Yukon Students' Questions to Dr. Jim Kenyon

1. About how many animals a year do you treat?
We see a wide variety of animals in the clinic. Our three veterinarians serve about 6000 clients and over 9000 animals. During the racing season, we have a number of clients with over 80 dogs and each race can involve over 100 dogs. The Quest will feature about 350-400 dogs alone. This year there are 8 veterinarians involved in the Quest.

2. Have you ever mushed?
I've been on a dogsled a number of time. Frank Turner, a Yukon Quest musher, and I have travelled and camped together.

3. What is the most common injury for dogs?
The most common injury for dogs in a race is shoulder or wrist injuries. When a dog is on an uneven trail, it is really easy to injure these joints. Some dogs will have intestinal problems from the amount of food and water they have to consume to keep up with the longer races.

4. How many years do you have to study to become a vet?
The veterinary course is four years of professional training which must be preceeded by at least two years of university. Most people do a degree before professional school so it's an average of 7 years of university study. Some will do much more training before entering veterinary school and this can bring the total up to 10 years or more.

5. Per week, what is the average number of animals you see?
Each week most veterinarians in general practice will see over 200 animals. This can be much higher if you are seeing larger groups of animals. It can also be a much smaller number if the veterinarian is a specialist and only deals with a few animals each day.

6. What is the most common animal you have to examine?
In the Yukon we see about 70 percent dogs, 25 percent cats and 5 percent "other". We know this because we run the practice with a large computer system. The "other" is a mix of horses, cattle, pigs, llamas and real mix of our northern livestock. This includes Elk, Reindeer, Wolves, etc.

7. What is your favourite kind of animal?
I like working with the cats best, probably because I worked a lot with them in the south. The sled dogs are close second though, and they can be the most fun. Of the sled dogs, my favourite is always the Alaskan Sled Dog with the Aurora Husky and the McKenzie River Husky close behind.

8. Have you ever had to put down a dog?
Most veterinarians have to put dogs down occasionally. It's not a fun part of the job but sometimes it has to be done. We have to make sure that it's done properly and that it happens very humanely.

9. Why did you become a vet?
I found I enjoyed the challenge of medicine but really didn't want to work with sick people. I looked at veterinary medicine as an alternative in Grade 11 and fell in love with it. My first job was developing x-rays in a very large animal hospital in Boston with 36 veterinarians. But don't think that veterinarians don't deal with people. It is every bit as stressful to work with the owners of the animals and you probably spend more time working with people in veterinary medicine than in human medicine.

10. How do you feel when a dog dies?
It's always sad when a dog dies. In a dog sled race, there is a rare dog that dies and it always makes the veterinarians sad, as well as the musher. When you spend so much time working with a dog team, you get very close to your friends. Most mushers that have had a dog die in a race are very upset and many stop and can't finish.

11. What type of medicine do you usually give the dogs?
There is a limitation of what medicines you can use during a race. Mushers are not allowed to use anything that could enhance the performance of the dog or to try to do something beyond what he's capable of. No drugs are permitted to make him go faster or longer. No pain killers are used to make him continue doing something that could hurt him and no drugs that could make him go too far and exhaust himself.

12. If a dog gets better after is has been dropped, does it get to go in the race again?
If a dog is dropped because of injury or because it has to be given a drug that is banned, it is out of the race. It cannot go into the race again. This is for the protection of the dog. It also means that the musher has to take exceptional care of every dog because you can't go below the minimum number if you drop too many dogs.

13. How many dogs do you take in during the Quest?
Each musher can start the Quest with 14 dogs. It use to be only 12 dogs, but this was raised to 14 when many people thought that mushers might be tempted to push a dog a bit harder than it should to avoid dropping one.

