is lacking for veterinarians, this article is a valuable resource for any veterinarian, hospital, or institution that deals with animals.—Melinda Merck, DVM

Forensic veterinary medicine: 2. Postmortem investigation. Munro R, Munro H. IN PRACT 33:262-270, 2011.