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First Posted: Jan 30, 2011
Mar 6, 2013

Horse Urine With Reddish Spots In Snow

by Debora Johnson

Update: Today, 3/6/13, through my research I have found that "horses also have varying amounts of compounds called urocatechins in their urine. These can be oxidized by light after they are passed and turn orange to red in color, thereby discoloring shavings. In the winter, they also discolor snow and are often confused with bloody urine. The color change only occurs in urine passed by some horses and not others--the reason for this difference is not fully understood. ..." You would have thought that our vets would have known that! Differences in Urine

Have you ever gone out to get your horse and notice that there are reddish urine spots in the snow? Have you ever noticed reddish tinged shavings in your horse's stall? This just happened to my husband and I. We have had horses for more than 35 years and have never seen or heard of this phenomenon--nor has Kate who is like a walking encyclopedia of horses. She is incredibly knowledgeable--both intellectually and hands on experience! Kate's farm is where our horses are boarded. She is meticulous and intuitive. It does not get better! I might add that our vet never mentioned this phenomenon to us when she came out to the barn when we called. We know this vet practice and it is beyond excellent! I would also like to say here, that even if this phenomenon were mentioned I still would have had blood drawn and lab tested. I also would have had a urine test done, as well, just as a precaution. That is why I am researching and writing this article.

Overview of Background Leading Up to Potential Problem

Bill and I went out on Saturday to love on the horses, not ride because of snow and ice, and just generally let them know we were still breathing. Also A Patchy had not felt well (off his hay, not his usually perky self) on Wednesday. Kate carefully checked him all over and closely monitored him, in his stall, that morning. Late Wednesday she gave him a shot of Banamine. He perked up, was back on his feed--his usual self. It should also be noted that the weather had been just awful. She continued to monitor. Kate blanketed him and turned him back out. He was doing fine. Friday all was well. Business as usual.

When we arrived Saturday A Patchy gave a hearty nicker as we drove in the driveway. Bill's horse, Rusty, was waiting eagerly at the fence. "Mom and Dad are here and we are happy!" We got our lead ropes and went into the paddock to get them. We noticed reddish and reddish-brown spots in the snow. They were urine spots but not the usual yellow color. In the six years that we have been with Kate there has never been anything like this in the snow. In the 35 years of having horses we had never seen anything like this in the snow. Given that A Patchy had been under the weather the Wednesday before, we called the vet. Bill and I thought that maybe one of the horses had a urinary tract infection. We did not know which one. Then Bill saw Rusty urinate and the color was yellow coming out. That left A Patchy and Kate's horse, Ollie. I want to add that Bill and I checked all the horses for fever--none were feverish and other signs of distress. All three were perky and happy to eat treats and hay. There were no visual signs of any distress. None were dehydrated. However, there were those red spots in the snow! Also, the horses have two favorite places to urinate. These urine spots were sprinkled around, as well as in the favorite places.

When the vet arrived we gave her the recent events, including A Patchy's Wednesday down day, briefing. She did an overall well-being check: temperature, looked in mouth at gum color, listened to respiration and gut sounds, checked genital area to see if there were any signs of distress and felt for hard muscles or muscles in spasm. Nothing were found. We decided to draw his blood, as we could not get a urine sample. I want to add here, that I have trained A Patchy to urinate, on command, before he gets on the trailer as well as to urinate on the trail on command. He obliges every time. Saturday I asked him to do his usual--he got in the position but did not urinate for me. Maybe he just did not have to go; however, I mentioned this to the vet. My thoughts were that he might have a UTI or stones. They drew blood, took it back to the office, did the lab work on the spot (instead of sending it out to a lab). This immediate lab work costs a little more, but in this case there was no question to have the results ASAP. (Maybe your vet is able to do the same. Ask.) I wanted it done as soon as possible in case there were signs of elevated white cells it could mean an infection. If that were the case we could start him on antibiotics and not lose several days waiting for lab results. The vet called me that evening. Elevated CPK was ruled out (tying up). His BUN test, kidneys, appeared to be fine. (The blood urea nitrogen {BUN, pronounced "B-U-N"} test is a measure of the amount of nitrogen in the blood in the form of urea, and a measurement of renal function. Urea is a by-product from metabolism of proteins by the liver, and, therefore, removed from the blood by the kidneys.) There were elevated white cells in the blood, he was slightly anemic. {Note: Red blood cells are essential for carrying oxygen to the cells of our horses bodies. For optimum health and performance the mass of red blood cells must be also optimized. We measure red blood cell mass by taking a whole blood sample placing a small amount in a long thin tube and centrifuging it until all the cells are squeezed to one side. Then the column of red blood cells is compared to the total column of cells and fluid. The ratio of cell column over the total column is called the packed cell volume (PCV) or hematocrit (Hct).} Anemia is a frequently diagnosed disease in horses; however, there are some unique features of equine physiology that complicate the accurate diagnosis of anemia. Further complicating correct diagnosis is that there are significant differences in the normal hematocrit of different breeds of horses. The result is anemia is over diagnosed, even by equine veterinarians. Caution should be applied to the diagnosis of anemia in an otherwise healthy horse.) The Diagnosis of Anemia in Horses/by Robert N. Oglesby DVM. Hematocrit (which measures the percent of red blood cells), was slightly below low normal. I will post all the numbers. All this information was given over the phone when the lab work was completed. We discussed it all--our vets are thorough.

