Necropsy as a means to gain additional information about causes of dairy cow deaths

J Dairy Sci. 2012 Oct;95(10):5798-803. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5625. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


High mortality among dairy cows constitutes a problem both financially and in relation to animal welfare. Knowledge about causes of death is a fundamental step toward reducing cow mortality. Several studies have evaluated causes of dairy cow deaths. However, the vast majority of studies describing causes of death are based on questionnaires with farmers or veterinarians. It is uncertain to what degree such information is sufficient and reflects the true cause of death or euthanasia. In this study, proximate causes of death were evaluated based on a thorough necropsy of a random sample of 79 Danish dairy cows at an incineration plant. The necropsy was combined with information about the farmer's perception regarding the cause of death and information about disease treatments from the Danish Cattle Database. Pneumonia and locomotor disorders were found to be the most predominant proximate causes of death. Often the death occurred after a prolonged period during which the cow suffered several different disorders, even though this was often not noticed by the farmer. Causes of death stated by the farmers agreed with the necropsy results in 50 to 64% of cases. Information about disease treatments from the Danish Cattle Database agreed with the necropsy results in 34 to 39% of cases. All 3 sources of information about cause of death agreed in only 1 out of 4 cases, and even when the farmer and the disease recordings did agree with the necropsy results, the latter often gave additional information about the cause of death. In many situations, therefore, a necropsy may be a valuable tool when trying to control excessive cow mortality in a herd.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autopsy / veterinary*
  • Cattle / injuries
  • Cattle Diseases / mortality
  • Cattle Diseases / pathology*
  • Cause of Death
  • Female