THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL
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Overview of Prepurchase Examination of Ruminants and Swine

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Also see Biosecurity.

The buying and selling of cattle, sheep, goats, cervids, and swine are critical to the continuing vitality of the global livestock industry, and the health of animals to be sold or moved to other premises is extremely important. The purchaser, the seller, state and federal animal health officials, and others engaged in livestock transactions want assurance that the animals are healthy and will not introduce disease into the new herd or area.

Within the USA, every state has specific animal health requirements that must be satisfied to legally move an animal into the state. Because these requirements frequently change in response to a state's efforts to protect their animal populations, it is always recommended that the Office of the State Veterinarian in the destination state be contacted before a move. Animals that arrive in a state without the proper health certification will likely be quarantined until the proper tests and inspections can be accomplished. In some rare instances, the animals may be destroyed because of the risk they pose to the state's animal populations.

The state of destination may require additional statements about the animals in the shipment. These statements, which generally provide additional information about the animals and their origin, are added to the body of the certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI). A permit number may also be required for some species. Collectively, these additional documents provide assurances that the animals meet or exceed the requirements of the state.

Because of continuing progress in eradication programs for brucellosis, tuberculosis, and pseudorabies in the USA, many states have been declared free of these diseases by the USDA. Once a state is designated as “free,” other states may waive the requirement for an individual animal test for these diseases and will instead receive the animals based on the state of origin's status. If a herd or flock has been declared free of a disease, including classification as accredited-free, certified-free, or qualified-free, many states will waive an individual animal test for the specific disease.

Electronic CVI, especially when coupled with radiofrequency identification (RFID) devices used as official identification, reduce the time necessary to prepare and distribute the required paperwork. Although RFID devices are not currently required for interstate movement of animals, a recognized form of official identification for each animal is required. If a state has specific identification requirements, they can be determined when contact is made with the state of destination's animal health official.

Countries also have specific health regulations for imported animals. These regulations have been developed to protect their animal populations for many of the same reasons individual states have established specific importation requirements in the USA. Global standards for the movement of animals and animal products are developed by the OIE.

The chief veterinary official (CVO) for each country is responsible for protecting the health of the animal populations in his or her country, as well as the public health in the case of zoonotic diseases. Animal health requirements for the destination country can be obtained by contacting the CVO of that country or more simply by contacting the office of the USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge (AVIC) located in nearly every state. The AVIC has access to the animal health requirements for all foreign destinations. Most of the CVI prepared for animals being shipped to a foreign country must bear the endorsement of the AVIC before the animals leave the state of origin. Animals that are not accompanied by the proper documentation will be detained or refused at the border or point of debarkation.

It is not unusual for an exhibition, sale, or private treaty agreement to have requirements for animal movement that exceed those of the state or country of destination. To determine these unique requirements, the host of the event or the buyer of the animal should be contacted.

The USDA veterinary accreditation program facilitates the movement of animals by enlisting private veterinary practitioners. This system has reduced the need for state and federal animal health agencies to provide these essential services to livestock producers. The accredited veterinarian is ultimately responsible for the completeness of any document prepared and for certifying that the animals have been inspected and are not showing signs of infectious, contagious, or communicable diseases.

In the examination of any animal before sale, several points should be emphasized: 1) The veterinarian is working for the person paying the fee and reports only to that person. The person responsible for compensating the veterinarian should be informed of the cost before the inspection. 2) The purpose for which the animal is to be used should be clearly established before the examination. 3) The examining veterinarian must be knowledgeable not only in the care and treatment of animals but also aware of the purpose for which they will be used.

Because legal action against the examining veterinarian is a possibility, a veterinarian may choose not to provide a written report for prepurchase examinations. However, a written record of findings should be made, because it may be needed at a future date. The responsibility of the veterinarian is to supply information and identify abnormalities; the prospective purchaser must make the decision whether to purchase. The prospective purchaser may also select a second veterinarian to perform an additional inspection.

The examination is divided into three parts: history, clinical examination, and special examinations or diagnostic procedures.

A complete history should be obtained by questioning the seller, examining the seller's records, and observing the remainder of the herd or flock and the management conditions. The animal's breed, sex, age, color, markings, tattoos, ear tags, brands, and other identification aids should be noted. If applicable, registration papers should be checked and the animal's identity definitively established.

For a breeding animal, the records of its sire and dam also should be considered, including their breeding ability, the possibility of heritable defects in the line to which each belongs, and, if dead, the cause of death. Also, breeding records of the animal itself should be reviewed to determine its fertility. Breeding records of the herd of origin of the animal should be examined for evidence of disorders that may affect reproduction. If the animal is an adult female, the breeding dates and stage of pregnancy, if applicable, should be noted.

Records should be examined to determine whether the animal has had any previous diseases, injuries (and their severity), or surgical procedures. Previous vaccinations, their type, and date of administration should be noted. The health of the herd or flock of origin and possible contacts with other animals before the sale should be determined, because animals so exposed could be in the incubation period of disease. It should also be established whether the animal received any drugs or medication that could alter its normal state. If this cannot be established in the history, it may be prudent to perform assays for suspected medication.

All areas of the body and their functions should be examined. The clinical examination should establish the current state of the animal's health and condition of each body system.

As previously discussed, some diagnostic tests are performed at the time of sale to satisfy the requirements of the state or country of destination, but additional diagnostic tests and special examinations may be required by the seller, buyer, or others involved in the transaction. It may also be necessary to conduct additional testing as indicated by the findings of the clinical examination. When certain diseases are not present in the seller's geographic area but are endemic in the purchaser's area, vaccination (if available) for those specific diseases is frequently required before movement. The CVI prepared after the examination must accurately reflect the findings of the accredited veterinarian.

If a male is to be purchased for breeding purposes, a complete breeding soundness examination (see Breeding Soundness Examination of the Male) should be conducted.

Last full review/revision December 2013 by Bret D. Marsh, DVM

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