Dr. Russell Miller, founder and medical director of VO Vets, has been selected as a veterinarian for the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which covers about 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The race will start on March 4, 2023. Typically, it takes 14-15 days for all of the sled dog teams to finish.

This is Dr. Miller’s rookie year with the Iditarod, and he will be working at checkpoints as a trail veterinarian, “leapfrogging” along the racecourse as the dog teams travel to Nome. Of a total staff of 50 volunteer veterinarians, 45 will serve as trail veterinarians, who perform routine examinations and evaluations at all race checkpoints. To be selected, veterinarians must have at least five years of clinical practice experience and be prepared to work long hours in arctic conditions. Since there is no road access, volunteers travel by small airplane to the checkpoints. Accommodations vary from wilderness wall tents to small community buildings in native villages.

Annually, about 80% percent of those veterinarians selected to the staff are veterans of the race, with the remaining being rookies to the Iditarod. As the final step in the preparation of new staff members, Dr. Miller will be attending a three-day training seminar prior to the race start. Working with the mushers and their exuberant canine athletes, meeting other enthusiastic volunteers, visiting with residents of remote villages, and experiencing the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, are all reasons why veterinarians volunteer to be a part of the Iditarod.

Veterinary care is a priority for the race. To be eligible to enter, each canine athlete must pass a physical exam and undergo comprehensive screening, including electrocardiography (ECGs) and blood tests (CBCs /Chemistry Panels). In addition, all are permanently identified by a microchip implant.

During the race itself, it is estimated that over 10,000 routine veterinary examinations will be performed. Heart rate and rhythm, hydration, appetite, attitude, body weight, lungs, and feet, are typically evaluated. Each musher carries a dog team diary which is presented to a veterinarian at every checkpoint. These serve to document the physical exams.

In the course of a 24-hour period, dogs will run a total of around twelve hours, with run rest cycles of approximately four-to-six-hour intervals. Mushers and veterinarians receive far less rest!

For local information on Dr. Miller’s participation, contact Sarah Ciuba at sarah@rosica.com, and for more information on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, visit the website (www.iditarod.com) or contact the Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Nelson, Jr., at 907-351-1459.

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