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According to the Jan-Feb 2010 Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, dogs running in the Iditarod have substantially decreased numbers of antibodies in their systems. Without an adequate number of antibodies, a dog can't fight off infections.
The dogs are even at terrible risk while resting on straw that's been provided by the Iditarod. An Iditarod musher reported that foxtails are sometimes found in the straw. When foxtail grass drys out and becomes straw, the seed detaches easily and sticks to a dog's fur. Foxtail seeds enter a dog's body through the skin, nose, ears, paws, and eyes. And once they enter, they're like a barbed fishhook. A foxtail can go anywhere inside a dog. They have been found inside the brain, anal glands, eyes, ears, jowls, feet, spinal cord and lungs. Foxtail seeds can be life-threatening to dogs.