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Walmart veterinary clinics: Tampa Bay's Essentials PetCare to expand inside retail giant

LARGO — A local company is teaming up with Walmart to help open dozens of in-store vet clinics across the country.

Veterinarian Douglas Spiker and his wife, Christine Battista, opened their fist walk-in vet clinic, Essentials PetCare, inside a Port Richey Walmart in 2016. Over the past three years, a nine-person team at the company's Largo headquarters has refined their business model to grow accessible and affordable pet care inside the country's biggest retailer.

This month, Walmart announced Essentials PetCare will expand by nine locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. Over the next 12 months, 100 Walmart stores will open pet clinics run by either the Tampa Bay company or another vendor, VetIQ.

"There's a lot of possibilities because of their footprint across the U.S.," Battista said. "Our roots are in Tampa Bay, but there are millions of cats and dogs out there that don't have care."

The vet clinics are not full-service hospitals and do not treat animals facing major medical emergencies. The clinics are designed to handle preventive care: vaccinations, blood work, urine analysis, parasite tests and other lab workups. It's like the Minute Clinics inside CVS drug stores, but for cats and dogs.

The idea came after the couple found a scraggly and mangy puppy they named Annie while on a bike ride through a Pasco County park. Annie was bald and scabbed, emaciated and near death. Battista and Spiker rushed the puppy to their animal hospital and found three scrapes on her flaky skin. Spiker recognized them as marks left behind from a common skin test.

Read more: How Spiker and Battista made their pitch to Walmart

The couple determined the owner left the puppy on the wooded bike trail after realizing the treatment's cost. Had Annie seen a vet sooner, what was actually a common skin infection would have never covered her whole body.

Essentials PetCare offices don't invest in large equipment found in pet hospitals and, instead, focus on the basics. It helps the company cut cost.

The clinics screen for diabetes, cat leukemia, and heart worms. Vets treat minor skin conditions or ear infections. Entire vaccine packages, with a doctor exam, can cost as little as $50 for cats and $75 for dogs. Doctors refer pets to full-service vets when necessary.

"Pets play an important role in many people's lives, and making sure families have easy access to high-quality, affordable veterinary care is in-line with helping our customers save money and live better," Marilee McInnis, Walmart's corporate affairs director, said in a statement.

Essentials PetCare will open its first out-of-state clinic next week in Texas. Walmart has not said where the 100 future clinics will open.

Battista said in-store clinics reach animals that may otherwise never go to the vet. It took Annie a full year in the animal hospital to recover.

"No dog should have to suffer like that," Battista said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.