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No sled dog deaths during Iditarod for second consecutive year

Musher Peter Kaiser races from Safety to the Nome, Alaska, finish line of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

For the second consecutive year, no dogs died during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

"I’m ecstatic. Last year zero dog deaths were considered an anomaly. Two years in a row with no deaths is a statement," Stu Nelson, Iditarod chief veterinarian, told Eye on the Trail.

Nelson believes that one reason for the drop in dog mortality is the focus on reducing ulcers or ulcer-related issues in the sled dogs. While the cause of ulcers in the animals is unclear, methods to reduce or prevent them are not.

"In the past we did nothing, and then three years ago, ongoing research by Dr. Mike Davis showed that an acid suppressant could control ulcers," said Nelson.

Davis, a professor of Physiological Sciences at Oklahoma State University and a licensed veterinarian, does off-season research on sled dogs in cooperation with kennel owners. Thanks to that research, Nelson encouraged mushers to give acid suppressants to their teams, and said that the results from those doing so are evident.

"I knew that if we could control ulcers, we could have zero deaths," Nelson said. "The animal rights people who attack the Iditarod and the sport are not really interested in dog care. They have not spent one cent on research, not one cent on improving animal care."

Nelson, an Iditarod veterinarian for 25 years -- with 16 of those as chief managing a 41-member volunteer vet corp -- seems to enjoy everything about the 1,000-mile plus race.

"It’s about the people, the mushers, the volunteers, the villagers; there is a camaraderie that comes with sharing the event. It’s about the beauty of the land ... but ultimately it is about the dogs. They are fun-loving and happy go lucky."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Musher Peter Kaiser races from Safety to the Nome, Alaska, finish line of the 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Credit: Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News

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Comments (8)

Hi my name is Shawn and i am from DOLGEVILLE NY and my grade just got done with a project on the iditarod and i thaink it is really nice and that no dogs died is a wonderful thhaing i am vary intrestd in lerning more about this........ NICE JOB BY THE WAY TO EVERY ONE NO MATTER WHAT HAPPEN YOU ALL DID GOOD TO ME......

You do not need to spend money in order to voice an opinion.
Having more insight is always wise though.

Obviously there was a concern and the concern was dealt with
appropriately. Good job.

Just because someone races dogs doesn't mean they care
for their well being either. A lot of different points of view to take.

Interesting sport. Amazing animals.


Although no dogs died in this year’s Iditarod, more than half did not finish. Of the 992 dogs who started, 55% did not finish. The average dog deaths is 3 to 4 a race. They are dropped along the way due to injury, illness, or exhaustion. One musher scratched after one of her dogs collapsed while running. Two dogs died in this year's Yukon Quest.

The distance is too long, and the conditions and terrain too grueling for the dogs. There are laws in at least 38 states against over-driving and over-working animals, which is exactly what the Iditarod and Yukon Quest does.

Nelson continues to misrepresent the views of animal protection activists. We oppose the Iditarod because dogs die in training as well as during and after it. We opposed the Iditarod because dogs become sick and injured in it. We opposed the race because mushers make their dogs live on chains. The list of what we oppose goes on and on. Davis should research how many dogs have severe ulcers and die after the race when mushers have stopped giving them acid suppressants. For more facts, check out the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, helpsleddogs.org.

This is a good new for dog lover. Thank you professor for wonderful research.

Hooray for Mike Davis and the work he's doing, and hooray for the mushers. They love their dogs and give them the best of care. It's truly an amazing bond between them.

This is such great news! I hope this trend continues into the coming races. The ulcer research has really helped, I think. Even in shorter (150-mile) races, many mushers are using ulcer prevention (I did when I ran races in Minnesota).



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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.