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Physical Examination

A quick daily check of your horse can give you valuable information about his or her health.

What colour are the mucous membranes?

Examining your horse's mucous membranes (the soft lining of the mouth, around the eyes and vulva) only takes a couple of seconds and can help detect general health problems:

  • Healthy mucous membranes should be moist and pink in colour.
  • Dark red, purple or greyish coloured mucous membranes can suggest infection or blood poisoning
  • Pale pink to whitish mucous membranes can suggest anaemia (either because of an underlying disease or due to blood loss)
  • Yellowish or orange mucous membranes may suggest jaundice (from liver problems).

Press the gums and count

Peeling back your horse's lips with one hand, use the thumb of the other hand to press into the gums then release. You'll see a pale patch where your thumb was that soon returns to its normal colour. In a healthy horse, it should only take 1-2 seconds for the colour to return to normal. If it takes longer (e.g. 3 seconds or more), this could indicate a number of conditions like dehydration, shock or an underlying disease.

Listen up

If you have a stethoscope, next time your vet is visiting, ask him or her for a quick lesson on listening to the sounds of your horse’s intestinal tract. Gurgling sounds are completely normal and should be heard on both sides of your horse's flank. These sounds can decrease in some types of colic, or increase in others. So it's important to become familiar with what your horse sounds like when he or she is healthy, so you can spot changes that might indicate a problem and when you need to contact your vet