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Being a Vet at the Iditarod

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The Iditarod is an annual sled dog race run across Alaska, and is the state’s most popular sporting event.  Dr. Vern Otte, a veterinarian with State Line Animal Hospital in Leawood, Kansas has worked as a member of the veterinary team providing treatment for dogs participating in the Iditarod.  He will be leaving next month for his fourth trip, and he took a few minutes to provide some detail about his Iditarod experience.

After retiring from the Army Reserves, Dr. Otte wanted something different to do.  He felt the Iditarod would be an adventure and a chance to be of help to someone.

He says the greatest rewards are helping the dogs (and mushers) along the trail.  Two years ago he was able to save a dog by being in the right place at the right time; finding a problem, stablizing that problem, and getting the dog air evacuated.  Another dog would have ruptured his flexor tendon had he been allowed to continue racing.  Otte found the injury on an exam and pulled the dog from the race.

Otte says the biggest challenge is working in the extreme cold.  At 30 below, if the wind is blowing it doesn’t take long to get frost bite.

The race is stressful on the dogs too, but Otte says the dogs love to run.  Many of them develop diarrhea that may be due to stress or from eating 10,000 calories per day.

To prepare for the race most dogs start training in September with free runs in packs, progressing to more organized runs gradually building up in distance.  They are then put in harness and start pulling as a team.  There are a number of races for them to participate in as they train for the big race.

For more information on Dr. Otte, go to or see for more information on the race.


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