Pre-race vet check critical for Quest canines
By Marcel Vander Wier on January 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm
Two by two, the sled dogs were brought in Saturday for their final examinations prior to their 1,000-mile run across the Arctic tundra.
Twelve mushers and their dogs went through the four veterinary stations set up Saturday at Northerm Windows in Whitehorse.
A simultaneous vet check was held in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Mushers were allowed to have a maximum of 16 dogs examined, and teams arrived at hour intervals throughout the day.
Dogs new to the Yukon Quest were fitted with a microchip in their neck, and their body condition was ranked on a scale of one to nine.
Other examinations on the checklist included range of motion, teeth and gums, body functions, heart rate, potential frostbite areas, and checking for possible foot and wrist contusions.
“It is a very thorough assessment,” Quest operations manager Fabian Schmitz explained. “It’s super important for the Quest. You can’t just put any dog in a 1,000-mile race. This is the way to do it. We need to have a veterinarian, someone with authority in that field, to make those decisions.”
Veteran mushers are able to have their dogs examined by a vet of their choice, and Schmitz said, and three Alaskan mushers did just that.
Each dog that lines up in the starting chute Saturday will have been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian.
Mushers will begin the race with a maximum of 14, and minimum of eight dogs in front of their sleds.
YQ300 vet checks will be held on Friday, just prior to race day.
Four vets from Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre volunteered their time at the Whitehorse vet check.
“I think the biggest thing that we’re looking for is body condition, ensuring that their weight, muscle mass, and fat reserves are sufficient to get them through a 1,000-mile race,” said Dr. Jessica Heath. “My biggest concern is making sure they’re in really good condition.
“The two other things I’m focusing on are their feet ... and looking where their harness rubs on them. If they’ve got any patches of bare skin, there’s a risk of frostbite.”
Heath said a typical sled dog is in excellent shape.
“These are dogs that have probably done over 1,000 miles in training in preparation for this race, and so they’re all in very good physical condition. They’re in better shape than I am,” she chuckled.
Defending Quest champion Hugh Neff said a thorough examination is invaluable for a musher.
“There’s no reason to make these dogs run a race they’re not up for,” he said.
Each dog will get their turn in the harness, with veteran mushers running an average of seven races per season.
The Yukon Quest, featuring 26 mushers, gets underway in Shipyards Park this Saturday at 10 a.m.