All for the Dogs

The Iditarod and the mushers pride themselves on making sure that the dogs are always healthy and safe. Throughout the race, volunteer veterinarians can be seen routinely performing examinations on the dogs. Even if they appear to be in great condition, vets still check their health and status.

This year, there’s approximately 50 volunteer vets dispersed throughout the various checkpoints. They come from many different places including the U.S., Australia, Ireland, Canada and Germany.

When the vets perform a physical exam, they typically use the acronym, H.A.W.L., to guide them. Here’s what each letter stands for:  

H for heart and hydration:

  • How’s the heart rate and heart rhythm? (100-130 bpm)
  • Are the dogs hydrated and how are the hydration levels?

A for attitude and appetite:

  • Are the dogs peppy, alert, and rearing to go? Or, are they disengaged and dragging?
  • How’s the dogs’ appetite? Are they eating and eating enough?

W for weight:

  • To travel thousands of miles, the dogs need plenty of fat reserves, even while eating thousands of calories a day. Do the dogs have an appropriate weight?

L for lungs:

  • Strong lungs are critical. Vets want to listen and make sure that the dogs are not coughing or wheezing.

Jeff King speaking with a volunteer vet at Nikolai

It is estimated that during the race, about 10,000 vet exams take place! We are very appreciative of our volunteer vets and all their hard work!

***Teachers*** Acronyms are very helpful, especially with remembering things. Have your students generate a list of acronyms that they are familiar with. You can challenge students to turn Iditarod into an acronym. Or, have students review some of the terms from the Iditarod glossary. They can select one of the words and turn it into an acronym.