(Even if you never pelt an animal…this article will help you determine what may have happened to an animal if you should loose one.)


Once the job of pelting the animal is finished, you are not!  As a rancher begins pelting his own animals, it is VERY important that he or she also learn to do a post mortem on an animal. That is, opening every animal pelted to study the internal organs.  Why should this be done, you ask?  By studying the healthy animals you are pelting you will soon learn to recognize what is normal in an animal.  Then, later on, if the occasion arises that you have a death of an animal (which happens at one time or another to all of us), you can then open up this animal to note anything out of the ordinary.  Unless you know what normal is, you won’t be able to recognize abnormal.

          Below is a rough guide for making notes when an animal is found dead.


First, note any PRE-DEATH SYMPOMS:

  • Had the animal been eating normally?
  • Was it active?
  • Or did it sit very quietly in the corner of the cage?


  • How did you find the animal?  (What position?)
  • Fur Coat (Any damage?)
  • Signs of injury? (Open wounds, blood in the cage, excess fur in the cage?)
  • Droppings (size, shape, lack of, signs of diarrhea?)
  • Teeth (abnormal alignment? Slobbering? White teeth?  Yellow is normal)
  • Nose (any discharge?)
  • Eyes (any discharge?)
  • Ears (any discharge?)                                    


Next, it is time to open the animal up.  As you will find out, any animal that has died and lain for a period of time (this includes animals waiting to be pelted) becomes very stiff.  The first thing you must do is grab the front legs in one hand and the hind legs in the other and gently pull apart – this will straighten the animal.  You may also wish to pull opposite legs on the diagonal.  Now take the hind legs in one hand and shake the animal until it again becomes limber and pliable.  Now the animal is in proper position to take the pelt and being able to make the proper cuts along the belly rather than have a stiff crooked animal to try to pelt.


After the animal is pelted, make an incision the full length of the belly cutting through the rib cage exposing the lungs, heart, etc.


Now, make your INTERNAL EXAMINATION(Normal is in parenthesis)


§          Stomach - (ivory-white color lined with blood vessels: firm but soft to touch)

§          Small & Large Intestines - (gray color unless bloated – no swollen areas, yellow or red blotches or adhesions)

§          Caecum - (digests all roughage – bluish or greenish gray in color, but if distended by bloat it becomes more transparent.  Impaction frequently shows up in the caecum as a hard, distending mass)

§          Liver – (firm, glossy, a very dark red in color.  Absence of blotches or off-color, pale or dry appearing area)

§          Gall Bladder – (transparent, dark orange in color)

§          Lungs – (right lung is usually larger.  Should be a bright pink.  Fluid in lung cavity could be infection.  Lining of cavity should be very thin)

§          Kidneys – (shape of kidney bean - dark brownish – red)

§          Bladder – (should be clear – no cloudiness or thickness)

§          Uterus and Horns – (milky fluid could be infection.  If a female died from littering note position of babies, size (to determine age of pregnancy), condition of babies – have they rotted? Or look like they died during attempt to deliver?

§          Testes (note size and shape – should be firm and white with streaks of blood vessels)

§          Fat – (a healthy animal has WHITE fat. Yellow fat is abnormal or sign of a deficient feeding program.  An occasional animal found with yellow fat can be found in all herds.  If you find several on a regular basis – have your feeding program checked)

§          Thymus Gland – (large white tissue located above the heart and lungs.  Over the years these were collected and used for cancer research for Dr. Roy Lawson.  Dr. Lawson noted that he could tell the nutrition of a herd by the size of the thymus glands and the amount of the serum they produce.  I have personally noted that the healthier the animal the larger the gland.  Animals who have abnormalities usually are smaller than are those on poorer quality feeds)


I realize that we have probably not covered everything to look for, but as a rule, when checking these organs you can usually pinpoint the problem area.  A good gauge on the liver is that if it looks good enough to eat (like a chicken liver) then it is normal.  Any spots found on the stomach, intestines, liver, etc. call for a lab test to isolate what the problem might be.


Making a practice of checking your pelters on a regular basis will not only help you to recognize a problem, but will help you keep a good watch on the general herd health of all your animals.      




We can not fully endorse these sites - however, there are good pictures on them for you to check out.  Thought they might be helpful.



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