For More Information on Hct and different breeds: Schalm's Veterinary Hematology By Douglass Weiss, K. Jane Wardrop

Blood work is in and posted below:

Clinical Pathology: A Window Into Your Horse's Health This is an excellent article that will explain what is happening when your vet checks your horse's blood.

Why Perform the CBC, and How Can the Information Be Used to Manage Cases? Excellent article

Note: Kate and I brainstormed together. We both feel that taking care of these animals is a team effort and the more input of ideas and experiences--the better. She suggested that possibly something the horses ate might have caused a discoloration in the urine--a reaction could be a factor. Kate said that they had been eating bark--a nasty habit--but the same bark as always. It happened to be pine bark. This urine discoloration never occurred in the past. We did call the vet to give her this input. Kate and I went through the entire range of possibilities that we could muster. Now it is just wait and see. The fact that all three horses seem happy and their usual selves is a good thing. A travel buddy we met in touring India called his long-time "horsey" friend who has horses in Kansas. She said that every winter she sees the red color from urine in the snow. She also said that it is often caused from reactions from horses eating bark and is not an unusual occurrence out her way. She also stated that the more the hydrated the horse the lighter the color--light pink. The less hydrated the horse the darker the color--red, appearance of blood. Thank you, Burt, for that input from your Kansas horse friend. Also, a horse friend of mine who lives in Maryland has seen these red spots in the snow from her horses in the past. They posed not problem with the horse.

How to Proceed

My choices were to do nothing, put him in a stall and watch him for a few days to see what happens, or start him on meds. I do not see any reason to wait a few days and let a possible infection take hold since there were elevated white cells. I figured he must be fighting off something and perhaps Wednesday was a precursor. A Patchy is now on Sulfa (I will tell you what med when I get back to the barn) for 10-14 days. An evaluation will have to be made at 10 days. He is in his stall while the others are out in the pasture. The snow will be turned over so that there is no more discoloration. We will monitor the urine in the snow from Ollie and Rusty to see if the snow turns the reddish color with just the two of them out. A Patchy is on wood chips, has urinated on them and there is no reddish color from the urine in his stall. Kate told me there was no unusual odor to the urine either. We will continue to try to collect a urine sample (on demand) and take it to the vet for lab work as soon as we can get one. After the antibiotic dosing has passed, I plan to have more blood drawn to see what A Patchy's levels read after taking the antibiotics. We will also give him probiotics to build up the good micro-organisms in his gut.

A Patchy may have a UTI, some inflammation or stones because of the white blood cell count. Causes of Horse Urinary Problems Of course, the best scenario would be the oxidizing of urine in the snow! He may be just fine, as well. Time will tell.

Update: 1/30/11 - Kate just called. She asked A Patchy to "Pee-pee, pee-pee" and he did right into a new container. He is such a good boy! The urine was yellow--no visual blood; however, there might be microscopic blood cells. Today is Sunday so the urine specimen will be put into the refrigerator in a clean water bottle and taken to the vet's office tomorrow, Monday. Lab work will be done on it so that should provide even more information. Meanwhile, A Patchy will remain on the antibiotics. We have turned him back out with a blanket on. Lots of snow is heading our way and will be here by Wednesday--perhaps several feet. All the horses will be back in the stalls then--confinement is not their favorite thing. Like all of us, they like their freedom!

No urinary tract infection--good news! See urine lab test below:


The only abnormality is the Billirubin. Vet said probably a momentary glitch. Does not think that it is a worry. So, therefore, the red urine in the snow was not from A-Patchy--and the other two horses have been monitored--not them either. Their urine is clear to yellow, as well.

