Subclinical, acute, and chronic laminitis in horses.


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: Subclinical, acute, and chronic. What does this mean as it relates to laminitis and your horse?


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Some cases of laminitis are generally referred to as subclinical due to a lack of visible lameness.


  • However, a subclinical 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.


horse with previous laminitis

This horse had some sort of hoof drama several months ago. The dark ring tells us! And, radiographs at the time showed subclinical laminitis.


Acute cases have sudden onset – usually.


  • 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.


horse in buckets of ice

Ice helps fight inflammation.


The chronic phase begins as the movement to the coffin bone starts. Chronic laminitis ends when the coffin bone can 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.


  • 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 pastures 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.


  • Don’t forget about the power of cold – icing your horse’s hooves provides pain relief and valuable support in the fight against inflammation.


tendon ice wraps and hoof ice boot

ICE ICE ICE ICE and ICE some more for most cases.


Radiographs are also useful at all stages of laminitis and the 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.


screen with many angles of hoof x-rays


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