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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Testing for Anthrax

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Disease is most common in cattle and sheep, but can be seen in dogs, horses, pigs and other animals including humans. Outbreaks in the U.S. have been reported during drought conditions and also following large rainfalls and flooding conditions. The most recent diagnosis of anthrax in cattle and sheep at OADDL was 1996-1997. In many outbreaks, infected animals are simply found dead. Classic signs include rapid bloat, lack of rigor mortis and thick, tarry blood exuding from body orifices. Anthrax is a hemorrhagic disease. Hemorrhagic petechiae are usually seen on tissues such as the sclera, vulva/prepuce, subcutis and mesentery. 

Important tips to remember:

  • Precautions should be taken when collecting, handling and shipping blood samples from animals suspected of dying from anthrax.
  • A necropsy should NOT be performed. Do not open or transport carcasses suspected of having anthrax. 
  • Obtain a postmortem blood sample. Postmortem blood from the jugular vein is preferred. Laboratory diagnosis by culture will require a minimum of 24 hours from the receipt of the sample.
  • Triple bag blood specimens prior to delivery or shipment to the laboratory.
  • Dispose of the carcass in an appropriate manner. Carcass disposal criteria are available on the ODAFF website

The Oklahoma State Veterinarian, Dr. Rod Hall, can provide additional information regarding disposal of animals dying from anthrax.

Further information on Anthrax is available below.

AVMA - Anthrax (Zoonosis Update)

USDA - Epizootiology and Ecology of Anthrax

Center for Food Security & Public Health - Anthrax