Animal Diseases

Understand the diagnosis of animal illness including common diseases. Learn to examine sick animals, and understand how diagnostic procedures are applied for determining diseases.

Course Code: BAG219
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn to Identify Different Health Disorders in Animals

  • Study at Home, Learn online, or with a printed correspondence course
  • Personal tuition from university trained; veterinary care professionals, located in both Australia and the UK

What Animal Disease is that?

Study this course for a foundation that allows systematically investigation and diagnosis of health disorders in animals.

Routine disease investigations are based on clinical, pathological and epidemiological evidence. If there is a need for conclusive identification of a disease or condition, an accurate laboratory diagnosis should be obtained. It is particularly important, especially in the case of infectious diseases that the final diagnosis rests on adequate aetiological evidence. In most cases disease investigations are carried out by qualified government stock inspectors and/or veterinarians. It helps for animal owners to understand and be able to recognise diseases conditions that may affect their animals, so that timely intervention can occur.

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. How Animal Diseases are Diagnosed
    • Conducting clinical examinations
    • Gross and clinical pathology
    • Information to collect and how to collect it (live animal and necropsy samples)
    • Specialist support services to assist in diagnosis (i.e. types of laboratories, specialist vets etc)
  2. Diagnostic Testing
    • Pathways followed to detect and diagnose different types of diseases
    • Information to be supplied with samples
    • Diagnostic testing and diagnostic techniques
  3. Viral Diseases
    • Characteristics of viruses
    • The significance of a range of viral diseases that affect animals
    • Viral taxonomy
    • Types and structure of viruses
    • Virus replication cycle, transmission
    • Common viral conditions.
  4. Bacteria and Fungal Diseases
    • Characteristics of bacterial and fungal organisms
    • Laboratory identification
    • Controlling infections
    • Specimen collection
    • Important disease conditions.
  5. Parasitological Conditions
    • Terminology and classification
    • Life cycles
    • Protozoa
    • Helminths
    • Arthropods
  6. Metabolic and Nutritional Conditions
    • Common metabolic conditions
    • Cattle, horses, pigs, sheep/goats, cats and dogs
  7. Poisoning
    • Common disorders that result from poisoning or toxins
    • Cardio-respiratory
    • Central Nervous System (CNS)
    • Dermatological
    • Gastrointestinal
    • HepatologicaL
    • Haematological disorders.
  8. Inherited Conditions (Genetic Disorders)
    • Types of genetic inheritance
    • Examples of genetic diseases affecting horses, dogs, and cats.
  9. Other Conditions and Disorders
    • Identify miscellaneous conditions such as allergies
    • Dehydration
    • Age related conditions.
  10. Research Project
    • Evaluate symptoms of ill-health or disease displayed by a set of animals, and go through the process of identifying the problem and deciding on a course of treatment.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss conducting examinations
  • Determine information to collect for analysis of an animal's condition
  • Describe how to collect samples
  • Identify information required for diagnostic testing
  • Describe different diagnostic tests that may be performed
  • Explain common characteristics of animal viral diseases
  • Discuss significance a range of viral diseases that affect animals
  • Determine characteristics of bacterial and fungal animal diseases
  • Differentiate the characteristics of a range of common bacterial and fungal diseases
  • Discuss and differentiate a range of parasitological conditions that affect animals
  • Discuss and differentiate a range of metabolic and nutritional diseases that affect animals
  • Discuss and differentiate some common disorders that result from poisoning or toxins
  • Discuss and differentiate a range of genetic disorders that affect animals
  • Identify and discuss miscellaneous non pathological factors that affect animal health, including allergies, dehydration and age.
  • Undertake a wholistic evaluation of indicators of illness in sick animals


What is involved in a Clinical Examination of a Sick Animal?


Recognising the differences between what is normal and what is abnormal about an animal or group of animals forms the basic foundation for good animal husbandry and veterinary medicine.  

Using your powers of observation can be very important for the early recognition of subtle abnormalities. Observation of behavioural changes, changes in energy levels, elimination changes (urine and faeces) and physical changes are important, but don't just evaluate the animal, evaluate its environment, too.  

Ask questions such as: How is the animal housed? What are the climatic conditions? What plants do they have access to? Are they hand fed or do they graze? This type of information is very important in the process of determining what disease processes are occurring. 

