Hong Kong’s first postmortems for pets on offer at new City University laboratory

Facility has hired three veterinary pathologists to carry out examinations and provide quicker laboratory services for sick animals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 10:01pm

A Hong Kong university is set to offer the city’s first commercial postmortems for pets through a new veterinary diagnostic laboratory.

The City University facility has hired three veterinary pathologists to carry out the examinations and to provide quicker laboratory services for sick animals, many of which are currently only offered overseas.

“The pathologists will be here and able to talk to vets, answer questions, do testing and provide a rapid diagnostic service, which ultimately will benefit pet and livestock owners because they can then get diseases occurring in their animals diagnosed very quickly,” Dr Fraser Hill, director of the laboratory, said on Wednesday.

The lab will conduct postmortems on household pets as well as farm animals such as horses and pigs.

“These examinations can help us understand whether a dead animal carries diseases that could infect humans, as well as provide analysis on causes for animals who die suddenly,” said Dr Yorkee Leung, the laboratory’s veterinary services support coordinator.

But Leung stressed that pet owners and farmers would have to make any requests via veterinary clinics and could not simply walk into the lab with dead animals.

Dr Cornwell Shiu, president of the China (Hong Kong) Veterinary Association, said most vets in Hong Kong were not willing to perform postmortems as they did not possess the specialist knowledge.

“Vets might also have to bear legal responsibility for confirming the death of an animal,” Shiu said.

The number of animal owners requiring postmortems was currently small, he added, at between three and five each year at his clinic.

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One cat owner had asked him for a postmortem after the animal died two hours after taking a shower at a pet grooming shop.

“At the moment there is no way for us to confirm the exact cause of death of an animal, as both the private sector and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department do not have veterinary pathologists,” Shiu said.

The lab, which commenced operations on Monday, aims to provide supporting services to local veterinary clinics, farms and other institutions with animals such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Ocean Park. It will be in full operation in the second quarter of next year.

Leung said the lab could perform most examinations required by vets, including some tests previously only available overseas such as histopathology, which involved tissue examination, and hormone testing. While vets in the past had to wait seven to 14 days for results, that time would be reduced to between one and four days, he said.

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The HK$500 to HK$700 cost of sending samples and related documents overseas would also be saved, he added.

Dr Howard Wong Kai-hay, director of professional development and communications at the university’s college of veterinary medicine and life sciences, said the school hoped to train up local veterinary pathologists in the future. Training would take three more years after a student spent six in basic veterinary medical training.

Wong said one Hongkonger had gone to the United States to receive such specialist training and was expected to complete the course next year.