Understanding Your Horse’s Gum Color 

What gums can tell you about your horse’s health


We typically think of vital signs as temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR), but we need to include checking our horse’s gums – there’s much information to gather! Gums can tell us about hydration, but your horse’s gum color has more stories to tell. Incorporating checking gums into your daily grooming routine is easy and important.  


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How to check your horse’s gums


  • Your daily inspection of your horse’s gums should include checking three things: color, texture, and capillary refill time.  


  • The easiest way to check gums is to part your horse’s lip on the side of their mouth. You can see the color, and easily press your thumb down for the capillary refill test. Then, slide one or two fingers between their upper teeth and upper lip to check the texture. Easy peasy, takes less than 30 seconds.  


  • Repeated practice will teach your horse that a quick gum check is harmless, making it safer and more accessible for your vet to check them in an emergency.  


bars and tongue of a horse's mouth

Training your horse to have every inch of their body handled helps you keep tabs on their health.  You must be able to check their gums and teeth.



The normal gum color in horses 


  • The typical color of a horse’s gums is pale pink, or pretty close to pale pink. This color indicates good blood circulation and oxygenation in the horse’s body. Knowing your horse’s standard gum color and spotting changes to the color will alert you to possible problems before they send you an email. 

What different gum colors mean


  • Pale or white gums could mean anemia, which is a decrease in number of blood cells or a decrease in the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Shock or poor circulation also cause with pale or white gums. 


  • Bright red gums can indicate a fever, heat stress, or inflammation in the body. 


  • Dark or blue gums. When the blood lacks oxygen, the gums often appear dark. This dark color might indicate a serious breathing or circulation emergency.  


  • Yellow gums. Liver problems and a few other health issues will tint the gums yellow.  

How should a horse’s gums feel? 


  • The first thing to check is how much moisture the gums have. Normal, healthy gums of a hydrated horse are slippery. Sticky or dry gums signal dehydration. 


  • The gums should also be smooth and without injuries, ulcers, or bumps. Sometimes, irregularities in color or moisture between different areas of the gums may indicate dental issues or other health concerns.


hands pulling a horse's lips back to see the teeth and gum color


The capillary refill test for horses 


  • This test measures how long it takes for blood to return to the gums after they have been pressed. To perform the test, press your thumb into the gums. After you lift your thumb, count the seconds until the white thumbprint returns to its regular color.  


  • The color should return in under two seconds. 

Here’s what the capillary refill test measures:


Circulatory function


  • How efficient is the circulatory system? The time it takes for the color to return indicates how quickly blood is flowing back into those small vessels.  



  • A long capillary refill time indicates dehydration. As a horse’s whole body loses fluid, so does their blood. This affects the blood volume and interferes with healthy circulation. 

Overall cardiovascular health


  • In some cases, an abnormal capillary refill time can suggest issues with the cardiovascular system, such as reduced cardiac output or heart problems. It can be a useful diagnostic tool when evaluating a horse’s overall health.


Gum color, capillary refill time, and gum texture are part of horse’s overall health assessment. Monitor the gums and other vital signs, such as heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and behavior. Talk to your vet if something is abnormal; they can help you determine the best course of action.  


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