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Sample Collection and Submission Guidelines

Owner/Manager Submissions

  • Wear protective clothing and plastic or rubber gloves when removing the head.
  • Cut the head off and leave all ear tags attached. The head should be cut between the skull and the first vertebrae. The antlers or rack can be removed as long as the majority of the brain, including all of the brain stem, remains in the head. All ear tags (unique identification tags, as well as any other ear tags) must be recorded on the submission form, or the attached list for slaughter animals.
  • It is important to distinguish between slaughtered animals and animals that have died. A slaughtered animal is a healthy animal that has been humanely shot whether used for meat or not. An animal that is considered a death on farm is one that is found dead or was humanely euthanized when found down, diseased or dying.
  • All ear tags (unique identification tags, as well as any other ear tags) must be recorded on the submission form, or the attached list for slaughter animals.
  • If it is a slaughter animal (used for meat), fill out the submission form for "slaughter or hunt" only. If you want results faxed or phoned to you, don't forget to write in the appropriate number.

Chronic wasting disease not detected in "secondary tissue"

  • For elk, reindeer and fallow deer, the obex is the target tissue. If the obex is not available for testing and only the lymph nodes are, then a "chronic wasting disease not detected in secondary tissue" is reported.
  • This means the specific area of the brain called the obex (for elk, reindeer and fallow deer) could not be identified.
  • For white-tailed deer and mule deer, the retropharyngeal lymph node (RPLN) is the target tissue. If the retropharyngeal lymph node for white-tailed deer and mule deer is not tested and only the obex is, then a " chronic wasting disease not detected in secondary tissue" is reported.
  • The obex (elk, reindeer and fallow deer) and retropharyngeal lymph node (white-tailed and mule deer) need to be identified by Prairie Diagnostic Services to report the result " chronic wasting disease not detected."

How to avoid getting a result of "chronic wasting disease not detected in secondary tissue"

  • The quality of the sample is important. The fresher the brain tissue, the more likely the result will be a confirmed finding.
  • Submit cervid heads to Prairie Diagnostic Services as soon as possible, or freeze the heads until they can be dropped off (regulatory requirement is within 15 days).
  • Cut the neck off between the back of the skull and the first vertebrae before freezing the head. If a large portion of the neck is left on, it takes a long time for the neck to thaw, possibly leading to further deterioration of the obex.
  • Make sure to cut through the spinal cord when removing the head of a dead animal. Do not twist the head off.

When to deliver the heads to Prairie Diagnostic Services

  • It is best to phone ahead and let the staff know when you will be arriving and the number of heads you are bringing in for testing.
  • Do not drop heads off on a Thursday or Friday unless you have phoned ahead of time, especially if it's a long weekend. Prairie Diagnostic Services in Saskatoon does not have freezers for these samples and they have limited cooler space. Depending on the condition of the head submitted, deterioration of the brain tissue will continue over the weekend. Test results can be affected, which could possibly alter your herd status when your annual assessment is done for the federal Chronic Wasting Disease Herd Certification Program.
  • Normal business hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Call 306-966-7316 in Saskatoon for more information.
  • Prairie Diagnostic Services also has after-hours service. To deliver after hours, please phone ahead to the employee on call at 306-291-9281. 
  • The on-call services are available:
    • Evenings Monday to Saturday: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    • Sundays and Statutory Holidays: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • You will be charged an additional $45 to use the on-call service. This will be billed to the submitter, not the Ministry of Agriculture.

If you find a dead animal with only bones remaining

  • No matter what condition the head is in, it should be submitted to Prairie Diagnostic Services or confirmed by other means, such as submission to a veterinarian or, in some circumstances, via good-quality photographs. If photographs are being considered, please contact the Animal Health Program Officer first to discuss this option at 306-787-6469.
  • It is important to submit or have adequate photographic documentation of heads unsuitable for testing, as these animals will be considered as submitted/verified as unsuitable in assessments for compliance.

Death of an animal that is almost 12 months of age

  • Calves (elk, moose) that die after May 1, in the year following their birth, can be submitted for testing, as Prairie Diagnostic Services has been instructed to accept submissions from young animals after this date.
  • Fawns (white-tailed deer, mule deer, fallow deer, reindeer, caribou) that die after June 1, in the year following their birth, can be submitted for testing, as Prairie Diagnostic Services has been instructed to accept submissions from young animals after this date.


  • Instruments and protective clothing can be disinfected with a two per cent concentration of available chlorine for a one-hour period; rinse with water afterward to prevent further corrosion.
  • Most commercial bleaches have a concentration of six per cent available chlorine. A two per cent solution can be obtained from six per cent available chlorine bleach by mixing one part of the bleach with two parts water. Read the label on the bottle to determine the concentration and dilute as required.

Storage, Packaging and Shipment of Samples

  • Brain tissue deteriorates quickly. The head is refrigerated, or kept at refrigerator-like temperatures (4 C) by ice (cooler) packs, until delivery; if delivery is going to be delayed more than six hours, the head should be frozen.
  • Double- or triple-bag the head and tie it tightly to prevent leakage. Use an absorbent material (e.g. newspaper) between bags to absorb any fluids that may leak out.
  • The head can be delivered directly to Prairie Diagnostic Services in Saskatoon (address is on the submission form).
  • If the head is sent by courier, you must double- or triple-bag the specimen as described above and put into a solid-sided, sturdy, leak-proof container, such as a Styrofoam cooler. Ice (cooler) packs should be included to keep the head cool in warm weather. Adequately seal the container so there is no risk that it will leak or break open during transit. These containers will not be returned.
  • Make sure the container is properly labelled and the submission form is included. Enclose the submission form in a water-tight plastic bag and place it on top of the bagged samples in the container, or place it in an envelope and tape it to the outside of the container.
  • Ensure heads do not arrive at Prairie Diagnostic Services on Thursdays, Fridays, the weekend or statutory holidays.

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