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Dr. Sorensen Will Provide Vet Services for Sled Dogs at Iditarod

Longwood doctor to provide vet services for sled dogs at Iditarod RaceWe are pleased to share that our very own Dr. Danika Sorensen has been selected as a veterinarian for the 2021 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. This race traditionally covers approximately 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. In this unique COVID year, the race has been rerouted slightly, resulting in the total distance being shortened by approximately 100 miles. The Iditarod will start on March 7, 2021. Typically, it takes 14-15 days for all of the sled dog teams to complete the course.

Trail Veterinarian

Dr. Sorensen will be working at checkpoints as a Trail Veterinarian, “leapfrogging” along the race course. Of a total staff of fifty-five volunteer veterinarians, forty-five 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, the majority of those veterinarians selected to the staff are veterans of the race, with the remaining being rookies to the Iditarod. 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 most of the staff veterinarians are veterans, choosing to volunteer year after year at such an intriguing event.

Dr. Sorensen said she applied for the Iditarod last summer, fully convinced that being selected as one of their 55 trail veterinarians was a long shot at best. She said she feels honored, excited, and very nervous about this venture.

“To be a part of a historic race alongside what is undoubtedly the best animal on earth (the dog), and participate in the care of these amazing sled dogs is something I never even thought I would have the opportunity to do,” Sorensen said. “Recognizing canines as not just pets or service animals, but true athletes really drew me to volunteering for this race and competition. Acknowledging their versatility and at the same time safeguarding and protecting their health is an honor. Participating in the race also feels like I am getting to be a part of history and preserving the legacy of the Iditarod. I look forward to meeting the dogs, their mushers, and learning everything I can about the sport of dogsledding and how I as a veterinarian can be a part of it.”

Vet Care is a Critical Part of the Race

Dog 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 dogs are permanently identified by a microchip implant.

During the race itself, it is estimated that more than 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 each checkpoint, serving to document the physical exams.

During a 24-hour period, dogs will run a total of around twelve hours, with run rest cycles of approximately 4-6 hour intervals. That said, the mushers and veterinarians receive far less rest!

For more information on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, visit the website ( or contact the Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Nelson, Jr., at 907-351-1459.