If you dive into the journals, medical research, and scientific papers, you will find that laminitis sometimes falls into one of three general phases or stages: Sub clinical, acute, and chronic. What does this mean as it relates to laminitis and your horse?
Some cases of laminitis are generally referred to as sub clinical due to a lack of visible lameness. However, a sub clinical horse will still have some subtle and telling signs. These signs are most obvious in the hoof wall and sole, such as a white line that’s stretched or irregular, frequent abscesses, seedy toe, cracks, and bold rings on the hoof wall. These bold rings tell a story of hoof growth, and can indicate laminitis. As the hoof grows, the rings grow out.
This horse has the cracks and visible growth lines that can indicate of laminitis.
Acute cases are typically cases in which the onset appears sudden and dramatically. However, it’s now understood that seemingly acute cases can develop over time. Scientifically speaking, the acute phase of laminitis starts when your horse has a triggering event. This could be an overload of pasture, grain, an injury, a fever, or any other instance which upsets your horse’s internal balance. Many triggering events are a direct result of metabolic issues, especially insulin resistance and Cushing’s disease, also called Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). The acute phase ends when the coffin bone, P3, starts to move, rotate, or drop within the hoof capsule.
The chronic phase begins as the movement to the coffin bone starts and continues until the coffin bone can mechanically be supported back into a natural position. For some horses, this never happens or it might take years. The horse with chronic laminitis is also at risk for repeat episodes of laminitis as well as chronic abscesses.
X-rays are always a good idea!
As a horse owner and lover, it’s important to understand that laminitis starts long before your horse starts to become lame. Metabolic issues, obesity, and high starch diets and pasture all contribute to laminitis risk. Once your horse starts to become visibly lame from laminitis, it is estimated that he has had 36 hours of damage happen. Early Veterinary intervention is key. Many horses will have an increased digital pulse before they are lame (see our Video "How to Take Your Horse's Digital Pulse"). Don’t forget about the power of cold - icing your horse’s hooves provided pain relief and valuable support in the fight against inflammation.
Radiographs are also useful at all stages of the disease and healing process. First, to make an accurate diagnosis, and then to be used to measure improvement. Your Farrier will also use them to monitor the bones to be sure any therapeutic trimming and shoes are doing their job.