Number of dropped dogs about 'normal' so far despite cold, Iditarod veterinarian says

TANANA — Iditarod chief veterinarian Stuart Nelson said mushers had left behind 40 to 45 dogs in checkpoints as of Wednesday.

"This is not an outstanding number of dropped dogs. I would say it's kind of normal, maybe less than normal," he said late Wednesday at a community hall here with outside temperatures around 23 below.

Nelson said temperatures "somewhere between 0 and minus 20" were optimal for running dogs. With temperatures as low as minus 40 or minus 50 early in the race, vets paid extra attention to dogs' hydration, weight and appetite, he said.

"You'd think that maybe there would be more risk in that kind of cold, but truthfully, like I said, our biggest concerns are hydration and body weight — caloric intake — we're not seeing pneumonia cases or things like that," he said.

Veterinarians also looked for potential frostbite lesions.

"But typically," Nelson said, "you have to have significant wind in addition to the cold to see a lot of frostbite. We've had some but it's not really a prevailing issue at all."

Dogs in the remaining teams resting here were curled in straw Wednesday night. All wore jackets and many were covered in blankets. Alan Eischens' team wore neon yellow fabric around their legs, which the Wasilla musher called "leg warmers." Cindy Abbott of Willow said she brought custom-made jackets that she likened to "sleeping bags for dogs."


"They have arm holes and when I wrap them in there, they're in like a giant sleeping bag and you just see their heads sticking out," she said.

Nelson said the sled dogs left at checkpoints were dropped for numerous reasons. The impact of the cold, he said, "really hasn't manifested itself as a big problem."

The deep cold is expected to start letting up. The National Weather Service forecast a high of 9 degrees and a low of minus 2 in Ruby Thursday, and a high of 20 and a low of 4 Friday. In the next checkpoint of Galena, the forecast called for a high of 22 degrees Friday and a low of zero.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.