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 “returned” from the race for a variety of reasons. Returned 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 returned from teams do) is transported to an appropriate facility before being released from the ITC veterinary staff.
View the 2020 RETURNED 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. Rules are found at this link.
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 visit our volunteer registration page at this link for contact information.
Sled Dog Health & Wellness Resources
- NEW! RETURNED DOG MANUAL This manual outlines procedures for the care of the ‘returned dogs’.
- Ten Tips for Taking Care of Your Dog by Stuart Nelson Jr. DVM
- ACL Injuries, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Laryngeal Hemiplegia, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Pannus or Uberreiter’s Disease, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Gastric Dilatation-Volvulu (GDV), by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Rabies, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Joint Health, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- The Athlete’s Heart in Sled Dogs, by Peter D. Constable BVSc, MS, PhD, DipACVIM Assistant Professor, University of Illinois
- Blood Profiles for Iditarod Dogs, by Angie Hamill, Health Event Coordinator, Providence Laboratory Services, and Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM, Chief Veterinarian
- Returned Dog Care, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Iditarod Dog Care Measures, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Supplementing Vitamin E to Alaskan Sled Dogs, by Greg Reinhart, PhD (Research & Development, The Iams Company), Ken Hinchcliff BVSc, MS, PhD (Veterinary Clinical Services, Ohio State University), Arleigh Reynolds, DVM, PhD (Cornell University Research & Development, New York State College of Veterinary Medicine), Mike Hayek, PhD (Research & Development, The Iams Company)
- Thermal Concerns for Racing Sled Dogs, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Volunteerism, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- What is a Sled Dog?, by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- CHECKPOINT PROTOCOL and Dog Care by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM
- Best Decisions on Dog Care Come from Education by Stuart Nelson, Jr. DVM
- You and Your Dog What are the basics behind care of your pet?
- Dog Care Information for Students and Race Fans!