‘Don’t put the cart before the mule!’ Challenging assumptions regarding health-related treatment practices of working equid owners in Northern India

This paper challenges assumptions that the health management of working equids among some of India’s poorest communities is mainly dependent upon income, economic influence, or access to veterinary services. Using a mixed-methods approach, hierarchies of treatment practices are revealed through an examination of the ‘lived experience’ of equid owners in brick kilns and construction sites in northern India. Semi-structured interviews with 37 equid owners and corresponding livelihood surveys, combined with data from two focus groups with professional animal health practitioners and the welfare data of 63 working equids collected using the Equid Assessment, Research, and Scoping (EARS) tool, contributed to the findings of the study. Four principal influencing factors were found to affect the decision-making practices of equid owners. Infrastructural factors, community characteristics and experience, owners’ characteristics and experience, and economic factors all impact the belief structures of equid owners. However, without verifying the validity of the treatment measures being employed, some animals are at risk from hazardous treatment behaviours. By understanding decision-making using the theory of planned behaviour, the findings of this study can provide a crucial contribution to informing future interventions involved in the health management and welfare of working equids.

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