COVID can't cancel Christmas; reindeer ready to fly after veterinary exam

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Telemedicine, a tool more veterinarians used this year during the pandemic, helps Santa's veterinarian keep tabs on reindeer

(SCHAUMBURG, Illinois) December 17, 2020—A difficult year looks to have a happy ending for children around the world, as a health exam of Santa's reindeer has confirmed that his team is healthy and ready for this year's Christmas Eve flight.

"After a full examination and review of their medical records, I'm pleased to say that Santa's reindeer are healthy and in great shape and ready to fly on Christmas Eve," said Dr. Douglas Kratt, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and official veterinarian of the North Pole. "COVID-19 may have disrupted our lives and led to the cancellation of a lot of our plans, but it won't stop Santa and his reindeer from delivering your presents this year ... assuming you've been good."

(To view a video of Dr. Kratt discussing his role as Official Veterinarian of the North Pole, click here.)

Dr. Kratt recently returned from the North Pole, where he performed a health and wellness check on Santa's reindeer, making sure they were up to date on their vaccinations and healthy enough to fly and free of disease, so they don't pick up or spread any infections to other animals around the world. And, recognizing the importance of attention to their own health, both Dr. Kratt and Santa tested negative for COVID-19 prior to and after his visit.

COVID-19 made traveling to the North Pole difficult during much of the year. But because Dr. Kratt has an existing veterinarian-client-patient relationship in place with Santa and his reindeer, he was able to check in on the animals' health via telemedicine—using phone, text and audiovisual connections to consult with Santa and monitor his reindeers' health.

Many pet owners have benefited from the use of telemedicine during the pandemic as well, allowing them to connect with their veterinarians to address concerns about their pets' health, share images of a pet's recovery from an illness or injury, and order refills of medication or therapeutic diets, while protecting the health of veterinary teams and clients.

It's estimated that more than 30% of veterinarians used telemedicine to provide supportive care for their patients in the past year, up from approximately 10% prior to the pandemic. The AVMA anticipates that telemedicine will continue to enjoy more integration into veterinary practices, with many veterinarians who have chosen to implement it during COVID-19 saying they will continue to include it as a service offering in their practices.

Some veterinary services still need to be conducted in person, such as the North Pole veterinarian's annual exam. This typically happens within 30 days of the reindeer's Christmas Eve flight, to make sure they're healthy and not showing any signs of disease—such as brucellosis, tuberculosis or chronic wasting disease—that can make other animals sick or affect the reindeer's ability to fly.

"We need to make sure the reindeer aren't harboring any diseases that they could then potentially spread to animals in other parts of the world," said Dr. Kratt. "At the same time, making sure they're healthy also means that they're less likely to catch any diseases themselves on that long global flight."

In addition to presents for children around the world, Santa is required to bring with him an official "North Pole Certificate of Animal Export" that allows him to freely cross borders and ensure health officials that his reindeer pose no threat to animal or public health.

Dr. Kratt will conduct another exam of the reindeer on Christmas Eve to provide a final pre-flight checkup, and once again to inspect the reindeer upon their return on Christmas morning.

For kids who want to help the reindeer on their journey, Dr. Kratt recommended leaving a plate of graham cracker reindeer cookies, their favorite snack, for Santa to feed them between stops.

Dr. Kratt's work is consistent with the role veterinarians play every day to ensure the health of animals, people and the environment across the globe. Veterinarians work with all kinds of species, in all types of environments, to make the world a healthier place for all forms of life.

While unavailable for comment due to his busy work schedule, Santa issued a statement, saying, "Without my reindeer there simply would be no Christmas. Proper veterinary care ensures that, year in and year out, my team and I are able to deliver presents to boys and girls around the world. Dr. Kratt is definitely on the ‘nice list' again this year."

Veterinarians: Become one of Santa's E.L.V.E.S.
While only one veterinarian can be the official veterinarian of the North Pole, every veterinarian can help the cause by volunteering to be part of Santa's emergency veterinary staff on Christmas Eve. AVMA members can download a badge to let their clients know they are part of Santa's Emergency Landing and Veterinary Expert System (E.L.V.E.S.) support team.

Veterinarians are invited to help spread holiday cheer by displaying their official E.L.V.E.S. badge on their clinics' social media channels and educating clients on the various ways that veterinarians help keep all animals healthy—even reindeer.

AVMA members can visit the AVMA website to download the official E.L.V.E.S. badge.

For more information on Dr. Kratt's role as North Pole Veterinarian, including answers to kids' questions about reindeer, visit

For more information about the role veterinarians play in global health, or to schedule an interview with Dr. Kratt about his role as North Pole Veterinarian, contact Michael San Filippo, AVMA media relations manager, at 847-732-6194 (cell/text), or msanfilippoatavma [dot] org (msanfilippo[at]avma[dot]org).

About the AVMA

Serving more than 100,000 member veterinarians, the AVMA is the nation's leading representative of the veterinary profession, dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of animals, humans and the environment. Founded in 1863 and with members in every U.S. state and territory and more than 60 countries, the AVMA is one of the largest veterinary medical organizations in the world. Informed by our members' unique scientific training and clinical knowledge, the AVMA supports the crucial work of veterinarians and advocates for policies that advance the practice of veterinary medicine and improve animal and human health.