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Vet Vibes: What you should know about vet checks

There are vet checks, and then there are vet checks. DR DOUG ENGLISH explains the difference.  

A pre-purchase examination is a veterinary evaluation of a horse before it is purchased. The purpose of the presale check is to identify any health issues, lameness, or soundness concerns that could affect the horse’s performance or future value. 

During a presale check, a veterinarian will examine the horse from head to tail, looking for any signs of illness or injury. They may also perform a range of diagnostic tests, including X-rays, blood tests, drug tests, and a physical examination of the horse’s conformation, movement, and soundness. 

The results of a presale check can be used to inform the buyer’s decision as to whether or not to proceed with the purchase, to negotiate the price, or to request additional testing or treatment before finalising the sale. It is an important step for any buyer considering the purchase of a horse. 

However, there are various levels of a presale examination, and a full sale soundness written certificate is a legal document that has direct ramifications for the vet who signs it. Because of its binding nature most vets will want to do x-rays of all joints that are historically subject to degeneration, order a full blood test to identify hidden health issues, conduct an endoscopic examination of airways, and observe the animal working – because if a problem emerges that has not been checked then the vet becomes liable for not effectively looking. 

So the full soundness examination becomes expensive; is very technical, requiring a high degree of equipment, skill and experience; and is time consuming. Additionally, checking a horse from a seller who is one of the vet’s clients can create a situation of conflict when the vet finds a problem that the seller thinks is only a minor issue. 

Experienced veterinarians, me included, have become very wary of writing soundness certificates because disclaimers stating that such and such a test or examination was rejected by the owner will not hold up in court if an after purchase fault is identified that should have been checked. Many equine vets are very busy and because of the legal ramifications, have become very wary, so it may prove difficult to find a vet who’s prepared to issue a full soundness certificate.  

But a general health examination with a scanning blood test, heart and chest auscultation, a feel of the joints and a body condition score is easy, with a certificate saying that the horse is in good health. But, this is not a soundness or suitability certificate.  

Veterinarians who do soundness exams are required to disclose to their liability insurance companies the dollar value of the horses and the number they examine, which has a significant impact on their annual insurance premium – another reason why many vets don’t offer soundness certificates.