Ideally, the avian veterinarian would cure every bird presented for treatment. Unfortunately, some avian patients die in spite of the veterinarian's best efforts. In these cases, an autopsy (veterinarians call it a "necropsy*) can be extremely useful. The results may confirm the diagnosis suspected before death, or will at least help the veterinarian to better understand why the bird died. This can have tremendous importance to surviving birds (cage mates, etc) and to other similarly ill birds that may be presented to the veterinarian in the future. The necropsy is an excellent diagnostic tool in an avicultural situation. It is often advisable to sacrifice one or more living individuals of a group to more rapidly arrive at a diagnosis for the disease affecting, or at least threatening, all members of the group. Unfortunately, necropsies do not always provide conclusive results. Bird owners should submit their deceased bird for necropsy as soon as possible after death. It is a good idea, soon after death, to immerse the body in icy water for about 30 minutes to rapidly cool the body and delay decomposition. This is especially important with small caged birds. If any delay in necropsy is anticipated, the body should be refrigerated immediately but not frozen. Freezing produces significant changes in the tissues and interferes with the microscopic interpretation of tissue samples. Freezing of the cadaver may be necessary in certain circumstances, but it should be avoided whenever possible.
It is always an unhappy situation when a bird dies. The death is painful for the bird's owner because it often represents the loss of a wonderful and joyful companion or a valuable breeder, or it represents some other loss. The death is distressing, too, for the veterinarian, because it represents treatment failure. A necropsy and the results it provides, however, can be of great value to both parties. The owner of the deceased bird benefits from gaining a better understanding of why the bird died and from determining whether or not other birds in the household or aviary are at any risk. The veterinarian is given the opportunity to further his or her own education. Both parties benefit because they are contributing to the advancement of avian medicine and aviculture.