Platelets are critical in haemostasis and in arterial thrombosis, which causes heart attacks and other events triggered by abnormal clotting. The coagulation protease thrombin is a potent activator of platelets ex vivo. However, because thrombin also mediates fibrin deposition and because multiple agonists can trigger platelet activation, the relative importance of platelet activation by thrombin in haemostasis and thrombosis is unknown. Thrombin triggers cellular responses at least in part through protease-activated receptors (PARs). Mouse platelets express PAR3 and PAR4 (ref. 9). Here we show that platelets from PAR4-deficient mice failed to change shape, mobilize calcium, secrete ATP or aggregate in response to thrombin. This result demonstrates that PAR signalling is necessary for mouse platelet activation by thrombin and supports the model that mouse PAR3 (mPAR3) does not by itself mediate transmembrane signalling but instead acts as a cofactor for thrombin cleavage and activation of mPAR4 (ref. 10). Importantly, PAR4-deficient mice had markedly prolonged bleeding times and were protected in a model of arteriolar thrombosis. Thus platelet activation by thrombin is necessary for normal haemostasis and may be an important target in the treatment of thrombosis.