DMSO for horses – know the risks and rewards


This seemingly innocuous substance DMSO is dimethyl-sulfoxide. DMSO has a long and colorful past since its “discovery” in 1866 by a scientist who made it in a laboratory.  But it’s not something that you should use “willy-nilly.”

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  • 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.


What can DMSO do for horses?


  • DMSO is commonly used in a dilution in a bag of intravenous fluids for horses that are tying up, have a neurological trauma, or some sort of swelling in the brain.


  • These injuries are common in horses that have flipped over or 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 a veterinarian would administer.


  • It’s also an excellent flush for veterinarians to clean wounds, as DMSO has some anti-microbial properties.


varieties of DMSO on a feed store shelf

You can find different sizes at most feed or tack shops.


  • It seems logical to use DMSO on a fresh wound- but it’s actually NOT the best thing to do.


  • 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.


DMSO also creates a considerable amount of heat – so 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.


If you are directed to use DMSO, your horse needs to be ridiculously clean in the area.


  • Your hands (with gloves) must 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 it.


  • A note about gloves – Nitrile gloves will degrade after 5 minutes if exposed to DMSO. I’ve never needed to handle DMSO for longer than it takes to scoop out on your finger and apply, so this usually isn’t a problem. You can also use butyl rubber gloves if you prefer.


warnings on the DMSO bottle

Many warnings on the back of the DMSO bottle, including avoiding mucous membranes – if your horse has it on his leg, he can quickly get it into his eye, nose, or mouth. It can also produce explosions. Yes, explosive reactions.


What to do about swellings or wounds?


  • The best thing you can do is ice the area. Yes, it’s that simple. And, you get to avoid the gloves, potential dangers, and a huge outlay of cash for mouthwash. As you are icing or cold hosing you can call your veterinarian and make a game plan.



And that’s why I avoid DMSO like the plague.


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