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


Urine appears Dark Brown or Coffee Colored


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.

  • 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.

your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

Do not force the horse to exercise. Do not give drugs without consulting with your vet first. Do not ignore this sign as worsening of the situation can lead to kidney failure.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Can you tell if the urine is really brown or just dark yellow?
  • Will the horse walk freely in hand or do they resist?
  • Is the horse walking well, and eating and drinking normally?
  • Does the horse act depressed?
  • Did your horse exercise recently?
  • Do you notice swelling over the loin area of the back?
  • Do you notice pain to pressure applied to muscles along the back?
  • Do you notice blood in the horse's urine?
  • Does the horse's urine stream seem slow or weak?
  • Did you exercise the horse more than usual?
  • What is the turnout or exercise routine?
  • What is the horse's exercise and performance history leading up to this?
  • Has the horse tolerated this exercise intensity in the past?

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
more treatments

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP