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 for routine and emergency response 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.

A list of laboratories in attendance include:

  • Arkansas: Arkansas Agriculture Department
  • California: California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System
  • Canada: Animal Health Laboratory
  • Connecticut: Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Delaware: Poultry Health Systems, Food Safety and Security
  • Georgia: Athens Veterinary Diagostic Laboratory
  • Georgia: Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory
  • Illinois: Centralia Animal Disease Laboratory
  • Indiana: Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Iowa: Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnosic Laboratory
  • Louisiana: Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Michigan: The Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health
  • Minnesota: Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Mississippi: Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System
  • New Jersey: New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory
  • New York: Animal Health Diagnostic Center
  • Pennsylvania: PADLS New Bolton Center
  • South Dakota: South Dakota State University
  • Texas: Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory
  • Utah: Animal Health Testing at the UVDL
  • Virginia: Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Washington: Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab
  • Wisconsin: Chemistry-Toxicology at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

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.

Since 2010 Laboratories participated in twelve PTs to date including five microbial PTs and seven chemistry PTs. The microbial PTs included:

Microbial PTs:

  1. Four PTs evaluating different concentrations of Salmonella in dog fecal samples. For each PT at least 26 network laboratories participated.
  2. One PT to evaluate capability for detecting Listeria in raw dog food products, 22 network laboratories participated.

 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.
  6. Measuring Lead in equine blood, 16 network laboratories participated.
  7. Measuring Aflatoxin M1 in raw milk samples, 22 network laboratories participated.

Strong participation from network laboratories shows that Vet-LIRN PTs are an important way for our diagnostic laboratories to conduct self-evaluations.

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Vet-LIRN and Jerky Pet Treats Investigation

In 2007, FDA began investigating potential association of jerky pet treats consumption with illness in pets . The most recent updates regarding this investigation can be found on following page: (

Vet-LIRN became actively involved in jerky pet 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 jerky pet 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 and on May 16, 2016 (click here for Oct 2013-Dec 2015 update).

To date, testing of jerky pet treats and diagnostic material and tissues from affected animals has not revealed a cause for the illnesses.

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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.

This collaboration improved our preparedness in the event of feed or food adulteration. Data from this study was recently published

Tkachenko A, J Clark, N Knutson, B Wallace, M Bomba, M Yacopucci, B Rhodes, SM Nemser, J Guag, R Reimschuessel. Investigation of melamine and cyanuric acid deposition in pig tisssues using LC-MS/MS methods. Food and Chemical Toxicology. March 2015. 80:310-318.

Vet-LIRN also collaborated with FERN Microbiology Cooperative Agreement Program Laboratories to investigate the presences of major foodborne pathogens in various pet foods. The goal was to help CVM prioritize future testing efforts as well as increase laboratories’ screening capabilities. Over a 2 year period, a total of 1,056 samples were analyzed. Pathogens tested for included Salmonella, Listeria, and Escherichia coli. The results were published in May 2014

Nemser SM, T Doran, M Grabenstein, T McConnell, T McGrath, R Pamboukian, AC Smith, M Achen, G Danzeisen, S Kim, Y Liu, S Robeson, G Rosario, KM Wilson, R Reimschuessel. Investigation of Listeria, Salmonella, and Toxigenic Escherichia coli in Various Pet Foods. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. May 2014.

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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.


Vet-LIRN participated in 3 National Level Exercises between 2011 and 2014. NLE 2011 focused on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants by simulating f a major earthquake in the central US region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). NLE12 examined the nation's ability to coordinate and implement prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans pertaining to significant cyber-attack. National Exercise Program Capstone Exercise (NEPCE) in 2014 was a congressionally mandated capstone exercise that tested the Nation’s ability to respond to and recover from a catastrophic incident including an earthquake and tsunami.


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.

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.

Vet-LIRN has participated in the planning and running of five ICLN Table Top Exercises. In 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 when faced with a chemical toxicant in food. In 2014, Vet-LIRN participated in a microbial pathogen select agent ICLN Validation Exercise. and an ICLN chemical select agent Tabletop Exercise. This exercise simulated a national emergency due to sudden illness and death caused by the chemical.

