What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Porcupine Quills in Skin


Horses are commonly "quilled" when they investigate a porcupine on the ground, or kick or paw at one. As expected, quills are usually found in a horse's muzzle or penetrating their lower limbs. The quills are not poisonous. There is also no need to clip their outward facing ends before removal. Suction is not involved in holding quills in the tissue. The quills are armed with barbs which allow them to migrate inward and cause them to be difficult and painful to remove.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse seems particularly distressed by the problem.
    • If you are not able to easily remove the spines, quills or thorns.
    • If there are many quills, spines or thorns.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you are not able to easily remove the spines, quills or thorns.
    • If there are only a few spines, quills or thorns.
    • If the condition does not seem to be causing pain or other problem.

your role


What To Do

If there is a small number of quills, you can try removing them yourself. (See the related skill for more information.) If this effort becomes a struggle, stop, and call your vet. Quills or quill fragments left in the tissue can cause abscesses or migrate through the tissues to more distant sites, causing additional problems and infection.

What Not To Do

Do not struggle to get quills out and end up breaking them off under the skin.

your vet's role

Your vet may choose to sedate your horse prior to removal of the quills. This makes the procedure easier for everyone and less painful for your horse. In addition, your vet may choose to treat your horse with antibiotics and pain relievers and recommend further diagnostics if the quills penetrated the skin near vital structures (joints, tendon sheath, the eye).
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Have you been able to remove any quills yourself?
  • How are you managing with that procedure?
  • How many quills seem to be embedded?
  • Where are the quills located?
  • When did you first notice the quills?
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Is the horse limping or lame?
  • If the horse is lame, how lame?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP