For Ranchers

Ranchers: if you know your animal has received any sedative / hypnotic, general anesthetic, or even local anesthetic drug within 1 week prior to discovering a suspected mutilation, please do not acquire / submit blood or a liver samples for GC/MS, LC/MS, or cyanide analysis. Residual, detectable drug may still be present in blood or liver that could confound our results.

In cases of suspected cattle (or horse) mutilations (stereotypical cuts are present)discovered within 48 hours (and certainly if rigor mortis is still present) of the animals death, please collect and send the following biological samples:

  1. MOST SIMPLE: Collect 50 ml of blood in a syringe (sterile needle and syringe if possible), directly from the heart if possible. Collect a 50 ml sample of urine aspirated by needle/syringe (sterile if possible) directly from the animals urinary bladder. Freeze these specimens as soon as possible.
  2. If you have glass or plastic vacutainer tubes, fill 1 green, gray, or lavender top tube, and 1 red top tube, and freeze these as soon as possible. Label the green, gray, or lavender top tube “Toxicology: r/o cyanide poisoning.” Label the red top tube “Toxicology: for GC/MS and LC/MS: r/o drug overdose”.
  3. Liver: Obtain a sample of liver the size of your thumb. Place this in double plastic bags, remove as much air as possible, seal and freeze as soon as possible. Label “Toxicology: for GC/MS and LC/MS: r/o drug overdose”.
  4. Keep all specimens frozen until ready to ship to lab via overnight delivery.
  5. Go to California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s web page for submission forms:  and either fill out the submittal form online and then print it, or print the form and write in the requested information.
  6. Request tests “GC/MS and LC/MS – r/o drug overdose” on syringes (or tubes) containing blood and urine , and on liver sample. Request serum cyanide level (“rule out cyanide poisoning”) on syringe, green, gray, or lavender top tube .
  7. Either ask your vet for an insulated Styrofoam shipping container or make your own with 2″ thick Styrofoam. Send frozen specimens in double, sealed plastic bags packed with frozen gel packs or with dry ice via UPS or FedEx overnight delivery to this mailing address:

University of California, Davis / 620 W. Health Sciences Dr, /  Davis, CA / 95616

Please call UC Davis CAHFS Lab general information (530) 752-6253, ask for “Receiving”, and let them know your specimens will be arriving the following day.

Ranchers,  we all want to find an answer to this mystery! You are likely to be the first person on the scene to discover a mutilated animal. It will be up to you to recognize, acknowledge, and respond. Acquiring the specimens for testing explained above will ensure that adequate samples of blood, urine, and liver are acquired, frozen, properly labeled and packaged, and then sent for testing to University of California, Davis / California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory.

Immediately contacting a vet to come out and examine the animal with you provides a second, unbiased, and highly credible witness who will have the requisite tools, materials, and skills to help you obtain high quality biological samples for testing. These cases should be regarded as felony forensic cases and should be evaluated as such. Given this, I recommend a formal necropsy performed by an accredited veterinarian, on site, that will prove quite valuable in gaining the information we need to get to the bottom of this. However, if you know your animal was very recently alive and well, and the evidence you see clearly indicates the animal has been mutilated (sterotypical cuts), and if holding down costs is a major concern for you, please prioritize the lab testing, while also performing your own careful inspection and documentation of the animal’s external and internal findings.

Don’t move the animal before you take photos of the animal’s position and the surrounding ground!

Look for evidence of blunt trauma, vehicle skid marks, tire tracks, predator tracks, blood around the site, a bullet entry wound, a dart entry site, inspect the neck and ankles for rope burns/abrasions. Assess the animals residual blood volume (lots, less than you would expect, or very little to none), look for a tracheal (windpipe) crush injury (to rule out strangulation), look for pelvic, femur, tibia, or rib fractures (was this animal dropped from a height?), look for burns (lightening strike?), check to see if any internal organs are missing (especially reproductive system), look for internal evidence of an exploded bullet/shrapnel), and obtain the biological samples described above.

Listed in order below are the steps you should take:

  1. Look for the stereotypical signs/cuts of mutilation in every animal you find down. SEE THESE PHOTOS.
  2. If the animal is dead, before doing anything, take photos of the animal and the surrounding ground, especially if the animal is flat on its back with legs straight to the sky.  Good photos are essential! Get close-up photos of wound edges. For close-ups, place you cell phone camera near the wound and then touch the screen at the area you want to really focus on. You will see a square come up on the screen. Take the photo.
  3. Did you find any gates or fences down?
  4. After death cattle bloat. Did this cow/bull feed on alfalfa, white or red clover? Was death due to bloat?
  5. Was more than one animal found dead?
  6. In how remote of an area did you find the animal? Could this have even been done by people where you found this animal?
  7. Were there any sources of electrical power nearby? Was there any lightening strikes in your area recently?
  8. Take detailed photos of the ground surrounding the animal. Does it appear there was a struggle? How much blood is on the surrounding ground? Are there any fresh vehicle tracks there or nearby? Any human footprints? Any other kind of footprint (one expert claims “cone shaped” or “triangular” foot prints)? Has the animal been dragged to its location?
  9. Do you see a bullet/arrow/dart entry wound? You will need to turn the animal over with a lift or a loader to thoroughly inspect for these.
  10. Is the animal still warm, or at ambient temperature?
  11. Is rigor mortis still evident? If yes, and if stereotypical cuts are present, please collect samples! These will be the most ideal cases to test for drugs because the animal will have been dead for < 2 days!
  12. Do you find a dart syringe in the animal or the surrounding area?
  13. Note whether there are any rope burns or abrasions around the neck or ankles. Bulging eyes?
  14. Externally, what is missing? (Eye, ear, tongue, udder, teats, penis, testicles, dew claws).
  15. Is there any evidence of a lightening strike (burns)?
  16. Do you see any evidence that the animal was dropped from a height? Are there long bone, rib, or pelvic fractures? Compaction of earth below the animal?
  17. Consider calling your vet and make sure he/she knows that time is of the essence for obtaining adequate tissue (liver, blood, urine) sampling.
  18. I encourage a necropsy in the field but realize the expense involved. It’s your call, but these are unique cases, they happen infrequently, and this is our fleeting opportunity to acquire the information we need! If you know you have a good case, please consider obtaining a necropsy done by an accredited vet.
  19. If necropsy is performed, note whether or not the expected residual blood volume is present. This should be 10 gallons or more in an adult animal.
  20. What is your vets best guess at time interval of death to discovery? What is yours? (if more than 48 hours do not collect or send tissue/blood samples).
  21. Note when you last observed this animal to be alive and well.
  22. Did you or have you ever observed any strange lights in the sky – UFOs?
  23. Did you see or hear anything unusual around your place recently?
  24. Do you find any evidence of animal predators or scavenging?
  25. If you can, leave the animal where it was found for a time and carefully observe if any scavengers come to feed on it.

Yes, this is all a lot of trouble and, yes, there will be a fair amount of expense involved, all for a dead animal. Overnight shipping ($204.57) and lab fees ($329.70) totaled $534.27 for our 1st case and this did not include a formal necropsy performed by a veterinarian. However, if you have a good case and you are certain your animal has been mutilated (stereotypical cuts are definitely present), I ask that you do all of this so that we can learn whether or not people (human beings) are involved in doing these malicious acts. I don’t know any other way to go about making this determination, but I am open to any suggestions you feel may be helpful to sort this out.

I would like to develop a NETWORK of ranchers, vets, and anyone else interested in this topic so that when one of these events happens I could alert that network to help out with covering the expense of the shipping, testing, and necropsy fees.

Richard O’Connor, M.D.

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