I have might taken for granted that everyone knows how extensive our pre Iditarod health check ups are for the dogs. But, after talking to a few folks, it seems that everyone DOESN'T know all of the health check "hoops" that we ask them to jump through (you'd think they were agility dogs!) So, here is an overview:
First of all, every dog is identified by microchip number. A microchip is inserted by syringe under the skin behind the ear (it is the size of a grain of rice). Each microchip has a unique identification number that can be read with a scanner to identify the dog. For Iditarod purposes, this unique number can track the dog's medical history, as well as race history. All race dogs are scanned at the start of the race, as well as the finish. This is a very secure way to make sure all dogs can be identified with their musher. (For example, the Iditarod knows that ChaCha first raced in 2004 with Randy Chappel, then raced every year with Allen or Aliy, retiring after the 2011 race.)
Being that all of our dogs are reliably identifiable (to everyone, not just us), they then must pass individual Iditarod Veterinary Pre-Race Exams. Our personal Vet, Dr T Rose, came out to Two Rivers on Tuesday and examined all the dogs per Iditarod standards. Her exams were thorough. They included simple measures such as: weight and temperature. (We keep a monthly log book of dogs' weights, so we can compare through out the season.) One of the more important tests in the exam is a cardiac auscultation. With a stethoscope she can detect the heart's:
1) rate and rhythm, 2) value functioning (e.g. stenosis, regurgitation/insufficiency), and 3) anatomical defects.
Quito gets the once over by T-Rose while Rambler and Scout wait their turn
Also with a stethoscope she listened to their respiration and overall health of their lungs. The final part of the exam has to do with total body condition and musculo-skeletal issues. For this she uses a simple "sight exam". By watching a dog's gait she can tell if someone is uncomfortable or even in pain. We have the dogs romping around in the garage, so she can get quite a view.
Yesterday the dogs took the next step toward medical approval to race in the Iditarod. All race dogs must have a Complete Blood Count as well as an ECG print out (Electrocardiogram.) These two tests require a clinic set up and knowledgeable specialists to administer the tests. The volunteer Iditarod crew this year were FABULOUS. We brought all of the dogs into Animal House Vet Clinic in Fairbanks where they were escorted inside a room designated for their testing. (Their was a bit of canine chaos and barking periodically in the background from the boarding kennel and doggie day care that shares this facility.)
Second, is the ECG or Electrocardiogram. The dogs must lay on a table and relax. They are hooked up to electrodes and a computer which monitors their heart. It will document the result with an 8-second print out. These print outs are looked over by a cardiac specialist as well as Dr. Nelson. Once, again, if necessary, the doctors can advise mushers to re test or decline a dog from the competition.
L-R: The ECG Machine; Chemo getting his ECG
All of this is absolutely necessary to try and keep our dogs healthy and safe. None of these tests are "looking for illegal substances". The drug testing protocol for Iditarod dogs has a completely different protocol. We will do a website post explaining the canine drug testing later on during our Iditarod coverage.
See Rambler, I.V., Clyde and Felix getting checked over by the fabulous volunteers.