Iditarod dogs enjoy top notch wellness care

Volunteer veterinarian Jennifer Pearson examines a Nick Petit dog at the Kaltag checkpoint on Saturday March 9th during the 2019 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Iditarod dogs enjoy wellness care uncommon among dogs and even most humans. They are currently undergoing extensive preventative exams that include full blood workups and electrocardiograms to ensure they are Iditarod fit. It is with much irony that detractors have used a disinformation smear campaign stating, “if an Iditarod dog is lucky enough to survive the Iditarod then they will be scarred for life.” If this statement had any semblance of truth, then there would be few if any veteran dogs entered in the race.

However, the truth is close to 80% of all dogs that will start the Iditarod on March 7, have run the Iditarod before, and many of those dogs have run multiple times.

Moreover, Iditarod dogs have a much lower incidence of genetic, developmental, orthopedic, and metabolic disorders, as well as lower incidence of cancer, enabling them to have longer life spans than the average dog population. They are holistic fitness role models.

Many people may not know the extent of care given and how in depth the planning goes to provide care to the dogs. Some of the pre-race planning includes:

  • Straw packing: Volunteers bag, sort, and stack over 1,200 bales of straw and hay to be sent out to checkpoints on the Iditarod trail. The straw is used as beds for the dogs as they rest.
  • Food drop for dogs: Volunteers sort, stack, and shipped out about 95,000 lbs of food to checkpoints this year.
  • Foot ointment making: A team of volunteers made 187 tubes of dog foot ointment to be used at the checkpoints for dog care during the race.
  • Veterinarians/Techs: On average can see anywhere from 1,100 – 1,600 dogs per year with the Pre- Race ECG Blood Work Program. This number varies depending on the number of mushing teams, with a maximum of 24 dogs per team being screened. 

Seth Barnes’s dogs sleeping in McGrath, Alaska during the 2019 Iditarod on Wednesday, March 6th 2019.
Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In addition to pre-race dog care, each dog receives individual care at all the checkpoints during the race. Learn more about the extensive dog care Iditarod provides on our Leaders in Dog Care page.