One of the first questions your veterinarian might ask you if you call when your horse is ill or injured is, “what color are their gums?”. A healthy horse will have gums that are a salmon color pink, and any variation from this can indicate a serious health issue that requires immediate attention.
Here are some problematic gum colors to be on the lookout for:
1. Yellow to Yellowish Brown
Gums with a yellow to brown hue are usually caused by a high concentration of a pigment called bilirubin which is released when red blood cells break down. Similar to jaundice in humans, a yellowed gum indicates liver problems when the organ is unable to filter the pigment from the bloodstream.
Tip: Gums can show a harmless tint of yellow after a horse eats high levels of beta carotene, which is found in alfalfa and carrots.
2. Very Pale Pink
When gums are so pale pink they almost look white, this may be the result of decreased circulation, anemia, fever, and/or systemic shock.
If you notice your horse has very pale pink gums, call your vet immediately so they can diagnose the cause.
3. Gray to Bluish White
If you notice a gray or blue tint to your horse’s gums, it might be a result of low oxygen levels in the blood and/or systemic shock.
Tip: A blue or gray outline around each tooth is a sign your horse’s gum color isn’t normal, so if you notice this, call your vet right away.
4. Dark Brick or Blood-Red
If you notice your horse’s gums appear a dark blood-red color, it could be a sign of severe dehydration or endotoxemia related to poisoning from toxic plants.
Tip: Another way to check if your horse is dehydrated is through their skin. If they are dehydrated, their skin will become more elastic than normal. If you pinch a hydrated horse’s skin, it will bounce back to its normal position immediately. But, if you pinch their skin and it takes a few seconds to fully flatten out and return to normal, they are most likely dehydrated.