In addition to evaluating the animal’s environment, recording and compiling animal information such as type and condition of animals, age, sex, number of affected animals, and progression of disease are the first steps in the disease recognition process. 

When dealing with diseased animals it is important to remember that some diseases are zoonoses (they are transmissible to humans). When undertaking a physical examination or post mortem examination, wear protective clothing, gloves and overalls. 

Physical examination

A physical examination is the next step in identifying diseases or conditions in animals. The veterinarian will examine the whole animal and not just the obviously affected area. It is helpful to start by examining the non-painful areas and then moving on to those areas that show discomfort. If an animal is in a lot of pain, the veterinarian may suggest lightly anesthetizing the animal so a more complete exam can be safely conducted. 

The exam will generally include: 

  •      Weighing the animal, taking the temperature
  •       Listening to the heart and lungs
  •       Checking eyes, ears, nose, etc.
  •       Examining the skin for any trauma or puncture wounds
  •       Examining all the limbs
  •       Watching the animal move about the exam room or outside on the grass
  •       Performing special manipulations of various body parts e.g., neck, limbs 

Understanding the Post Mortem (ie. Necropsy)

 Autopsy refers to an examination of a deceased human. When the examination is done on a deceased non-human animal, the procedure is called a "necropsy." Necropsies are generally conducted by veterinarians or suitably trained government inspectors.  

There will be times when neither is available to you, and you may need to undertake specimen collection yourself. In this case it is important to understand what to samples to collect and how to collect, preserve, and send specimens for laboratory analysis. Always seek the advice of a veterinarian, relevant government inspector, or the testing laboratory, to ensure you are taking the correct samples and using the appropriate transport media. 

Various methods may be used to perform necropsies and, as long as all organ systems are examined thoroughly, each technique has its merits.  

Ideally, necropsies should be conducted in a post mortem room, but if this is not possible, they may be carried out in the field. It should be remembered that on-farm examinations may be limited and may only involve sample collection. 

The value of undertaking a post mortem allows for a concise interim pathology report to be produced. This report should describe lesions, outline preliminary conclusions and, if possible, include a morphological diagnosis.  

Microbiology, parasitology, biochemistry, histopathology etc. may then be needed to assist in establishing a diagnosis. 

We discussed earlier how a physical examination of a live animal may be undertaken but if an animal is presented to you is already dead, it is still important to make a thorough external examination of the animal.  

Questions to ask include: How long has it been dead? Has rigor mortis set in? What is the body condition of the animal? Is sternal or lateral recumbency exhibited? Are there any wounds or injuries? Are they old or relatively recent?  

Note any discharges from body orifices. Be aware that these may be a result of post mortem changes rather than part of a disease condition. When an animal dies the body sphincters and muscle tone relaxes, allowing the stomach contents to regurgitate and urine/faeces to discharge from the body. 

When performing the post mortem or necropsy it is very important to be methodical. Take care not to cross-contaminate the organs with dirty equipment and to avoid contaminating the organs with intestinal contents.



Graduates from this course will have a greatly increased knowledge and understanding of diseases that can affect the health of pets and other animals. You will know more of the warning signs associated with different diseases and have a better capacity to make decisions about caring for sick animals and knowing when to seek advice from a skilled veterinarian.

You will better understand the tools that are used by people to assess animal health and identify diseases; and in doing so be more informed when managing the health of pets or other animals.

This is a course that may be of great value to:

  • Pet owners
  • Pet Industry professionals (eg. Staff in pet shops, breeders, trainers, groomers, etc)\
  • Veterinary Assistants
  • Animal Science Students
  • Anyone else working with animals, from farmers to animal rescue service staff.


ACS is a Member of the Complementary Medicine Association.

Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.

ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Alison Pearce (Agri & Animal)

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students.

She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniques and procedures. She has worked in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

She has extensive experience of handling, husbandry, and management of a wide range of both small and large animals and has a particular love for nature and wildlife.

Alison has a BSc (Hon) Animal Science.

Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Post-graduate qualifications in Education, Wildlife Conservation Medicine, Aquatic Veterinary Studies and Wildlife Biology & Conservation.
Gareth has a B.Sc.(Hons), B.V.Sc., M.A., M.Vet.S,. PhD, Grad. Cert. Ed.(HE), Post-Grad.Cert. Aq.Vet.Sc., Post-Grad. Cert. WLBio&Cons., Dipl. ECPHM, MRCVS.

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