Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Assess Color of Mucous Membranes (Gums)

The color of a horse’s mucous membranes is an indicator of their circulatory and general health. Pink to pale pink is normal. Very pale pink to white may indicate blood loss, anemia or low blood pressure. Deep red may indicate toxicity, infection or shock.

Brownish, grayish, bluish or purplish gums may be a sign of a variety of severe illnesses. Yellowish gums can be associated with liver problems, red blood cell destruction, and fasting. A a dark red line that appears where the gums meet the teeth, and can be a sign of toxin uptake, dehydration or general illness.

Procedure

Halter your horse and move it to an area with good light. Wear latex gloves. Stand on the left side of the horse. Place your left hand index, middle, and ring fingers on top of the horse's muzzle, using feel to keep contact with your horse.

Use your thumb to lift the lip. Assess the color and moistness of the gums. Step to the other side and repeat.

Compare the color on both sides. What color is it? Is it the same or different? How does it compare to the color of your other horses' gums?

Tips for safety & Success

Lighting is very important when performing this skill. Mucous membranes can appear very differently colored in different light. If the color of your horse’s gums seems unusual, check it in different light. Also, always check the color of your horse’s gums on both sides of the mouth.

Feed material or medication on the gums can alter their true color. In this case, gently wipe the gums clean with a moist paper towel. Dark horses may have more naturally occurring dark patches of pigment in their gums.

Be careful not to put excessive pressure on your horse's muzzle or block their nostrils when you work around the mouth. This will make the horse resent this otherwise simple procedure.

There is a very small possibility for you to contract the fatal disease rabies from a horse infected with this disease, if their saliva comes into contact with a wound on your skin. Because of this, it is recommended that you ALWAYS wear latex gloves when examining your horse's mouth.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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