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Funding for investigation of sudden or unexpected death

Funding is currently available to pay for histopathological investigation of rabbits that die suddenly or unexpectedly. This includes anaesthetic deaths. It is hoped that the findings of the histopathological examination will be used to find out more about the causes of sudden death in pet rabbits. In the cases where a diagnosis is made, the findings may help bereaved owners come to terms with the loss of their pet. It helps to know why a rabbit has died. It also helps the veterinary staff if they know why a rabbit has died. It is disturbing for everyone that is involved with a rabbit that dies unexpectedly.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is a current problem that can cause sudden or unexpected death. PCR testing for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is included, but only if histopathology shows hepatic necrosis that is consistent with RHD. If the diagnosis is made then steps can be made to protect other rabbits in the form of vaccination and biosecurity measures. If the disease is ruled out, there is a measure of relief that in contact rabbits should be safe.

The findings of post mortem examination with histopathology may not be diagnostic in every case. Brain disease, hypoxia, acute renal failure or metabolic problems are unlikely to be picked up but many of the common causes of sudden or unexpected death should be found.

Funding does not include veterinary fees for post-mortem examination. Certain criteria must be met to qualify for funding.

How it works

  1. Informed consent for post-mortem examination and histopathological examination is obtained from the owner
  2. Tissues are collected during post-mortem examination. A recommended protocol can be found here or downloaded as a PDF.
  3. A lab form is accessed on this website that can be filled in online
  4. The form and a postage-paid address label for Abbey Veterinary services is printed out.The form and the tissue samples are submitted to Abbey
  5. A histology report is sent to the practice.
  6. A copy of the report and the invoice are sent to Frances Harcourt-Brown
  7. If there is hepatic necrosis suggestive of RHD, arrangements are made for Frances Harcourt-Brown to pay the laboratory fees for PCR testing.
  8. A copy of the results will go to Frances Harcourt-Brown. The vet (not the owner) can discuss the results with her if they wish.

What could go wrong

  1. Autolysis or inadequate fixation of the tissues can lead to undiagnostic samples. Reports may not be issued for these samples.
  2. If an incomplete set of tissues is submitted, these will not be processed under the scheme.


No details of the owner will be held by Frances Harcourt-Brown. The only information that will be recorded is the rabbit's name, breed, age and gender plus the date of death, clinical history and post-mortem findings. In her records, each report will be identified by a case number.