What is DMSO, and do I need to have it at the barn?
DMSO is dimethyl-sulfoxide. DMSO has a long and colorful past since it’s “discovery” in 1866 by a scientist who made it in a laboratory. It’s derived from wood pulp (wacky, right?) and is largely used as a solvent in the fungicide, herbicide, and plant hormone industries.
DMSO is also used in human medicine in limited capacities, usually stuff involving bladders and cryogenics. It’s also used as a medicine delivery system, as it’s readily absorbed by the skin and can carry other drugs with it. One side effect is the awful taste it makes in your mouth, not to mention the smell of rotten garlic that you sweat out for a bit.
So what can it do for horses? DMSO is commonly used in a dilution in an bag of intravenous fluids for horses that are tying up, have a neurological trauma, or some sort of swelling in the brain. These types of injuries are common in horses that have flipped over or have hit their heads. Always best to call the Doctor if you have a horse that does this, just in case. (And obviously a DMSO dilution in an IV bag of fluids is something that a Veterinarian would administer.)
It’s also a great flush for Veterinarians to use to clean wounds, as DMSO has some anti-microbial properties.
You can find different sizes at most feed or tack shops.
Most of us also know DMSO as a great anti-inflammatory agent, so it’s quite common for DMSO to be used on a fresh wound or new swelling (which I will never do without a Veterinarian's go ahead). This seems logical - but it’s actually NOT the best thing to do. DMSO also creates a huge amount of heat - so the swelling and irritation can increase. I hear it all the time - my horse has a swollen leg, a hot this, a sore that, so I put some DMSO on it. Unless a Veterinarian tells you to do this, I wouldn't! Why add more heat and swelling to heat and swelling?
It’s advised to use DMSO only under the guidance and prescription of your Veterinarian, so make a phone call and go from there. Be warned that because DMSO will carry anything it touches into deep tissue, it’s easy to contaminate and accidentally transport unwanted substances into your horse, in some cases with dangerous consequences. If you are directed to use DMSO, the horse better be spotless, scrubbed clean, and 100% free of any other medications or substances or cleaners on the area you will apply the DMSO. You hands (with gloves) need to be spic and span clean, too. Don’t forget about the container of DMSO - it must also be squeaky clean and have no risk of contamination if the lid has ever been left open. Don’t put on your gloves, touch a bunch of stuff, and then use it. Have a friend (also in gloves) help you if you need.
Many warnings on the back of the DMSO bottle, including keeping away from mucus membranes - if you horse has it on his leg, he can easily get it into his eye, nose or mouth. It can also produce explosions. Yes, explosive reactions.
So what do you do if you have some swelling or a wound? The best thing you can do is bust out the ICE or cold water. Yes, it’s that simple. And, you get to avoid the gloves, potential dangers, and huge outlay of cash for mouthwash. As you are icing or cold hosing you can call your Veterinarian and make a game plan.
What can DMSO do for Grooms? It can make veterinary prescribed drugs easier to deliver to your horse. It can also make you taste rotten garlic for days if you get it on your skin. It was also make your horse smell like rotten garlic, especially if he receives an IV bag containing DMSO. Get prepared for wanting to brush your teeth a thousand times.
So - there you have it!! All you could ever want to know about DMSO!