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 coordinates 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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Proficiency Testing

Vet-LIRN works 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 network laboratories. PTs are used by laboratories to assess their current capabilities and make updates, as needed, to enhance performance.

Since 2010, laboratories participated in fifteen 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. Two PTs to evaluate capability for detecting Listeria in raw dog food products. For each PT at least 22 network laboratories participated.

 Chemistry PTs include:

  1. Detecting Copper and other elements in liver tissue, 16 network laboratories participated.
  2. Detecting 5-Hydroxyflunixin in raw milk samples, 22 network laboratories participated.
  3. Detecting Aflatoxin M1 in raw milk samples, 18 network laboratories participated.
  4. Detecting 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. Detecting Lead in equine blood, 16 network laboratories participated.
  7. Detecting Aflatoxin M1 in raw milk samples, 22 network laboratories participated.
  8. Detecting Vitamin E in serum samples (Inter-laboratory Comparison), 9 network laboratories participated.
  9. Detecting Vitamin E in serum samples, 14 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 the root cause for the illnesses.

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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. ICLN helps networks be accountable for providing timely, credible, and interpretable data in support of surveillance and supports early detection and consequence management of events needing an integrated laboratory response.

Vet-LIRN participated in the revision of the Memorandum of Agreement and briefing of the ICLN Joint Leadership Council (JLC) in September 2016. 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.

In 2016, ICLN conducted several mini tabletop exercises to assess how well members use the ICLN portal. The exercises included: uploading a Situation Report, using and filling out the Incident Specific Data Sharing Agreement template, and searching the Combined Registry for network capabilities.

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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

From 2012 to 2014, eleven Vet-LIRN cooperative agreement laboratories evaluated Salmonella prevalence in the cat and dog pet population across the country. Goals for the study included: 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. Over 3,000 samples were tested. Laboratories collected samples from dogs and cats without signs of salmonellosis (asymptomatic) and with signs of potential salmonellosis (symptomatic). Of the positive cases, approximately half of the dogs were non-diarrheic. Salmonella positive dogs were more likely to have consumed raw food or to have consumed probiotics. In addition to our initial plan, we conducted Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), Pulse Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) and Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (AST) on all isolates. A research paper, entitled “Multi-Laboratory survey to evaluate Salmonella prevalence in diarrheic and non-diarrheic dogs and cats-in the USA between 2012 and 2014” was submitted to the Journal of Clinical Microbiology for review in early FY 2017. This study helps CVM to understand the estimated prevalence of Salmonella in the dog and cat population. The harmonized method ensures consistent data is obtained from Vet-LIRN veterinary diagnostic laboratories participating in this special investigation. Data obtained from this study identified various serotypes of Salmonella found in household pets and will provide a baseline of data that can be used in subsequent outbreak investigations. A manuscript is currently “IN PRESS.”

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.

In 2016, Vet-LIRN provided supplemental funding ($10K) for travel to meetings with Vet-LIRN, training opportunities and to fund additional case investigations.

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.

CVM Vet-LIRN Cooperative Agreement Program to Develop and Validate Testing Methods for Food Irradiation Specific Markers in Animal Feeds and Treats

In March 2016, Vet-LIRN posted the funding opportunity announcement for Vet-LIRN Cooperative Agreement Program to Develop and Validate Testing Methods for Food Irradiation Specific Markers in Animal Feeds and Treats. A grant was awarded in September 2016, to Kansas State University (KSU) laboratory. KSU will be developing and testing analytical methods to detect and quantify irradiation specific markers such as hydrocarbons and 2-alkylcyclobutanons (2-ACB’s), in animal feeds and treats. This project will support FDA’s ability to monitor and regulate irradiation of animal feed products.

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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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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.

Abstract: Four LC-MS/MS methods were developed to quantify melamine (MEL) and cyanuric acid (CYA) in various pig tissues at or above the level of concern (2.5 mg/kg). Pigs treated with 200 mg/kg bw/day CYA daily for 7 days did not accumulate significant residue concentrations in muscle, liver or kidney. Pigs treated with 200 mg/kg bw MEL daily for 7 or 28 days had MEL residues in muscles (3-13 ppm), liver (2.8-14.1 ppm) and kidney (9.4-27.2 ppm). Treatment with MEL and CYA at 100 mg/kg bw of each triazine daily for 7 days resulted in MEL (26-59 ppm in muscle, 30-49 ppm in liver and 367-6300 ppm in kidney) and CYA (1.8-5.8 ppm in muscle, 2.6-6.5 ppm in liver and 303-7100 ppm in kidney). Treatment with MEL and CYA at 1, 3 or 10 mg/kg bw/day for 7 days did not result in residues greater than the level of concern in all tissues tested. Pigs dosed with 33 mg/kg bw/day of MEL + CYA for 7 days contained residues above the level of concern only in kidney. Deposition of MEL and CYA depends on the tissue type (muscles, liver and kidney), dosage and whether the triazines are given alone or in combination.

