Here are some lessons I learned on the Yukon Quest when it comes to common injuries on the trail!
Booty rub: This occurs on the dog’s feet as a result of excessive friction from the booties that they wear. The booties are necessary to prevent ice balls from accumulating between the toes, which can be painful and cause injuries. They also protect the feet from sharp ice that can be encountered on the trail. If these booties are not fitted properly or are strapped on too tight or for too long a time, they can cause friction rubs. A friction rub is an area of skin where the hair gets rubbed off and becomes inflamed and painful. If it goes unnoticed, it can ulcerate, bleed, and become very painful to the point a dog needs to be dropped from the race. Booties also need to be changed immediately after passing through water, because the water will freeze on the boot due to cold temperatures and cause damage to the foot. At that point, you might as well strap ice blocks to the dog’s feet unless you change the boot with a fresh, dry one. In the Yukon, being wet means that temperature regulation is almost impossible and frostbite becomes inevitable.
Harness rub: This is basically the same idea as booty rub, just it happens in areas where the dog’s harness may be too tight. These areas are usually the axilla and the flanks. It can also happen on the chest. These rubs can be quite severe if left untreated or unnoticed. A dog may need to be dropped from the run if the injury is bad enough. I have seen harness rubs that went unnoticed due to the dogs running at night and the musher not noticing either because it was dark or because the musher was fighting sleep deprivation and let hours go by when it felt like minutes. Even some of the best mushers can miss the initial development. The sleep deprivation that happens on the trail is a real concern that needs to be taken seriously by all for the safety of both human and dog.
Frostbite: You would think that sled dogs would not get frostbite, but it happens! I have seen frostbite in sled dogs during the harshest spells of weather. Even the best dogs in the field of the Yukon Quest 2019 got frostbite during the first night of the race when it was -50 degrees Fahrenheit. When it gets that cold, there is only so much you can do. Extremities with a large surface area exposed to the cold and little fur coverage are usually what get frostbite first; mainly the ear tips, prepuce in male dogs, and the nose. There are some ways to combat this, such as additional jackets with fleece insulation for the dogs, but when temperatures get unbearably frigid there is only so much you can do. Eventually, the only safe choice is to give the dogs straw and blankets and let them bed down, curl up, and stay warm.