Animal & Veterinary

Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network


Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network logo

Our Mission

To promote human and animal health by:

Collaborating with veterinary diagnostic laboratories in order to

  • provide scientific information
  • build laboratory capacity and
  • train scientists

To help CVM investigate potential problems with:

CVM regulated products

  • animal feeds
  • animal drugs

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More on the Network

This program will coordinate facilities, equipment, and professional expertise of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the country and Canada to respond to high priority chemical and microbial feed/drug contamination events. The network provides the means for rapid response to reports of animal injury and establishes protocols to facilitate veterinary diagnostic reporting to FDA.

CVM provides grants/contracts/cooperative agreements to veterinary diagnostic laboratories to further FDA’s response capacity. Vet-LIRN works with the veterinary diagnostic laboratories to document, investigate and diagnose animal feed or drug related illnesses. These efforts can contribute to overall food safety as animal feed events could signal potential issues in the human food system.

Vet-LIRN also works with referring veterinarians and pet owners to investigate cases of potential foodborne illness in pets. Each investigation is tailored to the presenting case, but in general, Vet-LIRN reviews the pet’s medical records, obtains the feeding history, and sometimes requests additional diagnostic (blood, urine, and/or tissue) samples from the ill or deceased pet. When conducting investigations, Vet-LIRN follows specific Network Procedures for Owners and for Veterinarians.

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Conference March 2011

Vet-LIRN held its first developmental meeting on March 3rd and 4th at the Greenbelt Marriott in Greenbelt, Maryland. The goal of the meeting was to establish contact with various laboratories that are interested in joining the network. Comments and ideas were provided by the laboratory directors to help Vet-LIRN plan its activities and coordinate with other networks. The laboratories in attendance are also associated with NAHLN, AAVLD, and FERN.

Presentations from the Conference

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Proficiency Testing

Vet-LIRN is working in collaboration with the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), Illinois Institute of Technology and the FDA’s Division of Food Processing Science and Technology to provide proficiency tests (PT) to its network laboratories as well as its cooperative agreement laboratories. PTs are used by laboratories to assess their current capabilities and make updates as needed to enhance performance.

Laboratories participated in nine PTs to date including four microbial PTs and five chemistry PTs. The microbial PTs included:

  1. Three rounds of Salmonella testing in dog fecal samples. For each round 26 network laboratories participated.
  2. One round of Listeria testing in raw dog food products, 22 network laboratories participated.

 The chemistry PTs include:

  1. Measuring Copper and other elements in liver tissue, 16 network laboratories participated.
  2. Measuring 5-Hydroxyflunixin in raw milk samples, 22 network laboratories participated.
  3. Measuring Aflatoxin M1 in raw milk samples, 18 network laboratories participated.
  4. Measuring Melamine and Cyanuric Acid in tissue samples, 6 network laboratories participated.
  5. Identifying Melamine and Cyanuric Acid in tissues samples using histopathology, 9 network laboratories participated.

Strong participation from network laboratories shows that this kind of testing is important to diagnostic laboratories.

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Vet-LIRN and Jerky Pet Treats Investigation

During 2007, FDA noted a number of adverse event consumer complaints associated with consumption of jerky pet treats. Product testing did not identify a causative agent, thus FDA issued a cautionary warning regarding chicken jerky products to consumers in 2007 and a Preliminary Animal Health Notification in 2008. There were fewer complaints during 2009 and 2010, but increasing numbers in 2011 generated a third FDA warning in November of the same year. As of September 30, 2014, FDA has received approximately 5,000 complaints of illness associated with consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, most of which involve products imported from China. The reports involve more than 5800 dogs, 25 cats, three people, and include more than 1,000 canine deaths.

Vet-LIRN became actively involved in pet jerky treats investigation at the end of 2011. We obtain medical histories of pets that were seen by a veterinarian, and based on the case profile, we plan and organize testing of treats collected from the consumer. Testing is performed by FDA laboratories and other animal health diagnostic laboratories in our network. Vet-LIRN also coordinates collection and testing of diagnostic material and tissues from affected animals. Our cooperation with experts from government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the country will provide a high level of professional expertise to provide greater insight into pet jerky treats related illness. The Investigation Rationale and Results was posted October 22, 2013, and an update to this document was posted on February 19, 2015. Additional information on Jerky Pet Treats.

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Method Development, Outbreak Preparedness and Risk Assessment

Two major melamine adulteration events, US pet food in 2007 and China infant formula in 2008, demonstrated the need to increase capability to rapidly analyze large numbers of samples using rapid and sensitive methods. To address this need, a collaborative project was established between Vet-LIRN and three FERN laboratories with goals:

  1. to improve and validate rapid and sensitive LC/MS/MS methods to detect and quantify melamine and cyanuric acid in animal tissues
  2. to analyze melamine and cyanuric acid in tissues of pigs exposed to these chemicals to obtained data needed for risk assessments to maintain animal and food safety.

The data from these studies will be used to assess and improve preparedness in the event of feed or food adulteration.

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Vet-LIRN Participation in Emergency Preparedness and Response Activities

Vet-LIRN participation in the planning, play, and evaluation of emergency preparedness and response activities strengthens our ability to establish and initiate strategies to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of veterinary diagnostics laboratories in real world emergency events.

