FDA Partners With Vets to Help Animals
Cats and dogs remain the most popular pets, with more households owning a dog, but more cats owned than dogs. Nearly half of all pet owners own more than one pet.
Credit: Kristian Sekulic/Dreamstime.com

The Food and Drug Administration's network of animal safety researchers has now grown to 34 partnering labs from all over the country, the agency said today.

The Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN) consists of animal safety researchers from several locations who assist one another in detecting potentially harmful chemicals in pet foods. The network bridges the communication gap between labs in critical situations involving animal food or drugs, the FDA said. 

For example, the network has been investigating the illnesses in dogs and some cats linked with consumption of jerky pet treats. Participating labs have been testing both the treats and the affected animals to find the source of these illnesses.

The program was initially started in 2011 by Dr. Renate Reimschuessel, a veterinary medical doctor and a biologist at the FDA. Reimschuessel helped to investigate a deadly contamination of pet food with the chemicals melamine and cyanuric acid that caused kidney damage in dogs and cats in 2007.

"My work with the diagnostic labs really was a key factor in understanding the toxicity and rapidly pinpointing the problem," Reimschuessel said in a statement. "So we said, 'It would really be good if FDA had their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the veterinary diagnostic community.'"

The connected web of labs could also ensure problems with pet food contamination wouldn't go unnoticed.

"We know people have gotten Salmonella from handling pet food, but what's on the other end of the leash?" Reimschuessel said. "How many dogs have gotten Salmonella infections that we don't even know about?"

In its first year, 16 labs joined Vet-LIRN and now nearly every university veterinary laboratory in the country is a part of the network, Reimschuessel said.

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.