Basic outline of Iditarod dog care measures

by Stuart Nelson, Jr., DVM

Musher Entry Requirements

  • Completion of qualifying races approved by the Iditarod Trail Committee.
  • Review of performance by Iditarod Race Officials.

Veterinarian Selection

  • 5 years minimum clinical practice experience.
  • Previous experience working with racing sled dogs.
  • Ability to work with others as a team.
  • Fluency in English – some foreign veterinarians are very capable, but language barriers create difficulties.
  • Membership in the ISDVMA (International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association is strongly encouraged.
  • Staff of approximately 35 veterinarians – an average of 5 rookies annually.
  • Staff selected by September of previous year to allow from preparation.

Preparation of Veterinarians

  • Rookies must attend ISDVMA Sled Dog Veterinarian Training Seminar.
  • Informational letters from the Chief Veterinarian and staff interaction on topics of concern.
  • General veterinary staff meeting prior to the race.

Preparation of Mushers

  • Informational letters from Chief Veterinarian regarding topics of concern and dog care issues.
  • Iditarod Rules and Policies regarding dog care and management.
  • Membership in Mush with P.R.I.D.E.
    • Kennel management guidelines.
    • General dog care guidelines.
  • Kennel visit (optional) by an ITC veterinarian.
  • Two Day Rookie Orientation in December.
  • General musher meeting prior to race.

Preparation of Dogs

  • Identification requirements (micro-chipping performed by ITC).
  • Vaccination requirements (documentation of current vaccinations is reviewed by veterinarians performing the pre-race exams).
  • De-worming requirements within 10 days of the race start (medication provided through the ITC).
  • Pre-race veterinary physical exams within 14 days of the race start.
  • Pre-race ECG’s (provided through the ITC – performed within 30 days of the start).
  • Pre-race blood work (CBC’s and Chemistry panels provided through the ITC – samples are taken at the same time the ECG’s are performed).
  • Dog Care Agreement Forms must be completed by each musher prior to the race. These documents list the name of a veterinarian of the mushers choice who will be responsible for providing any necessary follow-up medical or surgical treatments of dogs released from the care of the Iditarod Trail Committee.

Dog Care During the Race

  • Our goal is to have a veterinary examination of every dog at every checkpoint.
  • Dog care diaries must be carried by the mushers and presented to veterinarians at each checkpoint. They serve as written medical records for each dog in the race.
  • Dropped dog care and management is highly organized to provide for the safe return of the dogs to Anchorage.
  • Random drug testing as a precautionary effort.
  • Necropsy protocols are strict and detailed.
    • Determine cause of death
    • Enables us to learn more about abnormalities that may cause death
    • Research aspect
  • Extensive Inventory of veterinary supplies and medications to allow for treatment of potential health abnormalities that could develop in any large number of animals over a three week period of time.

Post-race Dog Care

  • Similar to returned dog care.


  • To learn more about medical conditions affecting dogs.
  • ECG program (heart research).
  • CBC’s and Chemistry Screens (database of normal values for sled dogs).
  • Vitamin E and muscle function.
  • Diarrhea in marathon athletes.
  • Gastric endoscopy.