NLE 2011

In May of 2011, Vet-LIRN participated in the National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE). NLE is a White House directed Congressionally-mandated exercise that includes the participation of federal department and agency senior officials, their deputies and staff; and key operational elements. NLE 2011 focused on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants. The purpose of NLE 2011 was to prepare and coordinate a multiple-jurisdictional integrated response to a national catastrophic event. The exercise simulated the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central US region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). NLE 2011 was the first NLE to simulate a natural hazard.

NLE 2012

In early June of 2012, Vet-LIRN participated in the National Level Exercise 2012 (NLE12), which examined the nation's ability to coordinate and implement prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans pertaining to significant cyber events.

This was the first time multiple FDA Centers and offices participated in a national level cyber based exercise, and more than 250 FDA personnel served as exercise players or evaluators. By participating in the NLE12, FDA strengthened its capabilities for responding to cyber attacks, ensuring the agency's ability to carry on its critical functions in the face of such a threat.

NEPCE 2014

In April 2014, Vet-LIRN participated in the National Exercise Program Capstone
Exercise (NEPCE) 2014, which was a congressionally mandated capstone exercise that tested the Nation’s ability to respond to and recover from a catastrophic incident. FDA employees from Headquarters, Centers, ORA Southwest Region, ORA Pacific Region, and three District Offices participated in this exercise. NEPCE 2014 was the first national-level exercise to fully integrate exploration of response and recovery capabilities in a single exercise.


Vet-LIRN is a member of the Integrated Consortium of Laboratory Networks (ICLN). This membership helps increase connectivity and collaboration with other laboratory networks accountable for providing timely, credible, and interpretable data in support of surveillance, early detection and consequence management of events needing an integrated laboratory response.

Vet-LIRN participated in the planning of the ICLN Table Top Exercise in September 2012. The exercise tested the efficient coordination of analytical laboratory services for chemical, biological, and radiological events through inter-network strategic and operational planning, identification of accountabilities, communication and information sharing, resource optimization, and resource and response coordination.

In 2014, Vet-LIRN participated in a microbial pathogen select agent Validation Exercise. This exercise provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the animal component in an infectious disease outbreak and the diagnostic capabilities available. Exercises provide networks with the opportunity to test their response capabilities and understand what preparedness in needed in case of emergency response. Vet-LIRN participated in planning, the exercise it’s self through the ICLN portal, and the hot wash.

In 2014, Vet-LIRN also participated in planning an ICLN chemical select agent Tabletop Exercise. This exercise simulated a national emergency due to sudden illness and death caused by the chemical.

Signatory departments and agencies involved in ICLN include US Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Interior, Department of Justice, Department of State, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Vet-LIRN Helps to Develop the Pet Event Tracking Network (PETNet)

The Partnership for Food Protection and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched of the Pet Event Tracking Network (PETNet) in August 2011. PETNet is a secure, web based information exchange system that allows FDA and Federal and State Agencies to share initial information about pet-food related incidents. PETNet’s voluntary information exchange, surveillance and alert system is designed to provide a real-time mechanism for sharing information about emerging pet food related illnesses between FDA, other Federal agencies, and the States. PETNet is currently made up of over 200 representatives from 4 Federal agencies, all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Vet-LIRN is working within FDA to develop the second phase of the project which will include adverse event reporting of livestock food and drugs. More information can be found on the website, icon

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Vet-LIRN Program Cooperative Agreements

Evaluation of Salmonella in Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Pets

Eleven Vet-LIRN cooperative agreement laboratories are evaluating Salmonella prevalence in the cat and dog pet population across the country. Goals for the study are to harmonize and validate methods, establish future surveillance needs and identify baseline prevalence for comparative analysis. Laboratories created a brochure describing the study to pet owners, patient selection criteria, consent forms, a questionnaire and standard data and reporting documents. Each laboratory will, over a 2 year period, sample feces from 200 dogs and cats without signs of salmonellosis (asymptomatic) and 200 which have signs of potential salmonellosis (symptomatic). This study will forward CVM’s public health mission by establishing harmonized methods to detect Salmonella in animal fecal samples for future outbreaks and by providing CVM with Salmonella strains present in the pet population at this point in time. Benefits already derived from this collaborative agreement were evident in the recent Salmonella infantis outbreak. Our laboratories were able to assist CDC by testing pet samples from households with human patients. The study is in progress and should be completed by end of 2014.

CVM Vet-LIRN Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Program

The cooperative agreements are designed to enable the analyses of animal diagnostic samples and animal food/drug products during CVM investigations of consumer complaints or in the event that laboratory surge capacity is needed by FDA for analyses of potential microbiological or chemical contamination. While FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs (ORA) is the primary inspection and analysis component of FDA, the Vet-LIRN program adds a component that is outside of ORA's usual investigations and testing programs, the examination of veterinary diagnostic samples. Examination of such samples facilitates early detection of animal food/drug adulteration or contamination. These efforts can contribute to overall food safety as animal food events could signal potential issues in the human food system. This cooperative agreement will facilitate methods standardization, training and proficiency testing of the partner laboratories. Such activities strengthen the overall food safety system by developing increased capacity and capabilities to detect adulteration which could affect animals raised for human consumption or companion animals consuming ingredients used in both animal and human food products.

