Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Membranes of Mouth, Gums appear Yellow, Jaundice

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 has no appetite and is obviously depressed.
  • 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.
  • If the horse is a young foal.

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

  • If this is the only sign and the horse seems normal otherwise.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

There are a few areas on the body that provide important information regarding the state of a horse’s circulatory health. These areas include the gums, the pink membrane inside the nostril, the whites of the eyes, and the pink inner vulvar membranes of mares. The simple act of evaluating the color of your horse’s gums is actually a very important skill.

A yellow cast to the mucous membranes of the gums or the whites of the eyes (sclera) is associated with a variety of diseases involving destruction of red blood cells and liver disease. Horses suffering from these disease processes also tend to exhibit other signs of illness.

Taken alone with no other signs of illness or abnormalities, a pale yellow cast to the gums or sclera may not be cause for worry. Horses that do not eat for a period of time develop yellow tinged gums. Horses eating certain plants, especially those on pasture, can develop yellow gums from the accumulation of plant pigments.

When in doubt, assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to capillary refill rate and heart rate. Look for other signs of illness or disease. Call your vet to discuss your concerns.

Your vet may advise you to take a “wait and see” approach or suggest that they examine your horse. Much of this will depend on history and the presence or absence of other concerning signs. Blood work may provide additional important information.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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