Misha Wiljes and her team prepare to leave the start line at the beginning of the Yukon Quest on Feb. 2 in Whitehorse. The Quest confirmed Wiljes’ dog Joker died of aspiration penumonia on Feb. 11 outside Circle, Alaska, in a press release on March 25. (Seth Adams/YQ2019)

Final necropsy report confirms dog died of aspiration pneumonia during the 2019 Yukon Quest

Joker, a five-year-old dog on Misha Wiljes’ team, died just outside Central, Alaska

The Yukon Quest announced on March 25 that the final necropsy report on Joker, Misha Wiljes’ dog that died during this year’s race, confirmed that the dog died from aspiration pneumonia caused by inhaling vomited stomach contents.

In the release, Dr. Cristina Hansen, head veterinarian for the Quest, said the final necropsy report performed by Dr. Greta Krafsur confirmed that Joker “was in good body condition.”

Joker, a five-year-old male, died on Feb. 11 approximately three miles (five kilometres) before the Central checkpoint. Wiljes brought Joker into the checkpoint in her sled.

Krafsur performed a preliminary necropsy in Central, Alaska, on Feb. 12, which showed the cause of death as aspiration and that Joker had “no signs of neglect or abuse.”

Wiljes, from Willow, Alaska, continued her race, ultimately finishing in 26th position at 6:14 p.m. on Feb. 14 with nine dogs on the line.

Wiljes was racing the Quest for the third time — she previously finished 12th in 2012 and scratched in 2013.

This is the fourth year in a row that a dog has died during the 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometre) race.

Hugh Neff’s dog Boppy died before his team reached Dawson City during the 2018 race.

In 2017, Yuka Honda’s dog Firefly died, and in 2016, Sebastien Dos Santos Borges’ dog Polar died during the race.

Data on sled dog deaths during long-distance races is relatively limited, but a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association examined necropsy findings from 23 sled dogs that died in the Iditarod sled dog race between 1994 and 2006.

The study found that six of those dogs died after inhaling vomit and a further three died later from aspiration pneumonia caused by inhaling vomit.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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