Vet-LIRN has awarded multiple infrastructure grants over the course of several years. In September 2012, Vet-LIRN awarded 23 infrastructure cooperative agreements ($16.5K each) to facilitate participation in Vet-LIRN program activities. In September 2013, Vet-LIRN awarded 4 infrastructure cooperative agreements ($16.5K each) bringing the total to 27. The agreement facilitates participation in Vet-LIRN program activities. The Vet-LIRN cooperative agreements are intended to provide increased sample analyses in the event of animal food or drug related illnesses or other large-scale animal food/feed emergency events which require increased testing of implicated diagnostic or animal food samples. 

Vet-LIRN Cooperative Agreement Program to Expand and Validate Testing Methods for Food Contaminants in Animal Diagnostic Specimens

The testing of diagnostic specimens adds insight into investigations not routinely obtained from traditional food testing laboratories. Such investigations require detection methods that are validated for organs and diagnostic samples such as urine and feces, which are not typical food matrices. It is the purpose of this program to expand and validate detection methods among Vet-LIRN cooperative agreement laboratories. This activity is designed to increase the suite of validated methods available for testing during outbreaks or events. It is also designed to strengthen the collaborations and integration of the network laboratories in order to encourage seamless interactions during actual emergency related testing. In September 2013, seven grants were awarded.

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In 2014, Vet-LIRN initiated a two year internship program to train veterinarians in the area of animal feed safety and CVM consumer complaints case investigations. This intern will participate in Vet-LIRN network activities to document, investigate, and diagnose animal feed, pet food and animal drug-related illnesses. Additional activities include coordinating network laboratory training and participating in test methods standardization, proficiency testing and emergency response exercises. The two year position will be filled through FDA’s Staff Fellowship program.

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Network Laboratories

Map of the United States showing the locations of the Vet-LIRN laboratories 

1. AR: AR Livestock and Poultry Lab
2. CA: CA Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at Univ. of CA, Davis – Chem +Δ
    CA: CA Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at Univ. of CA, Davis – Micro Φ+
3. Canada: Univ. of Guelph, Animal Health Lab
4. CO: CO State Univ. Diagnostic Lab Φ+
5. CT: Univ. of CT, Vet Medical Diagnostic Lab +
6. GA: Athens Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of GA Φ+
7. GA: Univ. of GA, Tifton Vet Diagnostic and Investigational Lab +
8. IN: Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, Purdue Univ. +Δ
9. IA: Depart. of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at IA State Univ. Φ+Δ
10. KA: KA State Univ. Vet Diagnostic Lab +
11. KY: Breathitt Vet Center; Murray State Univ. +
12. KY: Univ. of KY; Department of Vet Sciences; Vet Diagnostic Lab +Δ
13. LS: LS State Univ., School of Vet Medicine, Depart. of Pathobiological Science +
14. MD: Maryland Depart. of AG, Frederick Animal Health Lab
15. MI: Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at MI State Univ. +
16. MN: Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of MN
17. MS: MS State Univ., Vet Research and Diagnostic Lab System +
18. MO: Univ. of MO, Vet Medical Diagnostic Lab +
19. NC: NC State College of Vet Medicine +
20. NC: United States Depart. of AG, AG Marketing Service Lab Division
21. NJ: NJ Depart. of AG; Division of Animal Health +
22. NY: Animal Health Diagnostic Center; College of Vet Medicine; Cornell Univ.+Δ
      NY: Depart. of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Science; Cornell Univ. +
23. ND: ND State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab +
24. OH: OH Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at the OH Depart. of AG Φ+Δ
25. OK: OK State Univ., OK Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab +
26. OR: OR State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab +
27. PA: PA Depart. of AG, PA Vet Lab
28. PA: Univ. of PA, PA Animal Diagnostic Lab, New Bolton Center Φ+Δ
      PA: Univ. of PA, Ryan Vet Hospital Φ+
29. SD: Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Lab at SD State Univ. Φ+Δ
30. TN: TN Depart. of AG, Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Lab
31. TX: TX A&M Univ., Clinical Microbiology Lab Δ
32. UT: UT Vet Diagnostic Lab; UT State Univ.
33. VA: VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine, VA Tech Animal Lab Services Δ
34. WA: WA State Univ., College of Vet Medicine, WA Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab Δ
35. WS: Univ. of WS, Madison, WS Vet Diagnostic Lab
36. WY: Depart. of Vet Sciences at Univ. of WY

Φ Grantee: RFA-FD-11-010: Evaluation of Salmonella in Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Pets: Study for the Vet-LIRN Program
+ Grantee: PA-12-194: CVM Vet-LIRN Vet Diagnostic Lab Program
Δ Grantee: PA-13-244: Vet-LIRN Cooperative Agreement Program to Expand and Validate Testing Methods for Food Contaminants in Animal Diagnostic Specimens

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Page Last Updated: 02/19/2015
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