Iditarod Dogs Undergo Vet Checks

The first round of veteranary checks are underway for the Iditarod dogs.

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by Stevie French
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WILLOW - There is no doubt that dog-sled racing is an engrained part of Alaska's history but one topic that can be hotly contested is the health and happiness of the competing dogs.

Tuesday (2/12) afternoon at Iditarod headquarters, in Wasilla, veterinarians are already working to make sure the furry athletes are in top condition.

It is the first medical check required by Iditarod and entails an in-depth physical exam of each competing dog. Blood is drawn, microchips are tested and the functions of the heart are measured.

Erin McLarnon, communication director at Iditarod said they go 'above and beyond' to ensure these 'marathon athletes' have what it takes to reach the finish line.

Mushers are allowed to bring between 20-24 dogs to be tested; teams run between 12-16 dogs.

Musher Wade Marrs knows what qualities he needs to look for in his racing companions.

"Well, the first thing we look for is their attitude and make sure they're really happy doing it and want to be going," Marrs said. "That's the most important thing. The next thing is we want to make sure they eat well all the time so they can keep their weight up during the races. And then performance, make sure they like to pull hard".

Volunteers and vet techs have already checked more than 100 dogs and they say that although it has been tiring, this work is definitely rewarding.

"These dogs are incredible athletes," said Cassandra Winslow,
assistant head vet technician. "In about 12 hours they're ready to go out and hit it again."

It's only a matter of weeks before the start of the Iditarod and the main concern of both event organizers and mushers is 'the toughest competition of this race'.

McLarnon, a musher herself, says mushers are generally very in-tune with their team and are constantly conducting rudimentary medical checks on their packs every day on the trail.

The final vet check will happen 3 days prior to mushers hitting the trail. But one thing is certain, the Iditarod will ensure that these four-legged athletes are in top shape before making their 1000-mile trek to Nome.

The ceremonial start of Iditarod is March 2, in downtown Anchorage. The official start on March 3 in Willow.

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Margery Glickman said on Saturday, Feb 16 at 2:45 PM

"Blood tests, electrocardiograms or physical exams would only identify those dogs with obvious or worst conditions. Nevertheless, just because a dog is considered healthy one day, this is not an assurance that he or she could withstand the rigors of this type of arduous race." - Veterinarian Nedim C Buyukmihci, V.M.D, email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, February 15, 2013

Margery Glickman said on Saturday, Feb 16 at 2:46 PM

"Blood tests, electrocardiograms or physical exams would only identify those dogs with obvious or worst conditions. Nevertheless, just because a dog is considered healthy one day, this is not an assurance that he or she could withstand the rigors of this type of arduous race." - Veterinarian Nedim C Buyukmihci, V.M.D, email to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, February 15, 2013

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