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 said in a press release on Feb. 12 that one of Wiljes’ dogs, Joker, died just outside Central, Alaska, on Feb. 11. (Seth Adams/YQ2019)

Yukon Quest dog died from inhaling vomit, according to preliminary necropsy results

Misha Wiljes’ dog Joker died of aspiration according to a necropsy by Dr. Greta Krafsur

The Yukon Quest dog that died earlier this week died from aspiration, according to preliminary necropsy results released by Quest officials.

Veteran musher Misha Wiljes’ five-year-old male, Joker, died on the evening of Feb. 11 approximately five kilometres before Central, Alaska.

Joker’s body was brought into the Central checkpoint by Wiljes.

The Quest’s head veterinarian, Dr. Nina Hansen, said preliminary necropsy results for Joker showed that the cause of death was aspiration.

“(Joker) vomited and inhaled it,” said Hansen. “He got stomach contents in his lungs and that usually doesn’t end well for them.”

Hansen said aspiration is “one of the more common” causes of sled dog death, adding that in her 10 years working with the Quest, three dogs have died from aspiration.

“We can’t predict it. We do pre-race vet checks and we check that the dogs are healthy,” said Hansen. “We obviously can’t predict, you know, that dog is going to vomit just outside of Central.”

Hansen said it’s unclear why Joker vomited, but added the preliminary report didn’t show any stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal parasites or infections.

The preliminary necropsy was performed in Central by Quest veterinarian Dr. Greta Krafsur.

Final necropsy results are expected to be released within one month after the 2019 race finishes and will include more detailed findings.

Wiljes and her team started the trek from Central to Mile 101 over the difficult Eagle Summit the morning of Feb. 12 but returned to Central due to stormy conditions and whiteouts near the summit.

Wiljes is a 50-year-old from Willow, Alaska, who has raced in the Quest twice, completing it once in 2012. She has also raced in the Iditarod.

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

Last year, Hugh Neff’s dog Boppy died before the team reached Dawson City.

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

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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