Note: Bilirubin In Urine - Normally, a tiny amount of bilirubin is excreted in the urine if any. If the liver's function is impaired or when biliary drainage is blocked, some of the conjugated bilirubin leaks out of the hepatocytes and appears in the urine, turning it dark amber. However, in disorders involving hemolytic anemia, an increased number of red blood cells are broken down, causing an increase in the amount of unconjugated bilirubin in the blood. As stated above, the unconjugated bilirubin is not water soluble, and thus one will not see an increase in bilirubin in the urine. Because there is no problem with the liver or bile systems, this excess unconjugated bilirubin will go through all of the normal processing mechanisms that occur (e.g., conjugation, excretion in bile, metabolism to urobilinogen, reabsorption) and will show up as an increase in urine urobilinogen. This difference between increased urine bilirubin and increased urine urobilinogen helps to distinguish between various disorders in those systems.

For More Information:

Hyperbilirubinemia Due to Unconjugated Bilirubin.

How Am I Going To Proceed?

I am not going to chase phantoms, however, I am going to do a bit more. A Patchy is visually well and his usual happy self at the moment. I would have never done these lab tests if it were not for the red in the snow and him being a little off on Wednesday. Therefore, having done them--with an elevated billirubin count and the possibility of him having low red blood cells, I intend to finish out the antibiotics in case he is fighting some sort of low grade infection. Having talked to the vet practice the vet will come out on Wednesday, 2/9/11, and draw some more blood for analysis in the morning. A Patchy will have finished 10 days of antibiotics Tuesday evening. The vet will do immediate blood analysis on the panel and call me with the results. If all is well that will be the end of it. If not we will determine how we might want to proceed from the results. Meanwhile, Kate is keeping a close eye on all three horses, as usual! (:

New blood work: Nothing has changed drastically--even after 10 days of antibiotics. We will not continue the antibiotics. However, we will take a fecal and have it lab tested to see if there is any parasite problem. We do that two times a year anyway. Kate, Bill and I suspect that there is no parasite problem. See second blood sample below:


Follow up blood work sent out to a lab, not done is vet's office. No major changes.

Fecal Results
We had a fecal sample tested at the lab for A Patchy. The lab was really slow but the results came back today, 2/18/2011. A Patchy is clean--no parasite problem! I suspect that he is just fine. Apparently it is not unusual for horses to have fluctuations in their blood panels during the winter. Not drinking enough water can cause problems like colic and other dehydration problems. It was suggested to me that parasites, anemia, ulcers and tick born disease could be the problem. I suspect if it were tick born disease A Patchy's platelet count would not be normal. The platlets are fine. As ar as ulcers--he is not a competitive sport horse--basically no stress, excellent care, number two in the pack out of three horses, not a hyper horse, an easy keeper and generally understated. I now believe that A Patchy is a normal happy horse just having winter fluctuations that he has always had--I just did not know because blood panels have never been drawn! So, for now, we are not going to chase more phantoms! I may, however, have another blood panel done in the summer to see if there are any differences in the counts. It would just be of interest to me! For now-DONE!

UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
Causes of Horse Urinary Problems Read more.

"...Infection of the urinary system is sometimes introduced from external sources, traveling up the urethra into the bladder and on into the kidneys. The tract can also become infected by extension of a problem in surrounding tissues or by bacteria traveling through the bloodstream Acute infection in the tract can cause severe pain; infection in the kidneys (although even much rarer than formation of stones) can create such pain that the affected horse is reluctant to move and travels stiffly and awkwardly. The horse is depressed and dull with a poor appetite, and she often has a fever.

Bladder infection (cystitis) can make the horse urinate frequently and painfully. There might also be pus or blood in the urine. If the bladder infection is not treated, it can lead to a kidney infection, resulting in kidney failure. If the kidneys become badly damaged, they lose their ability to filter toxins and wastes from the blood. Persistent accumulation of these waste products in blood and body tissues results in chronic renal (kidney) failure. If this happens, the horse becomes dull and lethargic and slowly loses weight over a period of months to years, until euthanasia becomes warranted.

Urinary tract infections can be treated if the condition is properly diagnosed. If infection is suspected, a sample of urine can be collected and cultured to see what type of infectious organism is involved. A sensitivity test can be conducted to see which antibiotic would be most effective against it. Treated with the proper antibiotics, most urinary tract infections can be cleared up.

It is fairly easy to get a urine sample from a horse. Mares are easy to catheterize (because of their short urethra), and stallions or geldings are not difficult. An easy way to get a sample from a stallion or gelding is to hang a clean gallon milk jug (with the bottom cut out and the lid kept on) over the prepuce. It can be tied there (over the back) and you will get a sample from the horse within a few hours. Most veterinarians prefer to not use drugs (such as diuretics) to induce urination because the sample collected is often abnormally dilute. ..."

