The Pre-Race Veterinary Examination for Sled Dogs

Along with all the other pre-race preparations, one to two weeks before the start of the race, the Yukon Quest holds a pre-race veterinary examination or "vet check" in Fairbanks and Whitehorse for all the dogs entered.

Dog care is of the utmost importance and all dogs must have a thorough physical examination within fifteen days of the start of the race.  The vet check is free of charge and run by local volunteers.

While the vet check is open to every entrant, it is mandatory for all rookies and they must attend one of the scheduled vet checks offered at either Whitehorse or Fairbanks or they may not run the race. If Yukon Quest veteran mushers do not use the option of attending a scheduled vet check, their dogs must be examined by a qualified Quest-approved, licensed veterinarian of the driver's choice at the driver's expense. Each driver must have an official YQI health certificate for every dog prior to the pre-race driver's meeting or they will be disqualified from the race. 

Typically the city hosting the start of the race will see the larger number of appointments at their vet checks in a given year, and it is always a big event held the weekend before the race.

The Quest is fortunate to have volunteer businessmen who graciously open their doors so that veterinarians and volunteers can work in indoor comfort during the exams.  Every year these businesses disrupt their work and move their equipment out of the way so that at least three dog trucks can drive inside. The dogs are taken out of the trucks and the exams begun. Three teams can be examined at one time over an hour and a half session. 

In addition, numerous volunteers aid the veterinarians in giving full physical exams to each dog running the race.  Every dog is examined from nose to tail to ensure that they are fit to endure the physical challenges ahead of them. The vet checks in Whitehorse  have been organized by Cathi Dunham and the vet checks in Fairbanks by June Ryan.

Dr. Kathleen McGill is the former owner of two small animal hospitals near Columbus, Ohio.  At the 2000 Iditarod she was one of five veterinarians awarded the Golden Stethoscope by the mushers for her role in saving an injured dog's life.  Dr. McGill has served as a trail veterinarian multiple times since 1997 on the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, the UP 200 Sled Dog Race, the Grand Portage Passage Sled Dog Marathon, the Iditarod Trail, the Eagle Cap, and six times on the the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, including three as Head Veterinarian.  She is a member of the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association and the International Sled Dog Racing Association.

Author: 
By Kathleen McGill, DVM, Yukon Quest Head Veterinarian (2004 - 2006)