Healthy Happy Dogs – Look, Listen & Feel

In the fall, after the boys who live in the big house begin school, we dogs all jump into our boxes on the dog truck and head over to the vet with Musher and Handler. It’s a fun trip. Dr. Becky is always happy to see us and we’re happy to see her. She really knows a lot about sled dogs. Before I was born, she practiced in Fairbanks, Alaska. She took care of my elders at Susan Butcher’s kennel.

On this trip to the vet, we get checked over and get immunizations. I get the immunization part and I also get how important it is for us to get medicines at home every few months to keep ticks away, prevent heart worm and intestinal parasites. However, I’ve never really understood what Dr. Becky is looking, listening and feeling for when she checks us over from nose to tail.

One day recently after a great morning run, I was on top of my doghouse enjoying the warm sunny afternoon paging through a copy of the MUSH with P.R.I.D.E. Manual and there it was on page 23 – Basic Health Examination. I just knew this would be the explanation I’d been looking for about Dr. Becky’s look, listen and feel checkup. I called handler over and we took turns reading. Here’s what we learned.

What Dr. Becky LOOKS for –

  • Attitude: are we alert and interested in what’s going on?
  • Weight: as athletes, sled dogs should be lean and muscular but not thin.
  • Coat: a dog should have a shiny, smooth, healthy coat with light pink skin. Don’t worry though if we look a little rough in the summer, it’s natural for us to shed.
  • Eyes: the vet wants to see clear, bright eyes with evenly shaped pupils.
  • Ears: like the boys who live in the big house, our ears should be clean.
  • Mouth: good smelling breath, clean teeth with gums that are moist and pretty pink.
  • Nose: no runny or crusty noses, just cool and moist.
  • Chest: the vet is looking for even expansion and contraction as we breathe.
  • Abdomen: again the vet is looking for evenness side to side with no bulges.
  • Bones and Muscles: equal is the key, the two front legs should look identical in size and shape and the two back legs should be the same size and shape.
  • Feet: sled dogs need happy feet so pads should be crack and abrasion free and our nails should be trimmed.
  • Rectum: When Dr. Becky looks under my tail she doesn’t want to see swelling, sores or growths.

 What Dr. Becky LISTENS for –

  • Breathing: being healthy sled dog athletes, we breathe about 22 times every minute. Through the stethoscope, she’ll hear the same breathing sounds on both sides of my chest and nothing out of the ordinary like coughing or wheezing.
  • Heart Rate: normal heart rate for a sled dog is 100 to 130 beats per minute. The sound of a healthy sled dog heart is LUB – DUB with silence between and for sure there isn’t any swishing of whistling.

 What Dr. Becky FEELS for –

  • Whole Dog: Our vet is so friendly, she always pets us from nose to tail. Is it because she likes us, is it because we’re beautiful? Well yes, but there’s more to it than that, she’s feeling for lumps, bumps and sores.
  • Chest: gentle hand pressure on each side of the chest, sort of a mini-hand-hug, shouldn’t cause any pain.
  • Abdomen: gently pressing my abdomen up toward my backbone shouldn’t cause any pain either and everything should feel soft and flexible

Reading this explanation about a physical examination in the Mush with P.R.I.D.E. Manual and summarizing it for you really helped me understand what Dr. Becky looks for when she sees our team every fall. If something unusual shows up, she takes care of it right away. Mushers and handlers do a mini version of this exam – they notice our attitude, weight, coat, eyes, nose, body and feet everyday if not more. They are in tune with us and how we’re feeling.

Well, there you have it, a simple easy to understand explanation about what veterinarians look, listen and feel for. Iditarod vets look, listen and feel at the dog’s pre-race physical and at all the checkpoints along the trail. We’re super athletes and we get super care!


Born to Run,