14. What's the worst situation you have been in?
I have been very lucky and haven't been in too many bad situations in a dog race. We were in a fly-in community and had a dog badly cut its leg. Since it had to probably run out to a road (120 kms) anyway, we used a tissue glue and surgical staples to close the wound. We couldn't use drugs and to do a local anesthetic on the wound which would involve a series of needles around the wound....much like the staples anyway, so we used a chest protector from the softball equipment at the local schools and stuck the dogs head in it so no one would get bitten. The dog never even noticed the staples and ran another 350 miles to finish the race. The would healed perfectly.

15. Do many dogs die?
It is very unusual for a dog to die in a race. Alaskan Sled Dogs have a very unusual heart and because of this, there are sudden deaths each season. If we are all very careful, this should be a very rare event.

16. Have you ever had to tell a musher that their dogs are in no condition to run?
I've had to tell one musher that his dogs really should be taken out of the race and that he should scratch, (withdraw from the race). The best way to do this is to simply talk about all the problems and get the musher to make the choice on his/her own. This one musher just seemed to want to talk. After almost an hour I thought I'd have to be a bit more direct and as soon as I said the words he started to laugh."That's what I've been trying to get you to say!!" He wouldn't have tried to continue the race, but he just wanted to have a veterinarian confirm what he really knows. We had dinner together later in the race (after he had scratched) and became good friends after that.

17. Have you ever found a stone in a dogs stomach?
I've never seen a stone in a dog's stomach during a race, but we've sure found them there during the rest of the year. My record is 12.5 pounds of rocks in the stomach of a retriever. We also get buttons, socks, earplugs, apricot pits, linoleum flooring, toys, plastic wrappers, Christmas tinsel, and almost anything else you can imagine!

18. What do you do when a dog has an injured foot?
There are a lot of foot injuries that you can work with during the race without using any banned drugs. We can use cold packs or hot packs, bandages, etc. much like the human athletes. If the injury is too bad, then the dog has to be dropped from the race.

19. Have you ever done surgery on a dog in a race?
Doing surgery during a race isn't too likely except for the injury that we closed with a skin stapler. We have had to do surgery on dogs that have been dropped during the race and this can be anything from a broken leg to repairing a wound. We've also had cases of mushers needing these things too like severe cuts, or a broken leg. Both human and dog have had to be brought out by air for treatment. this is one of the reason the Quest has several planes flying all during the race....the Quest Air Force!

20. What is the most common cause of death for dogs?
The most common cause of death during a race is heart problems. this is a problem with the Alaskan Sled Dog. There is a great deal of research on this and we hope that we can prevent this completely,soon.

21. Do you meet the mushers at every checkpoint?
Every musher is met at every checkpoint by the checker and one of the veterinarians. The checker records the time and checks on the mandatory equipment that each musher has to carry. The veterinarian asks about the dogs, asks about any concerns and will examine in detail every dog on the team. There will be veterinarians at many of the unofficial stops as well.

22. Are the dogs allowed to take vitamins?
Dogs can take vitamins during the race as long as there are no injections. Vitamins can be added to the food and water and many mushers will do this, as well as take vitamins themselves.

23. How long can a healthy dog run without stopping?
Most healthy dogs can run for extremely long periods of time. They have been training for months to years and are like marathon runners. The exact time will depend on the team, the weather and temperature, hills and of course, the team strategy. A common thing is for teams to average four hours of running and four hours of rest....or 4 on 4 off.

24. Do you do drug testing on the dogs?
All dogs are subject to drug testing at all times. Random urine samples are collected during the race, and five or more times from each of the top five teams will be collected at the finish. The testing is done by a laboratory that does race tracks all over Canada and the U.S. and test for almost anything you can think of.

25. What are the main medical supplies you carry with you on the Quest?
There are large footlockers at each veterinary station that contains a wide variety of bandages, foot ointments, disinfectants, antibiotics and almost anything we might need to keep the dog running and healthy. They also contain emergency equipment for any major accidents or illnesses. They also contain a mountain of paperwork since each treatment has to be recorded.

Back to Ask a Vet?

Back to Yukon Quest Students' Homepage