Yes, There Is A CSI For Pets, Too

Investigating a mysterious death is a very delicate procedure. For people, the postmortem procedure involving the examination of a body is called an autopsy, but for animals the term is necropsy. Veterinarians are often asked to perform necropsies, and the results usually reveal death by natural causes. But, on occasion, the stench of foul play is evident. Such was the case when Walter brought his buddy Runner into our hospital.

The staff notified me earlier in the day that Runner had passed away and that his body was being dropped off for cremation. His death was unexpected, leaving Walter with a lot of questions.

“Doc, I don’t understand how Runner could have suddenly died. He was young, active and seemed very healthy,” lamented Walter.

I knew Runner since he was a puppy. His physical exams never revealed any health problems and his annual blood tests were always normal. There seemed to be no reason why a 5-year-old German shepherd should suddenly expire.

Walter described the events that led up to Runner’s death. The morning started with a light breakfast and a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Following a short nap, Runner ran down the beach, darting through neighboring yards as was his daily ritual. Admittedly, some of the neighbors were not too happy with Runner’s visits, but Walter assured me that no one would harm his buddy.

Returning home from his mid-morning exercise, Runner sprinted through his yard then suddenly collapsed, dead on the spot.

Runner’s external appearance did not reveal any obvious injury. At this point I usually take a surgical blade and enter the body to evaluate the internal organs, but something didn’t seem right. Though not routine, I decided to take full-body X-rays to see if there were any broken bones.

The X-rays did not show any skeletal damage, but a tiny pellet was noted next to one of Runner’s ribs. Sometimes when taking X-rays on a patient we would find a pellet, indicating the pet had been shot by a BB gun or an air rifle. Outdoor cats often had these “battle scars” from neighbors attempting to scare them away. Rarely do these pellets cause major harm. Did this pellet have anything to do with Runner’s sudden death?

I decided to start the necropsy at the site where the pellet was located. I found the pellet, but strangely enough there was no entry wound. One possible explanation was that Runner had been shot a while ago and the puncture wound healed with time.

As I entered the chest however, a pool of blood poured out. Runner’s heart was normal, but his lungs had puncture wounds that lined up with the pellet found earlier. After flipping Runner over and closely examining the skin below his thick fur, I found a tiny entry wound where the pellet hit its mark.

I called Walter with the news. Runner was shot with an air rifle, which caused internal bleeding that overwhelmed him within minutes.

We suspected that someone had tried to scare Runner away with a warning shot but the end result was more severe. Tragedies like these make me wonder who’s treading on the Wild Side, animals or humans.

Actually, there is no wondering.