Kilimanjaro Part 1

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Well, it was time to get down to business, time to get on with the purpose of our visit to Africa. Our goal was to reach the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Ron Fox, one of my business partners, and I had thoroughly enjoyed our travels in Rwanda and been amazed with a safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya but now another trekking adventure awaited.

We flew from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro International Airport, near Arusha, Tanzania. There we would spend a day to meet the other people who would be climbing Kili with us. We met veterinarians from Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Alabama, Colorado and Nova Scotia. You see, this was not just a trek to the roof of Africa; it was also to be a continuing education (CE) seminar for veterinarians. Dr. Mike Lappin, a board certified veterinary internist and his wife, Dr. Catriona McPhail, a board certified veterinary surgeon, both from Colorado State University Veterinary College, would be lecturing on feline medicine and surgery as we went up. After a 5 - 6 hour day of trekking up the mountain, we would sit in our mess tent and learn more about cats. Veterinarians can be very dedicated people. Along with the family members who accompanied a few of the veterinarians, we were a group of fourteen, altogether. Next day, when we began our trek in Kilimanjaro National Park, we were joined by a support team of fifty-nine others. Those fifty-nine would act as guides, cooks and porters to help get us, our tents and other equipment up the climb.

On Day 1 of our trek, our upward journey began on the Shira Route which starts on the western side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was about a five hour journey this day and we were happy when we spotted our tents pitched and waiting at Forest Camp at an altitude of  2633 m ( 8,692 ft). It had been a very warm day, in the mid to high 20's Celsius. There had been no trouble drinking the 4-5 liters of water it was recommended we consume each day to prevent dehydration and assist in acclimatization to high altitudes. Altitude sickness can stop your climb and at worst kill you if you ignore its warning signs. After a brief rest, we met for some CE.

The two major reasons for elevated body temperature in cats (more than 102.5F) are fever and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia results from increased muscle activity, increased environmental temperature or increased metabolic rate. Fever develops when the thermoregulatory set point in the brain is increased resulting in increased body temperature from physiologic mechanisms inducing internal heat production or heat conservation. Body temperatures greater than 106F can have harmful effects on cell metabolism. Compared to dogs, cats are less likely to develop detrimental effects of fever.

We left camp early on Day 2 and after a lunch break at noon, completed 6 hours of trekking. Kilimanjaro is actually three volcanoes grown together with Shira being the western shoulder of the overall mountain. By late afternoon, after hiking mostly uphill for long steep stretches and then across the Shira plateau, we get our first clear view of the top of the central mountain, Kibo, straight ahead of us. We camp at 3926 m(12,595 ft)

Bartonella bacteria are the most common cause of Cat Scratch Disease, a disorder that can affect susceptible humans when scratched by a cat. People with a compromised immune system are more likely to be affected. A recent study in the U.S. found these causative bacteria prevalent in cat flea feces. It is suspected that infected flea feces are likely to contaminate cat claws during grooming and then Bartonella is inoculated into humans when scratched. It is another important reason to control fleas in our pet cats.

Day 3 begins with a nice slow ascent out of Shira Camp. Climbing slowly, slowly, also assists our bodies acclimatize to higher altitudes. Today, we do something else to help in that process. We will climb high to a tall, black, volcanic mass of volcanic rock at 4530 m (14,858 ft), called the Lava Tower. Then we will descend and sleep lower, in Barranco Camp, at 3926 m (12,956 ft). Climb high, sleep low, is another acclimatization rule to follow. We trek for just over 6 hours to reach our camp.

It is important to control roundworms and hookworms, two of the most common internal intestinal worm infections that occur in cats. Kittens should be administered deworming medications, under the direction of a veterinarian, at 3, 5, 7 and 9 weeks of age and then periodically monitored or treated.         

We will continue to learn about cats and climb Kilimanjaro in my next column.