Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Whites of Eyes, or Pink Skinned Areas appear Yellow

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the horse seems not quite right, or eating less than normal in addition to this sign.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Jaundice (icterus) is the yellow discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (gums, rim of eyelids, whites of eyes, inner vulva), that occurs due to the accumulation of certain yellow blood pigments that become visible in these areas.

Interestingly, horses off their feed for several days also often accumulate these pigments and thus show yellowing of the gums, whites of the eyes and even the skin. Mild yellowing of tissues can also be a normal finding in otherwise healthy horses that graze on green pasture, due to ingestion of certain plant pigments in large quantities.

But it is also important to know that jaundice may be associated with a variety of severe diseases, especially those involving destruction of red blood cells, or liver disease. Horses suffering from these disease processes also tend to exhibit other signs of illness, especially depression, weight loss and loss of appetite.

WHAT TO DO

Taken alone, with no other signs of illness or abnormality, a pale yellow cast to the eyes or light-skinned areas may not be cause for worry. However, when in doubt, assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and look for other signs of illness or abnormalities.

Consider whether the horse has been on green pasture or has not been eating for some reason. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet considers the horse’s history and performs a physical exam looking for other signs that could suggest a more serious problem. Beyond that, they will likely perform blood tests to determine the source of the abnormal pigments. Blood tests also assess the health of the liver and other organs, and the red blood cell population.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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