In 2015, Vet-LIRN participated in two ICLN table top exercises. The first exercise simulated a national emergency due to an earthquake resulting in an explosion at a nuclear power plant and the second exercise simulated a national emergency due to the contamination of food sources with a harmful chemical. Vet-LIRN participated in planning, the exercise itself, and the hot wash.

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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. Laboratories, over a 2 year period, sampled feces from a total of 2,964 animals, 2,422 dogs and 542 cats. Laboratories collected samples from dogs and cats without signs of salmonellosis (asymptomatic) and with 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 the sampling was completed at the end of 2014. Currently, a manuscript is being prepared.

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.

In 2015, Vet-LIRN laboratories could apply for an additional $5K of supplemental funds to use for travel and training or additional testing for consumer reported cases being investigated by Vet-LIRN.

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.

On January 11th and 12th Vet-LIRN held a conference with 11 of its Methods Cooperative Agreement Laboratories. There were several FDA speakers from Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine (OFVM) to provide updates on recent guidance documents. The conference provided a forum for sharing data and for helping Vet-LIRN partners understand FDA guidelines for chemical and microbial method validation. This was a great opportunity for networking.

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Veterinary Student Externships

Vet-LIRN is eager to train veterinary students in the area of animal feed safety and CVM consumer complaints case investigations. Veterinary student externships will be considered as part of the FDA Veterinary Clerkship Program. The exntern will participate in Vet-LIRN network activities to document, investigate, and diagnose potential animal food and drug-related illnesses. More information on how to apply for the FDA Veterinary Clerkship 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. FL: FL Dept. of AG and Consumer Services; Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab
7. GA: Athens Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of GA Φ+
8. GA: Univ. of GA, Tifton Vet Diagnostic and Investigational Lab +
9. IN: Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, Purdue Univ. +Δ
10. IA: Depart. of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at IA State Univ. Φ+Δ
11. KA: KA State Univ. Vet Diagnostic Lab +
12. KY: Breathitt Vet Center; Murray State Univ. +
13. KY: Univ. of KY; Department of Vet Sciences; Vet Diagnostic Lab +Δ
14. LS: LS State Univ., School of Vet Medicine, Depart. of Pathobiological Science +
15. MD: Maryland Depart. of AG, Frederick Animal Health Lab
16. MI: Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at MI State Univ. +
17. MN: Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of MN
18. MS: MS State Univ., Vet Research and Diagnostic Lab System +
19. MO: Univ. of MO, Vet Medical Diagnostic Lab +
20. NC: NC State College of Vet Medicine +
21. NC: United States Depart. of AG, AG Marketing Service Lab Division
22. NJ: NJ Depart. of AG; Division of Animal Health +
23. NY: Animal Health Diagnostic Center; College of Vet Medicine; Cornell Univ.+Δ
NY: Depart. of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Science; Cornell Univ. +
24. ND: ND State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab +
25. OH: OH Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at the OH Depart. of AG Φ+Δ
26. OK: OK State Univ., OK Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab +
27. OR: OR State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab +
28. PA: PA Depart. of AG, PA Vet Lab
29. PA: Univ. of PA, PA Animal Diagnostic Lab, New Bolton Center Φ+Δ
PA: Univ. of PA, Ryan Vet Hospital Φ+
30. SD: Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Lab at SD State Univ. Φ+Δ
31. TN: TN Depart. of AG, Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Lab
32. TX: TX A&M Univ., Clinical Microbiology Lab Φ+Δ
33. UT: UT Vet Diagnostic Lab; UT State Univ.
34. VA: VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine, VA Tech Animal Lab Services Δ
35. VA: VA Dept. of AG and Consumer Services, Lynchburg Regional Animal Health Lab
36. WA: WA State Univ., College of Vet Medicine, WA Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab Δ
37. WS: Univ. of WS, Madison, WS Vet Diagnostic Lab
38. 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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