Skip to content. | Skip to navigation


The inclusion criteria MUST be met for samples to be processed under this scheme.

The laboratory submission form needs to be completed and saved online.  A printable version is then available to enclose with the fixed samples for Abbey. 

Please e-mail with any queries




PCR testing for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is no longer included in this investigation. The study has shown that histopathological changes in the liver are diagnostic of RHD but does not confirm the variant.  However, all cases of RHD in this study so far have been due to the new variant, RHDV2, which is rife throughout the country. It is the most likely diagnosis in cases where multiple unvaccinated rabbits have died in the same household.  If confirmation by PCR testing is required,  fresh or frozen liver can be submitted to either BattLab or PALS at the owner's expense. 

We are still very keen to continue with the rest of our investigation and will continue to pay for histopathological examination on any number of tissues collected during post-mortem examination on individual rabbits that die unexpectedly at home or during veterinary treatment. 

Purpose of the investigation

Sudden or unexpected death is not unusual in rabbits. The purpose of the study is to encourage post-mortem examination of rabbits that die suddenly or unexpectedly. This includes anaesthetic deaths, rabbits that are found dead or dying at home and those that die when hospitalised at a veterinary practice. Rabbits that are put to sleep because they are dying are included.

In the cases where a diagnosis is made, understanding why their rabbit has died can help bereaved owners come to terms with the loss of their pet. It also helps veterinary staff to know why a rabbit has died under anaesthetic or while it was in their care. Inexplicably dying rabbits are disturbing for everyone that is involved with them. 

It is hoped that the findings of this investigation will complement the post-mortem reports that the Harcourt-Browns have collected for the last 20 years, which is why it is important to collect and submit all the tissues that are requested plus any other tissue that appears to be abnormal. 

Inclusion criteria

Not all rabbits qualify for this investigation. It is aimed as rabbits kept as pets. We want fresh (non-autolysed) tissue fixed with formol saline for histopathological examination and require a specific set of tissues to standardise the results and gain as much information as possible.  There is a list of inclusion criteria that can be found here.


Frances and Nigel Harcourt-Brown are funding histopathological investigation. Funding does not include veterinary fees for post-mortem examination or PCR testing for RHD. 

Causes of sudden or unexpected death

Some of the common causes of sudden or unexpected death can be found on gross post mortem investigation although the appearance of the tissues does not always reflect the presence or degree of pathology that may be present. Histopathology yields a lot more information and can confirm several diseases, including RHD.  

Causes of death that might not be detected from the Sudden or Unexpected Death Investigation

This investigation does not include forensic pathology. Some conditions may that not be detected from histopathology on the requested tissues can be found here. 

How the investigation works

  1. An information sheet about the investigation is downloaded and given to the owner so they are fully conversant with the scheme.
  2. Informed consent for post-mortem examination, including histopathological examination is obtained from the owner. They are also asked to give their consent to use any results for research.
  3. Tissues are collected during post-mortem  A recommended protocol can be found here or downloaded as a PDF.
  4. submission form for Abbey Veterinary Services is filled in online. Once it is completed, it can be saved and printed. A copy is then automatically sent to Frances Harcourt-Brown for her records. The FHB reference number on this form identifies the case and is useful to record for the results as they come through; this is not the same as the Abbey reference number.
  5. A postage-paid address label for Abbey Veterinary services is printed out. After the tissues have fixed for 48 hours, the printed submission form and the fixed samples are submitted to Abbey.
  6. A histology report will be sent to the practice from Abbey Veterinary Services and to Frances Harcourt-Brown 
  7. Invoices from Abbey Veterinary services are sent to directly Frances Harcourt-Brown
  8. The vet (not the owner) is welcome to discuss the results with Frances 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

Time frame for results

The histology results are usually reported within 10 days from Abbey Veterinary Services. 


No details of the owner will be held by Frances Harcourt-Brown. The only information that will be recorded are the rabbit's name, breed, age and sex plus the date of death, clinical history, post-mortem findings, histopathology report and PCR result. Each case will be identified by a reference number. 

Ethical approval

 The investigation has received ethical approval from the panel at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.