Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Urine appears Dark Brown or Coffee Colored

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

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

  • If the horse is also reluctant to move.
  • 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.

Normal horse urine is clear to yellow-amber in color and a bit cloudy.

Brown or coffee colored urine usual results from muscle damage. Myoglobin is a muscle “pigment”, it is the oxygen containing protein in muscle cells. When a muscle is damaged it releases myoglobin into the bloodstream. In these cases, it is filtered out by the kidney and causes brown discoloration of the urine.

Urine containing myoglobin also typically appears more foamy than normal. Dark brown or coffee colored urine is a classic sign of “tying up” (exertional rhabdomyolysis) but this urine appearance can also be confused with urine that is very concentrated (dehydration) or that has other substances within it. Myoglobin can be damaging to the kidney, especially in horses that are dehydrated.


Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to how freely they move in hand. If the horse has been recently exercised, and this sign is accompanied by reluctance to move or stiffness, you can safely assume that the horse is tying up, a veterinary emergency particularly if the horse is also dehydrated.

If you can, collect a urine sample for your vet to evaluate.


Your vet uses physical exam and several blood and urine tests to determine the cause of the change in urine color, and the best course of treatment. They can determine the presence of myoglobin or other substances with a urinalysis. This finding can be very helpful diagnostically and can help guide a course of action.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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