Death Investigations of Cats and Dogs

Unfortunately, death investigations of a majority of free-roaming cats and stray dogs found deceased in the community are unlikely to be performed. Many of these animals will simply be picked up by local public works departments and disposed of.

Through our programs, A Cat Has No Name and A Dog Has No Name, we are currently investigating the cause of death of stray cats and dogs, in order to obtain a better understanding of these mortality events. Some of the goals of this project include:

  • Provide veterinarians and the public a better understanding of the cause of death of cats and dogs
  • Educate veterinary students and veterinary residents on how to perform forensic death investigations
  • Provide law enforcement with the forensic evidence needed to investigate the animal crime, when a case of animal cruelty is suspected

Recent Publications:

  • Stern AW, Muralidhar M, Demagamage T. Prevalence of and Exposure Factors for Infectious Diseases in Free-Roaming Cats From Two Florida Counties. Journal of Shelter Medicine and Community Animal Health 2023. 2(1). doi:10.56771/jsmcah.v2.10.

Forensic Toxicology

A positive methadone detection strip test from the urine of a cat being treated for vehicular trauma
A positive methadone detection strip test from the urine of a cat being treated for vehicular trauma

Exposure of animals to poisons and toxins can be accidental or intentional. In cases where intoxication is suspected, analysis of biological specimens for the toxicant is essential to confirm the intoxication event and determine the appropriate treatment for the intoxication. We are currently studying the use of screening and confirmation testing for several drugs in the laboratory, using traditional and alternative matrices.

Recent Publications:

  • Stern AW, Muralidhar M, Cole C. Evaluation of a human urine barbiturate test to screen for pentobarbital euthanasia of dogs and cats. J Vet Diagn Invest. 2022 Mar;34(2):226-230. doi: 10.1177/10406387211070539. Epub 2022 Jan 10. PMID: 35012382; PMCID: PMC8921820.
  • Stern AW, Muralidhar M. Use of CO-oximetry to confirm carboxyhemoglobinemia in cats involved in secondary arson homicide. Vet Pathol. 2023 Jul;60(4):434-437. doi: 10.1177/03009858231170306. Epub 2023 May 8. PMID: 37154042.
  • Valerio C, Romano MC, Sarma R, Stern AW. Immunoassay testing for barbiturates using alternative matrices in postmortem tissues from cats and dogs. J Anal Toxicol. 2024 Jan 31;48(1):54-61. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkad087. PMID: 37978839.

Postmortem Vitreous Chemistry

In humans, ocular fluid (vitreous) is commonly collected for toxicological analysis during forensic postmortem investigations. This fluid can be analyzed for potassium, sodium, chloride, urea nitrogen, creatinine, and glucose for estimation of time since death, assessment of renal function, evaluation of electrolyte imbalances, and identification of hyperglycemia (diabetes mellitus). The goal of our studies is to explore this modality for use during the forensic autopsy in a variety of animals, including cats, dogs, and horses.

In 2022, we received a John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant from NOAA, to conduct marine mammal death investigations using forensic science. As part of this funding, our laboratory is looking at the use of vitreous chemistry during these types of investigations.

Recent Publications:

  • Stern AW, Roig D, Valerio C, Denagamage T. Postmortem Analysis of Vitreous Urea Nitrogen, Creatinine, and Magnesium of Renal and Post-Renal Disease in Cats. Toxics. 2023. 11(8):685. doi: 10.3390/toxics11080685.
  • Zorotrian T, Stern AW, Gao H, Costidis A, Fontaine C, Deming A, Harms C, Adams HR. Precision of the Abaxis VetScan VS2 for postmortem biochemical analysis of delphinid vitreous humor. Mar Mam Sci. 2023. 39(3):893-905. doi: 10.1111/mms.13014
  • Stern AW, Muralidhar M. Postmortem Vitreous Humor Analysis in Dogs, Cats and Horses. J Anal Toxicol. 2022. 46(1):103-107. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkaa175.

Injured Wildlife

Brown pelican

The UF Veterinary Forensic Sciences Laboratory advocates for all animals (companion animals, livestock, and wildlife). We want to learn more about injuries to wildlife that appear to be non-natural. Examples of non-natural injuries include entanglements, penetrating wounds (such as an arrow), snare trap injuries, injuries-by-car, etc. We do not respond to injured animal calls. However, we are documenting reported incidents to create a database of wildlife injuries and potentially identify hotspots where issues are occurring.

We are also interested in large-scale injuries and death of wildlife. For example, recently, several dozen brown pelicans in Brevard County, Florida and the southern coast of North Carolina were found dead.

Minimally Invasive Veterinary Autopsy (MIVA)

The minimally invasive veterinary autopsy (MIVA) procedure combines the use of postmortem CT and CT-guided biopsy of organs in order to determine the cause of death. In veterinary medicine, there has been little research on the use of this diagnostic procedure to determine the cause of death of an animal. In animals, a MIVA might be performed because the animal is suspected to have a zoonotic disease or the animal’s owner does not wish to have a conventional autopsy performed. The goal of this study is to determine the usefulness of a MIVA as it relates to a cause of death determination in cats.

Who is Eligible?

Cats that have died or were euthanized due to disease within the thorax or abdomen.

Tissue biopsy of the heart during the minimally invasive autopsy procedure of a cat
Tissue biopsy of the heart during the minimally invasive autopsy procedure of a cat

Interested in participating?

Contact Dr. Adam Stern at for more information.