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Fatal inanition in reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus): Pathological findings in completely emaciated carcasses

Terje D Josefsen12*, Karen K Sørensen13, Torill Mørk1, Svein D Mathiesen2 and Kathrine A Ryeng2

Author Affiliations

1 National Veterinary Institute Tromsø, Stakkevollvn. 23b, NO-9292 Tromsø, Norway

2 Section of Arctic Veterinary Medicine, Department of Food Safety and Infection Biology, The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, PO Box 6204, NO-9292 Tromsø, Norway

3 Department of Cell Biology and Histology, Institute of Medical Biology, University of Tromsø, NO-9037 Tromsø, Norway

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2007, 49:27  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-49-27

Published: 28 September 2007



In a project to determine the causes of winter mortality in reindeer in Finnmark County, northern Norway, the most frequent diagnosis turned out to be complete emaciation, despite several of the reindeer having been given silage for up to 4 weeks before they died. The present paper describes autopsy results and other findings in these animals.


Autopsies were made of 32 reindeer carcasses, and 28 of these were diagnosed as completely emaciated based on lack of visible fat and serous atrophy of subepicardial and bone marrow fat. Other investigations of the carcasses included histology, bacteriology, parasitology (counting of macro parasites and faecal egg counting), analysis of vitamin E and selenium in liver, chemical and botanical analysis of rumen content, analysis of lipid content in femur bone marrow and estimation of muscle atrophy by use of a muscle index.


Main findings were: Low carcass weight, severe muscle atrophy, hemosiderosis in liver and spleen, subcutaneous oedema (18%) and effusions to body cavities (18%). Two types of lipofuscin granula were identified in the liver: One type occurred in liver endothelial cells of all carcasses, while the other type occurred in hepatocytes, and prevailed in adult animals. Abomasal haemorrhages, consistent with previously described stress lesions, was present in 68% of the carcasses. Diarrhoea occurred in 2 cases, and loose faecal consistency was associated with silage feeding. Rumen content was low in crude protein. Grass dominated rumen content in silage-fed carcasses, while reindeer on natural pastures had mainly woody plants, mosses and litter in rumen. Stem dominated the grass fraction in rumens with high grass content, indicating ruminal indigestion as a cause of emaciation in silage fed animals. Some cases had heavy infestation of parasites such as warble fly larvae (Hypoderma tarandi), throat bot larvae (Cephenemyiae trompe) and lung nematodes.


Lack of appropriate amounts and/or appropriate quality of feed has been the main cause of emaciation, though heavy infestation of parasites may have contributed to the emaciation in some cases.