Whenever possible, prioritize submitting carcasses in good post-mortem condition (e.g. less decomposed or autolyzed). Example images of poor and non-diagnostic quality carcasses are included below. Generally, the following criteria should be considered when determining carcass quality:

  1. Does the carcass have a foul, rotten odor?
  2. Are there numerous maggots or insects on the carcass, and do they extend into the carcass’s soft tissues?
  3. Is there extensive sloughing of the skin, and is it moist, fragile, and discolored (e.g. green, brown)?
  4. Are major organs no longer within the body cavity? If they remain, are they hard to distinguish from each other, very soft and fragile, and discolored (e.g., homogenously brown to green or other abnormal color)?
  5. Is the carcass mostly skeletal, without organs? Are extensive parts of the carcass completely absent?

If the answer is yes to one or multiple of these questions, it is likely the carcass is no longer in good post-mortem condition.

In some high priority cases, some ancillary diagnostics can still be performed; however, gross and microscopic evaluation of tissues is severely hindered and diagnostic tests may have decreased sensitivity. Before submission of severely decomposed carcasses or tissues, consider contacting the SCWDS diagnostic service to determine what your goals are for the case and what will be feasible with what tissues are available. In some cases, submission of swabs or certain tissues for select tests is preferable to submission of the entire carcass.

Poor diagnostic quality American crow carcass: (A) Most of the soft tissues are liquefied and there are many maggots extending deep into the carcass. (B) Organs are diffusely green-brown and soft, with numerous maggots (encircled in white) within the body cavity. Some organs can no longer be definitively identified.


Non-diagnostic American crow carcass: There is diffuse absence of soft tissues and only the plumage and skeleton remain.

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