What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Membranes of Mouth, Gums are Dry or Tacky

Assess Color of Mucous Membranes (Gums)

Assess Capillary Refill Time (CRT) by Examining Gums


There are a few areas on the body that provide a window into 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 your horse's gums is a very important skill.

Normal mucous membranes should be moist, pink and glistening. Dry gums and membranes of the mouth, either pale or dark colored, can indicate shock or dehydration. But like many observations, this needs to be interpreted in light of the other signs the horse is showing.

  • 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 Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • 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.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate, gum color, capillary refill time (CRT), attitude, and appetite. Always compare the qualities of your horse's gums to the opposite side of the mouth and to those of other horses. Keep in mind that if you think the horse is ill, you should wear gloves and wash your hands after evaluating the horse to prevent transmission to other horses.

Share your findings and concerns with your vet. If all these other things are normal, you may be able to simply observe the horse.

your vet's role

Your vet will assess your horse's general health with a physical examination, and try to determine the nature of the finding. Blood work may provide additional important information.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do your horse's eyes seem normal to you otherwise?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does the horse's general health seem good to you otherwise?
  • What is the horse's heart rate and respiratory rate?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • How much water is your horse drinking per day?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP