When it comes to veterinary care, barriers to access, including lack of trust by dog owners, play a bigger role than differences in breed, gender, or socio-economic status, according to a new study. The results could help veterinarians develop outreach strategies for underserved communities.
“I was interested in how different groups of the population viewed health care and how those views might affect relationships between veterinarians and their customers,” says lead author Rachel Park, a graduate student at North Carolina State University. “The existing literature was not national and did not take into account multiple identities, such as socio-economic status or education. So I saw a knowledge gap that could be filled.”
For the veterinary science study, Park used Amazon Mechanical Turk to conduct an online survey of 858 self-identified dog owners. In the survey, respondents were asked to indicate how likely they are to see a veterinarian in 18 different circumstances. The survey also asked participants supplementary questions about their relationship with their dog, previous veterinary behaviors, and demographic information.
While there were some differences for different medical scenarios, the general likelihood that dog owners will seek care did not differ significantly between populations based on breed, gender, or socio-economic status. However, there were demographic differences in terms of barriers to veterinary care as well as the owner’s relationship with the dog.
Get the barge in your inbox!
Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date.
“We have seen that women (58.0%), white (48.9%) and Asian (64.4%) dog owners describe the dog as a family member rather than property, while some blacks (24.4%) or American Indians (25.0%) dog owners were more likely to consider dog ownership, ”says Park. “But the difference in the way the relationship was described did not result in a difference in the likelihood of getting veterinary attention.”
The primary barriers to care that respondents identified were transportation, veterinary practice opening hours, cost, language differences, and trust. Cost was a bigger factor for dog owners under the age of 29 or households making less than $ 60,000 a year. However, these barriers – with the exception of trust – affect all population groups: race, gender, educational level and socio-economic status.
Black and Native American respondents were 10% to 15% more likely to say that lack of trust is an obstacle to seeking veterinary care.
“That was the most interesting result,” says Park. “Respondents were given the option of having had a bad experience with the vet, but those who indicated lack of trust did not choose this as a reason. Research has long reported that racial and ethnic minorities often distrust health professionals in human medicine and therefore seek less medical care.
“Our results show that Black and Native American dog owners have similar suspicions about veterinary medicine. This seems like an important avenue for future research. “
Although the survey has limitations – no statistical weighting to adjust for over- or under-sampling – the results are still useful in identifying opportunities to contact the veterinary community, according to Park.
“I hope this study can help us better understand the barriers that different communities face,” says Park. “Everyone wants to do the best for their dog, so the veterinary community has the opportunity to ensure equal access to care and remove these barriers.”