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ASPCA Reports Carriage Horse's Cause of Death Remains Unknown

December 16, 2011

NEW YORK--The ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) reported today that the necropsy conducted on carriage horse Charlie by pathologists at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine indicates the cause of death remains unknown. Charlie, a 15-year-old draft horse, suddenly collapsed and died in the middle of the street on October 23 while en route to Central Park in Midtown Manhattan.

In order to assess cause of death, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a complete gross necropsy, histopathology of all body tissues, special stains of the liver, heart and brain as well as a parasitology analysis.  None of these indicated a direct cause of death. The final pathology report noted the following:

  • There was a significant amount of tissue breakdown after death. Though the visual examination of the stomach showed gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), much of what was seen visually may have been the result of tissue breakdown after death. There is no evidence of gastritis in the microscopic sections of the stomach, though tissue breakdown may have obscured subtle abnormalities. The firm area of the stomach noted visually is a result of muscular enlargement rather than scarring.
  • The presence of inflammation in the small intestine and a nodule in the large intestine both indicate parasites. However, these findings were not severe and given the good nutritional condition of the horse not causing significant problems.
  • The liver had evidence of scarring but the cause of this is unknown, however, it has been reported in cases involving heart conditions. No abnormalities were seen in the heart. In this case, the liver scarring was chronic and of unknown clinical significance. The cause of death in this horse remains unknown. There was no evidence of a sudden onset of any abnormalities to account for the collapse. It is possible that the horse had some degree of a heart condition; however, this cannot be conclusively demonstrated. We cannot rule out recent toxin exposure, abnormal heartbeat or allergic reaction as the development of changes in tissue requires that the animal remain alive for at least 12 hours after the event or exposure.
  • The preserved sections of heart were examined microscopically and no abnormalities were found. No additional microscopic examination is necessary.

Therefore, the cause of death in this horse remains unknown and the case is now closed.