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Role of the private veterinarian in the diagnosis of foreign animal diseases

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Canada is one of a few countries that remain free from a number of serious epizootic diseases of animals. It is a high priority of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that foreign animal diseases (FADs), especially a rapidly spreading disease such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), be recognized and then eradicated as soon as possible.

The response capacity of a country depends greatly on the time it takes from the introduction of a highly contagious pathogen in a population of animals to its detection. Early detection by veterinarians and laboratories contributes to limiting the size of an outbreak by allowing swift containment and eradication.

Veterinarians in private practice are most likely to be the first to encounter and recognize an FAD once it has gained entry into Canada. Early recognition by veterinarians followed by the reporting of such a suspicion is essential in preventing widespread transmission and great expense to the Canadian public. Veterinarians also play an important role in preventing the spread of such diseases by applying strict biocontainment measures and communicating the risks of transmission to the owner of the animals.

When should you suspect a foreign animal disease

FADs of concern to the CFIA are those which would have severe economic or public health consequences in Canada. Although clinicians are unlikely to encounter FADs here in Canada, you might encounter diseases that look similar to them. FADs should be included in your differential diagnosis when they can't be ruled out.

A history of a possible recent contact, such as visitors, people or livestock returning from abroad should raise suspicions of an FAD. Questions should be asked about the origin of feed sources. A syndrome which does not follow expected clinical or treatment and response patterns should also be questioned.

Although not an exhaustive list, the following examples may be a useful reminder of some of the foreign animal diseases that are of concern in Canada:

Examples of foreign animal diseases that are of concern in Canada
Species Clinical signs Possible foreign animal disease
Swine Acute lameness and reluctance to move, blanching of coronary bands; blisters and erosions on snout, lips.
  • Foot and Mouth disease
  • Vesicular stomatitis
  • Swine vesicular disease
Swine Severe systemic illness; morbidity high, or low and increasing (insidious). History and gross necropsy may be useful.
  • African swine fever
  • Classical swine fever
Swine Reproductive problems in sows
  • Pseudorabies
  • Classical swine fever
  • African swine fever
  • Brucellosis
Swine Neurological and respiratory clinical signs in nursing piglets, nursery and finishing pigs
  • Pseudorabies
  • Classical swine fever
Equine Vesicles or papules on tongue
  • Vesicular stomatitis
Equine Several bred mares return to heat with mucopurulent vaginal discharge; cultures are negative
  • Contagious equine metritis (CEM.)
Bovine Excessive salivation, reduction in milk production, blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves, lameness
  • Foot and Mouth Disease
  • Vesicular stomatitis
Bovine Abortion storm, decreased milk production
  • Brucellosis
Avian Depression, neurological signs, head edema, diarrhea, variable morbidity and mortality, hemorrhagic enteritis, drop in egg production
  • Newcastle disease
  • Avian influenza
  • Fowl typhoid
Avian If the above signs are restricted to chicks and poults
  • Pullorum disease
Ovine Erosions on the tongue and gums that can coalesce into large, crusted areas, lameness
  • Bluetongue
  • Vesicular stomatitis

The list of CFIA reportable diseases and fact sheets can be found on the reportable diseases web page.

The practitioner's role


It is the responsibility of the private practitioner to maintain current knowledge of the FADs that have the potential to enter Canada. Information and fact sheets on such diseases can be found on CFIA's website. Be aware of clinical/necropsy findings which should alert suspicion. Routinely include FADs in differential diagnoses.


  1. Veterinarians are required by law (see Health of Animals Act Sec. 5 (1)(2)) to immediately notify the District Veterinarian of the suspicion of a reportable disease.
  2. Veterinarians should know the contact information for their local CFIA district office.
  3. Individuals should maintain a list of alternative contacts, in case you are unable to reach local District Veterinarians (for example neighbouring district veterinarian or after hours reporting number if there is 1 in your province).
  4. Depending on the level of suspicion, the practitioner may be required to remain on the suspect premises until the arrival of the CFIA Veterinarian.

The clinician must consider very carefully the risks associated with continued contact with livestock on other premises without extensive personal, equipment and vehicle decontamination. The danger of transmission by veterinarians from premises to premises is real and must be recognized, along with the potentially tragic consequences of visiting other farms. There could be some possible liability to the veterinarian, should such an incident occur.


  1. Inform the owner of your suspicions of a foreign animal disease without specifying the name of the disease
    For example, use the term "vesicular disease", rather than "FMD". Explain briefly the reporting obligations and possible consequences of a positive diagnosis.
  2. Encourage the owner of the suspect premises to apply voluntary quarantine measures: limit introduction of visitors /vehicles on-site to essential visits, postpone non-essential visits to another day and enhance on-farm biosecurity measures.
  3. When the CFIA District Veterinarian arrives on-site, your assistance may be required in documenting the history of the suspect clinical signs and the sampling of animals.
  4. Upon exiting the suspect premises, you should consult with the District Veterinarian to determine what products are acceptable for your personal disinfection along with your equipment and vehicle.
    Disinfectants routinely used by a practitioner may not be effective against the agent of a suspected disease.
  5. In the case of an outbreak of an FAD, a designated emergency response team would be mobilized to control the spread and eradicate the disease. This team is made up of operational units with specific tasks: diagnostic, tracing, movement control, evaluation, destruction, disposal, and cleaning and disinfection. Veterinary practitioners could be requested to provide assistance in one of these areas.

Important resources

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