aThe University of Sydney; bWestern Sydney University; cQueensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries; dNSW Department of Primary Industries; eEcoHealth Alliance
The veterinarian-horse owner relationship is considered very important for animal welfare, biosecurity engagement programs, and passive surveillance. This study was conducted to understand the veterinarian-horse owner relationship in the context of the issues surrounding Hendra virus (HeV) vaccine uptake. This was done by assessing horse owners’ use of HeV information sources and by identifying factors associated with the frequency of horse owner contact with veterinarians.
This study was conducted as part of a larger research project -“HeV and Horse Owners: A Longitudinal Study to Evaluate Risk” (HHALTER)1. This project consisted of a series of five surveys administered from November 2012 to November 2014 to horse owners. Data from the project were described with frequency tables to understand horse owners’ use of HeV information sources. Ordinal logistic regression analyses were conducted to understand the factors associated with the frequency of horse owner contact with veterinarians.
In total, 1,449 people participated in the HHALTER study, 90% of whom were female, 746 (55.9%) middle-aged (35-54 years old), and 796 (60.3%) financially comfortable. Respondents were typically from New South Wales (34.9%) and Queensland (45.5%). About a third of the respondents owned 1-2 horses while roughly 40% owned >5 horses. About a third derived either their primary or secondary income from a horse-related business. Respondents were primarily involved in sporting (40.7%) and recreational (32.1%) horse activities. A large proportion of respondents (up to 98%) were responsible for decision-making in relation to vaccinations, 80% were in control over property management, and 75% were responsible for the people working around horses.
In the first survey, conducted in November 2012, the most commonly reported sources of information were horse interest groups (13.5%), State Government Primary Industries (13.0%), other ‘horse people’ (10.4%), and veterinarians (10.3%). The most preferred sources of information were State Government Primary Industries (25.9%), followed by horse interest groups (21.2%), veterinarians (19.1%), and the Federal Government (12.1%). In the final survey, conducted in November 2014, veterinarians were considered the most useful source of information (58.1%), followed by State Government Primary Industries (30.1%), other horse health professionals (28.3%), other ‘horse people’ (27.4%), and horse interest groups (27.2%). These results are promising, as both the use of veterinarians as information sources and the perceived usefulness of this information source could indicate a certain level of trust in the horse owner-veterinarian relationship.
The ordinal logistic regression model built to understand the factors associated with the frequency of horse owner contact with veterinarians found that respondents who owned more than eight horses had 4.68 times the odds of contacting their veterinarian compared to those who owned fewer than 2 horses (p <0.001). It is plausible as the greater number of horses was associated with the increased likelihood of requiring veterinary attention over the course of 12 months. Those with primary ‘duty of care’ had 1.79 times the odds of contacting their veterinarian compared to those without (p <0.001) and those who derived their main income from horse-related activities had 1.90 times the odds of contacting their veterinarian than those who derived no income from horse-related activities (p = 0.015). These associations are reasonable as those with primary duty of care would often be the first point of contact with their veterinarians and horse health is directly related to the enterprise for those deriving income from horse related activities.
Respondents under 35 years of age were 3.18 more likely to contact veterinarians than those over 64 year old (p = 0.002). This could be because older horse owners might consider themselves to be more knowledgeable regarding horse health and may themselves take preventive measures such as regular deworming, vaccination, hoof and dental care. In addition, they could have more confidence in successfully treating minor health issues without veterinary intervention and may only contact the veterinarian during emergencies as found among the British dairy and sheep producers.2,3 However, further studies are required to investigate whether greater veterinarian contact among younger horse owners actually translates in better uptake of guidelines and improved biosecurity practices because previous studies have indicated poorer biosecurity compliance in younger people4.
This study helped us understand the information sources utilised by horse owners and the factors associated with frequency of contact with veterinarians. The results could be used to develop policies for improving communication between horse owners and veterinarians.
We are grateful to the horse owners who have participated in the HHALTER study. The HHALTER project was financially supported by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, the Commonwealth of Australia, the State of New South Wales, and the State of Queensland under the National Hendra Virus Research Program.