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


Cactus Spines or Multiple Thorns Stuck in Skin


Cactus spines or thorns, like any other foreign body, are best carefully removed. If not completely removed, remnants left in the body can migrate and cause infection and abscess formation.

As with any foreign body or wound, the critical question is whether important anatomical structures are involved. If a joint or tendon sheath is penetrated, secondary inflammation and infection can result in severe lameness.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If lameness is noticeable at the walk.
    • If the problem seems severe, or involves a large area.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the problem seems very mild and limited to a small area.
    • If you are not able to easily remove the spines, quills or thorns.

your role


What To Do

If you choose to remove these yourself, assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), for a day or two afterwards, and reassess the injured area. If your horse shows any signs of illness, is lame or if the injured area appears reddened or inflamed, contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

What Not To Do

Do not remove the spines or thorns yourself if it causes your horse undue stress. Removal of deeply embedded quills or thorns is extremely painful, and can be done under sedation by your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet will help you if the problem is severe or extensive or if you are not comfortable removing the spines or thorns yourself. In some cases, sedation can be helpful for removing many spines or thorns.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Where are the spines located?
  • Is there a large number of spines?
  • Can you remove them safely on your own?
  • Can you remove the entire spine, or does it break off leaving remnants in your horse?
  • Do you see other problems associated with this?
  • Do you notice any swelling or lameness?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP