Just like humans, animals can die of an unknown cause. In this situation, some veterinarians will do a necropsy which is the same thing as an autopsy which would be done on a human. A necropsy is the procedure performed postmortem to determine the cause of death, injury or sickness on a non-human body.
Necropsies are not something I, as the wife of the veterinarian, get too excited about. My husband, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys getting a good look at the inside of the animal and all of the intricate workings of it's body. I understand why....I think.
First, it is something out of the ordinary. Second, usually leading up to a necropsy the vet may or may not have a good idea of what caused the death. So naturally, there is some anticipation to find what may have really been going on inside the animal's body. Third, it gives the vet a chance to use all of that knowledge of pathology and biology and any other vet medicine courses he or she had in vet school. Fourth, it can be a great educational experience for everyone involved.
Recently, the farm vet performed some necropsies on some young calves that had died. He used that opportunity to show employees whom work with cattle every day to see the effects of some of the diseases on the inside of the body. Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia show visible signs on the lungs of baby animals and it has a big impact for the employees and owners to be able to visualize that. It helps to stress the importance of detecting illnesses in a timely manner and properly administering treatments.
This is a topic in which we can't really avoid showing some blood and guts......so beware!
Here is another photo of one of the farm vet's colleagues performing a necropsy on a horse.