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.

Abstract: The Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), in collaboration with the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) and its Microbiology Cooperative Agreement Program (MCAP) laboratories, conducted a study to evaluate the prevalence of selected microbial organisms in various types of pet foods. The goal of this blinded study was to help the Center for Veterinary Medicine prioritize potential future pet food-testing efforts. The study also increased the FERN laboratories' screening capabilities for foodborne pathogens in animal feed matrices, since such pathogens may also be a significant health risk to consumers who come into contact with pet foods. Six U.S. Food and Drug Administration FERN MCAP laboratories analyzed approximately 1056 samples over 2 years. Laboratories tested for Salmonella, Listeria, Escherichia coli O157:H7 enterohemorrhagic E. coli, and Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli (STEC). Dry and semimoist dog and cat foods purchased from local stores were tested during Phase 1. Raw dog and cat foods, exotic animal feed, and jerky-type treats purchased through the Internet were tested in Phase 2. Of the 480 dry and semimoist samples, only 2 tested positive: 1 for Salmonella and 1 for Listeria greyii. However, of the 576 samples analyzed during Phase 2, 66 samples were positive for Listeria (32 of those were Listeria monocytogenes) and 15 samples positive for Salmonella. These pathogens were isolated from raw foods and jerky-type treats, not the exotic animal dry feeds. This study showed that raw pet foods may harbor food safety pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Consumers should handle these products carefully, being mindful of the potential risks to human and animal health.

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Network Laboratories

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

1. AL: Auburn Univ. CVM Diagnostic Lab
2. AR: AR Dept. of AG, Livestock and Poultry Lab α
3. CA: CA Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at Univ. of CA, Davis – Chem +Δ α
4. CA: CA Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at Univ. of CA, Davis – Micro Φ+ α
5. Canada: Univ. of Guelph, Animal Health Lab
6. CO: CO State Univ. Diagnostic Lab Φ+ α
7. CT: Univ. of CT, Vet Medical Diagnostic Lab + α
8. FL: FL Dept. of AG and Consumer Services; Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab α
9. GA: Athens Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of GA Φ+ α
10. GA: Univ. of GA, Tifton Vet Diagnostic and Investigational Lab + α
11. IL: Univ. of IL, Vet Diagnostic Lab
12. IN: Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, Purdue Univ. +Δ α
13. IA: Depart. of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at IA State Univ. Φ+Δ α
14. KA: KA State Univ. Vet Diagnostic Lab +
15. KY: Breathitt Vet Center; Murray State Univ. + α
16. KY: Univ. of KY; Department of Vet Sciences; Vet Diagnostic Lab +Δ α
17. LS: LS State Univ., School of Vet Medicine, Depart. of Pathobiological Science + α
18. MD: Maryland Depart. of AG, Frederick Animal Health Lab α
19. MI: Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at MI State Univ. + α
20. MN: Vet Diagnostic Lab at Univ. of MN α
21. MS: MS State Univ., Vet Research and Diagnostic Lab System + α
22. MO: Univ. of MO, Vet Medical Diagnostic Lab +
23. NC: NC State College of Vet Medicine +
24. NC: United States Depart. of AG, AG Marketing Service Lab Division
25. NJ: NJ Depart. of AG; Division of Animal Health + α
26. NY: Animal Health Diagnostic Center; College of Vet Medicine; Cornell Univ.+Δ
27. NY: Depart. of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Science; Cornell Univ. + α
28. ND: ND State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab +
29. OH: OH Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab at the OH Depart. of AG Φ+Δ α
30. OK: OK State Univ., OK Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab +
31. OR: OR State Univ.; Vet Diagnostic Lab + α
32. PA: PA Depart. of AG, Vet Lab α
33. PA: Univ. of PA, Animal Diagnostic Lab, New Bolton Center Φ+Δ α
34. PA: Univ. of PA, Ryan Vet Hospital Φ+
35. SD: Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Lab at SD State Univ. Φ+Δ α
36. TN: TN Depart. of AG, Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Lab
37. TX: TX A&M Univ., Clinical Microbiology Lab Φ+Δ α
38. UT: UT Vet Diagnostic Lab; UT State Univ.
39. VA: VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine, VA Tech Animal Lab Services Δ α
40. VA: VA Dept. of AG and Consumer Services, Lynchburg Regional Animal Health Lab α
41. WA: WA State Univ., College of Vet Medicine, WA Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab +Δ α
42. WS: Univ. of WS, Madison, WS Vet Diagnostic Lab
43. 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
α Grantee: PAR-17-141: CVM Vet-LIRN Vet Diagnostic Lab Program

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Additional Resources


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