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


Membranes of Mouth, Gums appear Pale


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 nostrils, 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 a very important skill.

Pale mucous membranes are seen in horses that are anemic (low red blood cell count), in pain, or in shock. A pale color can also be confused with normal, because some horses have more pale appearing gums than others. Always compare the appearance to the opposite side of the mouth, and to the color of the gums in other healthy horses. Consider the light quality, as that can change the appearance of the gums significantly.

  • 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 Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the problem is subtle or slowly changing.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

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 and carefully consider attitude and appetite. Call your vet to discuss your concerns. They 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's role

Your vet will assess your horse's general health with a physical examination, and will try to determine whether it is a significant problem. Blood work may provide additional important information.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Why did you check the horse's gums in the first place?
  • Was there a problem that prompted you to do that?
  • Do you notice signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

Very Common
Less Common
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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)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP