Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Horses > DMSO for Horses: Use, Facts, Risks & FAQs

DMSO for Horses: Use, Facts, Risks & FAQs

Horse in the field

Throughout the years, DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) has had a lot of ups and downs. At one point, this compound was considered to be a modern-day medical miracle, though, before long, its use had ceased entirely. Today, it’s seen as a valuable cure and medicine, particularly in the equine realm, though many people swear by DMSO for their own ailments.

DMSO is something that almost everyone in the equine world has heard about, even if they don’t all have experience with it. The list of benefits it’s purported to provide is quite long and impressive, but not everyone knows all about what DMSO can do and why you might want to use it. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at DMSO and how it might benefit or harm horses, disclosing all the information you need to know about this veterinary chemical.divider-horse

What Is DMSO?

DMSO is a thick, strong smelling liquid used for treating a wide range of health problems that commonly affect horses. Not just a standard medication, DMSO is able to treat more than just individual diseases. Many medical conditions can benefit from its use, though overuse can bring some harmful side effects.

This chemical is very similar to water, which allows it to interact with water differently than other chemicals. Water bonds with DMSO 1.3 times stronger than with another water molecule. And inside the body, DMSO is able to act like water, passing through cell membranes without causing damage. It can even replace water in many bodily fluids. Interestingly, because of this, when a human uses DMSO topically, it can cause their breath to smell like burnt almonds or garlic.

Horse Eating Grass
Image Credit: JoshuaWoroniecki, Pixabay

Is DMSO Safe for Horses?

In the 1960s, DMSO was already a very popular medication that was being used to treat a variety of equine health concerns. But use of DMSO ended abruptly shortly after due to concerns of safety. A few years later in 1970, DMSO was approved for use in horses, and since then, it has once again become a popular medication for many equine health problems.

When used in moderate dosages, DMSO is safe for horses. However, overuse is a major concern that can result in many unwanted side effects.divider-horse

Benefits of DMSO

DMSO is shown to have many benefits for horses, including:

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

One of the most common uses for DMSO is to reduce swelling. Generally, this swelling is caused by injury, and the reduction of inflammation will allow the injury to heal quicker. DMSO is classified as an NSAID, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It contains antioxidants that reduce inflammation by binding with free radicals and preventing them from damaging swells. On the same note, DMSO reduces edema and is even used to treat spinal inflammation from trauma or destructive diseases like West Nile encephalitis.

Pain Relief

DMSO does a lot more than just reduce inflammation. It can also provide relief from pain by slowing or stopping impulses from moving along nerve cells. While the relief lasts only a few hours, DMSO can be combined with other analgesics to provide relief from pain for longer durations.

Horse Galloping
Image Credit: RebeccasPictures, Pixabay

Microbial Growth Prevention

DMSO doesn’t directly kill bacteria, though it does stop them from reproducing. It’s a bacteriostatic agent, so it’s great for helping to clean out wounds, abscesses, or guttural pouches.

Draw Fluid From the Lungs

Acute pulmonary edema is when excess fluid fills the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. When this happens to a horse, DMSO is often used to draw fluid from the lungs, in conjunction with Banamine or a corticosteroid.

Boosting the Effectiveness of Other Drugs

One of DMSO’s main use is to boost the effectiveness of other drugs. For example, DMSO is often used to help get other drugs into sore muscles, such as prednisolone. Prednisolone doesn’t absorb into the tissues that well on its own, but with some DMSO, it can penetrate deeply to provide enhanced relief. DMSO can also be used to help get drugs into hard-to-reach tissues for treating infections like ringworm.


DMSO can be used intravenously to cause a horse to urinate much faster. This is useful when you need to flush something through a horse’s system quickly to prevent toxicity, such as cantharidin poisoning, more colloquially known as blister beetle toxicity.divider-horse

Potential Risks of DMSO Use

While DMSO has a long list of great benefits and it’s considered to be safe for horses in moderate doses, it does have some risks associated with use; particularly when overdosed.

Can Carry Unwanted Chemicals Into the Blood

DMSO is often used to help transport drugs into the system. For instance, used topically, it can be used to help pain-relieving drugs penetrate into muscle tissue. But it has the same effect on other chemicals and substances. If your horse has a fly repellent on its skin, for example, then the DMSO would also transport those chemicals into your horse’s tissues, increasing the absorption of these potentially harmful compounds. This can cause some chemicals that are generally safe for horses to become highly toxic, which can result in major health problems.

Harmful for Dehydrated Horses

Because DMSO has diuretic properties, it’s effective at helping to flush a horse’s system out and prevent toxicity from an ingested chemical. On the other hand, it can cause a horse that’s dehydrated to dehydrate even further. DMSO can lead to excess fluid loss from the kidneys while simultaneously causing a reduction in blood pressure due to the dilation of peripheral blood vessels. Make sure your horse is well hydrated before administering DMSO.

Skin Conditions

DMSO is safe for topical use, but if overused, it can lead to rashes and other skin conditions, including itchy, dry, flaky skin. The skin might turn red or scaling may occur. When DMSO is mixed with water, it causes a warming effect that’s often therapeutic. However, once again, the effect can be turned negative if it’s too concentrated, as it can cause the skin to burn.divider-horse

Final Thoughts

Proponents of DMSO often tout it as a miracle medication. In truth, there is a long list of benefits that DMSO use can provide, and when used properly in moderate dosages, it’s completely safe. That said, just like with any medication, improper use can lead to health problems. You can burn your horse’s skin or cause rashes. Dehydrated horses can experience further fluid loss and dehydration, and any chemicals on your horse’s skin could be transported into their bloodstream. So, make sure you understand the risks before using DMSO and take all necessary precautions to ensure you and your horse’s experience with DMSO is a pleasant one.

Featured Image Credit by: Free-Photos, Pixabay

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets