July 23, 2014

Veterinary Center

The Dogs Are Priority #1! – Animal Welfare Facts

The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) takes great pride in its role of providing excellence in dog care, not only during the race, but through an extensive program of pre-race vet­erinary screen­ing.  The result of these efforts is a level of screening and health care that an overwhelming majority of the human population will never experience!  Consider the following:

  • Within 30 days of the race start, each dog receives an ECG evaluation to check for heart abnormalities.  In conjunction with this, pre-race blood tests (CBC’s / Chemistry Panels) are performed.   All dogs must have a microchip implant at this time.
  • A complete pre-race physical examination is performed on each dog by a licensed veterinarian within 14 days of the race start.  Vaccinations must be current.
  • All dogs are required to be dewormed within 10 days of the race start, using medication provided through the ITC.
  • Before entering the Iditarod, a musher must complete approved qualifying races.  Generally, it takes a minimum of two years to prepare for the experience as it simply is not possible for someone to participate in the Iditarod without having made a substantial investment of time and effort in coming to understand the intricacies of how to properly manage and care for their dogs.  In other words, mushers possess real life experience in providing the proper care  (nutrition, hydration, rest, etc.) for their teams. 
  • In addition to the high standard of care provided by the mushers themselves, more than forty licensed veterinarians volunteer their time on the trail to perform routine evaluations and administer any necessary treatments.  During the race, well over 10,000 routine checkpoint veterinary examinations take place.
  • Dog Team Diaries, also referred to as “Vet Books,” are carried by each musher.   Mushers present them to a veterinarian at each checkpoint, with the purpose of serving as a written medical record for every dog in the race.  They are important communication tools.
  • A dog may be “dropped” from the race for a variety of reasons.  Dropped dogs are monitored continuously by the veterinary staff, including routine re-evaluations after their return to Anchorage.  Any dog needing follow up veterinary care (very few of those that are dropped from teams do) is transported to an appropriate facility before being released from the ITC veterinary staff.  View the DROPPED DOG MANUAL.
  • All mushers competing in the Iditarod are members of P.R.I.D.E., which stands for “Providing Respon­sible Information on a Dog’s Environment.”  Membership in this organization is not limited to mushers, as veterinarians and other interested individuals can also join.  Those familiar with sled dogs will appreciate the guidelines established by P.R.I.D.E. as being sound advice for the care of this special breed of dog.
  • The International Sled Dog Veterinary Medi­cal Association (I.S.D.V.M.A.) publishes The Musher and Vet­erinary Hand­book, a highly regarded resource that provides important information for  mushers and veterinarians.  As an organization consisting primarily of medical professionals with an interest in and/or experience in working with sled dogs, the I.S.D.V.M.A. actively promotes and encourages their welfare and safety.  Many members of the organization have served as trail veterinarians during the Iditarod itself. 
  • The I.S.D.V.M.A. also supports and encourages scientific research to further a better understanding of the racing sled dog.
  • As in other high profile athletic events, random drug testing is conducted.   Urine samples are collected at the start, finish and throughout the race.
  • Race policies and rules are written with the greatest empha­sis on the proper care and treat­ment of the dogs.  Any musher found guilty of in­humane treat­ment would be disqualified and banned from competition in future Iditarods.

Interested in Volunteering with the Veterinary Team?

The Iditarod veterinary staff is comprised of volunteer veterinarians from around the world. Requirements for participation include a minimum of five years of practice experience in small animal medicine and surgery, fluency in English and sufficient health to withstand working in arctic conditions. Previous experience with the sled dog athlete is highly desirable. If you would like to apply for a position on our staff, please contact Joanne Potts (jpotts@iditarod.com) for more information. Happy trails!

Sled Dog Health & Wellness Resources

  • NEW!    DROPPED DOG MANUAL  This manual outlines procedures for the care of the ‘dropped dog’.