Bladder Stones

Symptoms of Urinary Stones

"...Clinical signs of urinary stones will vary according to the location of the stone. If a stone blocks the bladder outlet or gets caught in the urethra and plugs it, the bladder (and part of the urethra if the stone is lodged in that tube) becomes distended with urine. The affected horse tries to urinate and he cannot, or he merely dribbles small amounts of urine. He shows signs of difficult urination--groaning, grunting, and straining--and is often mildly to severely colicky. A notable difference from true colic is that the penis will often be persistently dropped in the horse with obstruction of the bladder and urethra. A horse with bladder stones might have blood in the urine after exercise because the movement jostles the bladder wall between the pelvic bones and the stones, causing further irritation and bleeding.

The affected animal will often take a stretching stance for urination, but he will keep that stance for a long time, passing only small amounts of urine or none at all. The mare with an obstructing stone might dribble urine instead of putting it out in a stream, and the constant dribbling can irritate and scald her perineal area, eventually leaving the skin around her vulva and down the hind legs sore and hairless. A stallion or gelding with this problem might have skin irritation and scalding around the sheath opening and on the front of the lower hind limbs.

A horse with a urinary stone might pace nervously or refuse feed and water; he might be too uncomfortable to eat. Because of the pressure and pain created by the distended bladder and/or urethra, he could be colicky and get up and down often. Sometimes a horse will back up a few steps, tread with the hind feet, paw or stamp, kick at the belly, constantly switch the tail (sometimes very forcefully, in angry frustration), bite at the flanks, or strain as though constipated. All signs might immediately disappear if the stone is passed, only to recur again at a later time if another stone causes blockage. If the stone is not passed and is completely obstructing urine flow, the bladder will rupture unless the problem is corrected. Diagnosis can be confirmed by rectal examination; the veterinarian will be able to feel the distended bladder. Treatment usually consists of trying to remove the obstruction, which is usually done surgically because it is nearly impossible to move a stone with a catheter.

If the stone is in the bladder, surgery might be necessary to remove it, or the veterinarian might try to shatter a large stone with a laser; the resulting tiny fragments can be passed in the urine. The laser is introduced via an endoscope that is passed into the bladder. ..."

This is a direct quote from the following website: LaSalle Equine Clinic. There is no visible copyright on this site or permission to use policy, therefore, the doctor's answer is quoted below:.

Ask The Doctor

Q: Why is my horse's urine red in the snow? Is it bloody?

A: If you have been around horses in the winter, you have probably seen red spots in the snow or ice where horses have urinated. Normal horse urine sometimes turns red or brown after standing for a while. This is due to the presence of oxidizing agents termed "pyrocatechines".

"We receive a number of calls each winter from concerned owners who have noted this phenomenon. Rarely, if ever, have the owners actually seen the horses while they were urinating. The red spots, while alarming, are a normal oxidative process that occurs after the urine has been voided. It is rare for a horse to pass blood in the urine and when present is almost always accompanied by some abnormal void behavior. Frequent urination and straining are the most common indications of a disease in the lower urinary tract. When in doubt, the best way to determine if blood is present is to collect a fresh urine sample and see for yourself that the urine is normal in color when voided. Be careful, and good luck!" Follow this link to read more: Urinary Tract Problems

What Are Pyrocatechines? (also known as pyrocatechol or 1,2-dihydroxybenzene)

Catechol Not to be confused with Catechin, also sometime called catechol.

Catechol, also known as pyrocatechol or 1,2-dihydroxybenzene, is an organic compound with the molecular formula C6H4(OH)2. It is the ortho isomer of the three isomeric benzenediols. This colorless compound occurs naturally in trace amounts. About 20 million kg are produced annually, mainly as a precursor to pesticides, flavors, and fragrances.

Catechol occurs as feathery white crystals that are very rapidly soluble in water. (The name "catechol" has also been used as a chemical class name, where it refers to the catechins.)

Catechol was first isolated in 1839 by H. Reinsch by distilling catechin (from catechu, the juice of Mimosa catechu (Acacia catechu L.f)). Upon heating catechin above its decomposition point, the substance first called "pyrocatechol" (now simply catechol) forms. Catechol occurs in free form naturally in kino and in beechwood tar; its sulfonic acid has been detected in the urine of horse and humans.

Catechol is produced industrially by the hydroxylation of phenol using hydrogen peroxide:

Previously, catechol has been produced by hydrolysis of 2-substituted phenols, especially 2-chlorophenol, with hot aqueous solutions containing alkali metal hydroxides. Its methyl ether derivative, guaiacol, converts to catechol via hydrolysis of the CH3-O bond as promoted by hydriodic acid.

This site has a copyright so I am only going to quote a little bit of the answer and provide this link to read the rest. All Experts

"...It is very common in the winter to see such spots in the snow ranging from orange to pink and sometimes red. This is a result of the urine reacting with the snow. There is a protein..."

For another article on the presence of reddish, brownish, pinkish or orange colored urine spots in the snow follow this link: Horse Pee Trivia


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