Is your decision on kennel flooring set in CONCRETE

- Read this before constructing those new kennels !

By Doug Marshak

Kennel surfaces are an important part of designing a healthy kennel for your team. While most mushers are more concerned about the health of their animals during a run, it is equally important to maintain the health of the dogs at rest. The healthier your dogs are at the start of a race, the better they will perform.

Dirt vs. concrete
Often debated are the kinds of surfaces the musher should provide for the dogs. Traditionally, most mushers use dirt, for the simple reason that it's already there. Recently I have heard some debate as to the use of concrete as a kennel surface. Concrete can reduce maintenance time, but it has several other qualities that may make it undesirable.

The advantage of concrete lies basically in the lack of maintenance involved after it's been laid. The traditional complaints of holes, rain washout, and mud are eliminated through the use of concrete. Obviously,' dogs cannot dig through it, making it not only safer for the musher to manage the kennel, but also safer for the dogs by reducing the chance of injuries caused by falling into these holes. The 'hole' problem of dirt can be exacerbated by rainfall leading to large washout areas within the kennel, which means even more maintenance for the musher.

Parasites a problem
One of the unique features of a dog sledding kennel is that it is a rare opportunity to apply population medicine to companion animals. Parasites are traditionally a major concern

only in production animals; but in a sleddog kennel, a large number of animals are concentrated in a relatively small area. Parasitic infectious disease can result in decreased weight gain for the dogs in the off season, depleting energy stores and reducing performance during the racing season. It is in the best interest of mushers to reduce the spread of parasites in the kennel.

A traditional advantage that concrete surface proponents have advocated is cleanliness. A concrete surface is quite easy to clean, provided you have a place to put the dogs while you are cleaning it. A bleach solution is easily applied to help sterilise the surface periodically. Properly designed with gutters, a. kennel can be cleansed of fecal matter and urine in a short time by a high- pressure hose. On a sunny or windy day the surface will dry quickly.

Not a cure-all
However, we should be cautious in proclaiming the effectiveness of concrete In reducing parasitic disease. Dr. Jerry Vanek, president of the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association, notes there is little research available that demonstrates just how effective concrete is at reducing infectious disease, and that most of hat is available is anecdotal.

According to Dr. Vanek, "Concrete does have microscopic holes in its surface for harbouring critters. In addition, concrete sweats, so its not always as dry as one would imagine.' He also points out that puppies get roundworms and hookworms from the dam, and that a clean surface is riot necessarily a cure-all for infectious disease.

Degenerative joint disease
There are other disease conditions that a musher should take into consideration before deciding on a concrete surface. Though I pen3onally have not heard any stories Involving Increased occurrence of degenerative joint disease (DJD) in sled dogs, it certainly would seem that geriatric sled dogs would be at increased risk for this condition.

DJD is a pathological condition, in which the articular surfaces of the joints degrade, usually resulting in painful arthritis. It is most commonly seen as a sequel to damage to the 'joints in diseases such as osteochondrosis or trauma. However, one of the predisposing factors to development of DJD is extensive use of the joints such as in athletic animals, especially those with slight joint form abnormalities. Housing on an unforgiving surface such as concrete has the potentials to cause further damage to the joint. Because sled dogs usually are active for years, they are at a unique risk for developing this, while most other canines may not be. Again, I have not personally heard of any sled dogs developing this disease, but the risk is there. A concrete surface may cause more animals in the kennel to develop clinical signs later in life, animals not

previously seen because of the relative lack of use of concrete as a kennel surface.

Bad sores
The other physical ailment that a musher using concrete will most certainly see is decubital ulcers, or 'bedsores.' These are sores caused by lying on an unforgiving surface. They usually occur around bony protuberances such as the elbow and hip joints. While they cause little pain when the joint is moved, they can be a source of irritation for the dog, resulting in self induced trauma from chewing or licking the sores. Many people dislike the condition for its unsightliness, as well.

Observe caution
In summary, concrete provides some advantages over a natural surface for a kennel. However, one should be cautious in believing some of the so-called advantages it provides. While simplifying several components of kennel management, it can create several other problems that if not property managed can create an entirely new source of headaches for the musher. A decision to invest in an expensive kennel surface should be done cautiously, considering all of the consequences and potential problems.

Doug Marshak is a fourth-year Veterinary student at Me University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. An avid mushing enthusiast, he completed a research project, 'Animal Welfare in Dog Sledding- during the summer of 1996 under the mentorship of Dr. Jerry Vanek, DVM, the current President of Me ISDVMA. He plans to practice in either the Upper Midwest or Colorado after he receives his degreein June 1998.

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