If you call your veterinarian when your horse is ill or injured, don't be surprised if she asks you to check his gums. The color of the gums can reveal a lot about his health, and any variation from the normal salmon pink could indicate a serious health crisis that requires immediate veterinary attention:
• Yellow to yellowish brown hues typically result from a high concentration of a pigment called bilirubin, released when red blood cells break down. Yellowed gums can indicate liver problems when the organ is unable to filter the pigment from the bloodstream. However, gums can also have a harmless tint of yellow after a horse eats high levels of beta carotene, which is found in foods like alfalfa and carrots.
• Very pale pink, almost white, gums may be the result of decreased circulation, anemia, fever and/or systemic shock.
• Grayish to bluish white can be the result of low oxygen levels in the blood and/or systemic shock. You may see a blue or gray outline around each tooth.
• Dark brick or blood-red gums result from severe dehydration or endotoxemia related to poisoning from toxic plants.
To detect changes more effectively, you need to be familiar with your horse's normal gum color, which can be slightly darker after exercise. Make it a habit to regularly inspect his gums when you know he is healthy, both before and after work.