Santa and his elves have an awful lot to do in the next few weeks. The lists must be checked and rechecked, the sacks must be packed and the world-wide weather reports must be assessed. For the big night, there are eight very important participants which are vital to Santa’s trip — the reindeer that pull his sleigh. They need to be cared for all year round so they can be in tip-top shape for their marathon gallop across the globe.
Now you may be wondering who takes care of those four-legged helpers. Well, Santa has some special elves whose job it is to feed, clean, exercise and evaluate their needs. And of course, they need the best medical care available. We at Blairstown Animal Hospital have been lucky enough to serve in that capacity. It does require some lengthy house calls, but it is an honor to work with these gentle athletes.
Reindeer are very well-adapted to the cold environment of the North Pole. Also known as caribou, they have a very thick, double-layer haircoat that protects them against the frigid temperatures. They can even swim in the icy water. Reindeer are the only species of deer in which the males and females have antlers. That’s why Santa’s team all match, even though one of them (Vixen) is a female. They are surprisingly small — just around three and a half to four feet high at the shoulder, but they house a lot of energy in that compact package.
Santa’s elves do an excellent job taking care of their valuable charges. They are fed a diet of high-quality grains and hay and are free to munch on their native diet of grass, lichen, leaves and fungi that grow in the fields. Their feet are checked everyday for evidence of foot rot (which is a painful infection of the hoof) and they are dewormed on a regular basis.
As veterinarians, our job is to make sure that the team is healthy and can safely travel throughout all seven continents and twenty-four time zones. For reindeer to enter the United States, they must be tested for tuberculosis, so we take blood samples and give Santa the paperwork, just in case he gets stopped (I’m thinking you get coal in your stocking for asking to see the forms). We also vaccinate them for brucellosis and clostridium — two bacterial diseases that can be very dangerous. And of course, they all get thorough physical exams to make sure they are fit enough for all that flying. By the way, as for the flying — I can’t explain that one. They don’t have wings and their bones aren’t hollow (I know because we took an X-ray of Blitzen’s leg last year after he fell into a hole). Only the reindeer on Santa’s farm at the North Pole can fly. I guess it’s the same magic that allows them to cover so much territory in one night.
So you can rest assured that Santa’s reindeer team is well-cared for, healthy and happy and they also get very excited when the sleigh-bell laden harnesses come out. I think they really enjoy their job of helping to deliver presents to all those little boys and girls.
From all of us at Blairstown Animal Hospital, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!