Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Membranes of Mouth, Gums appear Blue or Purple

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 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 the horse's appetite and attitude are normal and you see nothing else wrong.
  • 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. That said, the simple act of evaluating the color of your horse’s gums is actually a very important skill.

Generally purple or blue gums indicate poor oxygenation of the blood and is seen in a variety of severe disease processes. This sign usually indicates that a horse is suffering from a serious illness, and is usually exhibiting other signs of distress. But in an otherwise well horse, local areas of dark blue or purple discoloration of the gums might also indicate traumatic injury and bruising.

WHAT TO DO

Reexamine your horse’s gums in different light. Always check both sides of the mouth if you think your horse’s gums are a strange color. Wipe the gums clean with a moist paper towel. There may be material on the gums that is confusing your interpretation. Get a sense of whether the purple color looks more like a local bruise, or the gums are generally that color.

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. Look at the whites of the eyes and color of the nasal membranes. Call your vet to discuss your concerns. Keep in mind also that bruising of the gums can cause areas of dark blue or purple. Could the horse have sustained trauma here?

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

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. Your vet will assess your horse’s general health with a physical examination, and try to determine the nature of the finding. Horses that truly have blue or purple gums often are very ill otherwise. Blood work may be important to provide additional information.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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