Mobile service to improve access to large animal veterinary care

Sexton, Olivarez, and Marre prepare to examine cattle.
From left: Veterinarians Jennifer Sexton, Jeff Olivarez and Alyssa Marre prepare to examine cattle. Marre is leading WSU’s new Large and Agricultural Animal Ambulatory Service, a mobile vet service that offers preventative and general care for cattle, small ruminants, camelids, porcine and equine. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

PULLMAN, Wash. — A new mobile service at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital will make it easier for owners of large and agricultural animals in the Palouse area and the surrounding region to access veterinary care.

The new Large and Agricultural Animal Ambulatory Service, spearheaded by WSU veterinarian Dr. Alyssa Marre, will cover a 60‑mile radius around the Pullman university campus. It offers preventative and general care for cattle, small ruminants, camelids, porcine and equine from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Services offered will include wellness, health certification, pregnancy diagnosis, sick animal workups, basic field surgeries and euthanasia.

“I get so many calls from so many different areas in the region in which owners are really struggling to get large animal vets out to see their animals,” Marre said. “There are veterinarians who can do it, but all of them are so busy and overworked. This is something our community definitely needs.”

Nationwide, there is a shortage of veterinarians, especially those who specialize in large and agricultural animals. The problem is felt the most in rural areas, and while the issue is not as severe locally, many area owners still have difficulties finding timely veterinary services for their large animals. 

Critical shortages of rural veterinarians were reported in 500 counties across 46 states in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Whitman County, the home of WSU, is not among those counties, but bordering Asotin, Garfield, Columbia, Franklin, Adams and Lincoln counties are experiencing shortages and difficulties attracting new veterinarians.

All fourth‑year students at WSU go through a two‑week rotation with the teaching hospital’s large animal service in which they experience hands‑on training with agricultural animals. Previously, the training had been limited to on‑site care at the hospital, but now those students will get the opportunity to accompany Marre into the field.

Marre, Sexton, and Olivarez wearing overalls and holding veterinary equipment in front of a truck.
From left: Alyssa Marre, Jennifer Sexton, and Jeff Olivarez pose with a truck that will be used for the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s new Large and Agricultural Animal Ambulatory Service. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

“They still get the in‑depth medicine cases at the hospital, but now they also have a chance to go out into the field,” Marre said. “The experience our students receive going on farm calls allows them to work with a variety of species and vastly different clientele. Some clients are true producers who have lots of knowledge and experiences to share with our students. Then we have our hobby farmers who treat their animals more like pets and really love to share information with our students but also are always looking to gain more knowledge from both our students and doctors.”

In many situations, mobile care is often much more convenient for owners, and it may help encourage more preventative care, which will improve animal welfare and health.

“For some of our large animal owners, it can be challenging to load up animals or they just don’t even have the means to transport them to WSU,” Marre said, “so their veterinary options are very limited.”

Marre said it can also be helpful to have veterinarians visit on‑site, as they can gain a more complete picture of an animal’s condition and history.

“It’s a different experience going out to the farm and actually seeing how these owners have their animals housed. It gives us a lot more information since you can see the full picture of where this animal lives and its conditions,” she said. “It gives you so much more information to work on, and I feel like it gives us more of a chance to educate owners and students.”

Marre stressed that the new service is not meant to compete with area practices that already provide mobile services. 

“We are not trying to take away clients from other practices in the area,” Marre said, “but we hope we will be able to ease the demand for services and make it easier for large animal owners to access veterinary care.” 

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