Each horse has a different tolerance for pain, a different reaction to changing circumstances and a different self-healing capacity. It is therefore difficult to predict how recovery will take place, but let us give it a try.
How long it takes for your horse to recover depends largely on how bad the laminitis was in the first place and how quickly you were able to remove the cause and start the treatment. A good vet and hoof care provider will make sure that it does not last any longer than is strictly necessary. Finally, your own role is very important. Have you been able to perfect your horse’s living conditions? Adaptations in diet, housing and exercise are indispensable for a good and successful recovery of the laminitic patient. If all this is in order, a horse that has become laminitic for the first time, where the cause was an external incident (i.e. not a hormonal disorder or chronic inflammation) and where that cause was quickly remedied and there is no coffin bone rotation or damage to the hoof capsule, will normally be cured within six to twelve weeks. After that, it takes about a year for the damage to the hoof tissue to grow out
In the case of a coffin bone rotation, a sinker, or severe damage to tissues such as the coffin bone, it takes much longer. The damage may be so extensive as to be irreversible. A horse in which the coffin bone is largely demineralised (osteoporosis) will always remain laminitic to a greater or lesser extent.
As long as the cause is not under control, there is a good chance that your horse will remain laminitic or will repeatedly become so. The same applies if the living conditions do not improve. If your horse does not get proper, natural exercise, spends its days in a box and is fed high-sugar forage, pellets or grains, it will take a very long time for a well-intentioned painkiller or anti-inflammatory to work. Also, if the hoof care is poor or old-fashioned, you might have to wait for things to improve for a long time. Hoof boots, on the other hand, are very helpful in speeding up the healing process.
In some cases, the underlying condition is incurable or you can’t get a grip on it. Some horses with EMS or PPID remain laminitic for the rest of their lives. They will have better periods and lesser periods. Your job then is to limit the damage and treat complications such as abscesses. Not a pleasant prospect, but a rewarding and noble job.
How will I know when laminitis is over?
The first indication that the acute phase of laminitis might be over is when you no longer see the most important clinical signs, like an increased digital pulse, increased hoof temperature, weight shifting, laminitic stance, unwillingness to move, pain with use of hoof testers, or any other any other display of pain.
Your hoof care provider will notice things that you might not. If you have any doubts, ask them if they think the worst is over. If you really want to be sure, your vet can perform a clinical examination again. Blood test results and X-rays are very enlightening. The latter in particular show when chronic laminitis is no longer present. Your vet can also tell you whether your horse really is no longer laminitic or whether it is only the clinical signs that have been successfully suppressed. The amount of pain, for example, is not the best indicator of the horse’s condition. Some horses do not show signs of pain any more while there is still tissue damage.
How do I pick up my horse’s training again?
OK, those hooves look fine again. Saddle up and ride. Well, no. After all, laminitis is not a hoof disease. There is always more to it than that. It takes time before everything is back to normal. The laminitis has weakened the hoof, and it takes a while to recover from that weakness. Be patient and let the hoof settle down before you put your horse back to work. The same goes for the underlying ailments. They may not be so serious as to make your horse laminitic, but it may well be that your horse is still recovering from, for example, an infection. Ask your vet about the status of that.
If you are planning to start working with your horse again, do it for him and not for yourself. Do not ride your horse at first. Take your horse out on nice little walks with well-trimmed hooves in hoof boots. You can also exercise the horse by doing ground work or through horseplay. Offer social interaction with other horses, Place hay feeders, water and salt lick as far apart as possible. This will keep the horse moving. Maybe you could fence off a track in the pasture or arena. A paddock paradise also stimulates movement very well.
If you are going to ride again, only do so when all movement is problem-free (Obel 0), on hoof boots with insoles and when the sole of the hoof itself is thick enough. Your hoof care provider can tell you when they think this is the case. The veterinarian can determine sole thickness more accurately with an X-ray. Gradually increase the training in length and intensity. Don’t make the distances too long, don’t over ask the horse and ride at a slow to medium pace. Let the horse decide for itself where to put its hooves. Lunging and exercising in a horse walker will put too much strain on the recovering hooves. Do not do this for the time being.
How do I prevent my horse from getting laminitis again?
In both ‘The laminitis answer book’ and ‘Laminitis : understanding, cure, pervention’ you can read about all the different things that can lead to laminitis. Unfortunately, it is not possible to recognise all these causes and then keep them under control all the time. Moreover, some underlying ailments can be incurable. Sooner or later, this will lead to such a high risk of laminitis that a small push is enough to start the misery. If your horse has become laminitic despite all the precautions and good care, then you will need to prevent it from worsening. So, it is better to let go of the idea that laminitis can always be prevented.
Nevertheless, we must try to keep the risk as low as possible. Horses that have had laminitis before run a greater risk of being struck again. This is, among other things, because they are more likely to have painful hooves due to damaged tissues. Pain makes the blood sugar level rise and narrows the blood vessels. But much more often it is because the causes have not all disappeared completely.
Actually, prevention is not much different than treatment:
- Make sure the cause is and remains gone or is as much as possible under control
- Ensure that the hooves get properly and regularly trimmed
- Optimise the living conditions nutrition, housing and exercise
Most horses get laminitis again because attention to these points slackens as soon as the horse is doing better. Read a bit mora about prevention in this post.
Want to read more of these enlightening answers?
The book “The laminitis answer book : over 200 question answered” is packed with them.
Also available for download as eBook.