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Information on Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO) Treatments for Horses

Dimethyl-Sulfoxide, or DMSO for short, is a substance that is well known in veterinary circles. First and foremost it is much appreciated for its superior ability to calm swellings, relieve inflammation, and even help when spinal and head trauma are involved, simply because DMSO penetrates the animal’s skin quickly and in sufficient amounts to assist in the healing. Horse owners swear by it to treat founder and to reduce arthritic symptoms in their animals.
Yet at the same time the use of this substance is dreaded because of its rather pungent stench. Humans who use DMSO are actually able to taste the substance in their mouths and it is reportedly quite unappetizing. The use on a horse – which has a much larger surface than a human – will cause the smell of the substance to quickly and thoroughly permeate the entire area where the horse is being kept.

Stench notwithstanding, veterinarians recognize that DMSO is a most valuable substance especially  since it not

Picture of a woman & her horse with the vetonly penetrates the skin quickly, but also takes along with it other substances, such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. What makes this drug so effective is the fact that it traps free radicals within the animal’s organism. These free radicals are found when tissue is damaged or deteriorating and in turn they harm other tissues and make injuries worse and significantly slow down the healing process. DMSO significantly reduces the quantity of free radicals in addition to producing sulfur which is known to be an essential component in the production of the cells that make up tissues.

Since 1970 this substance has been approved for use in animals, yet with any drug that so easily penetrates the skin, there are some warnings and dangers to consider. First and foremost is the fact that DMSO is non-toxic in and of itself, but may become dangerous when it is mixed with other substances, especially when the mixing is unintentional and dangerous materials are introduced to the body because of the skin penetrating properties this drug has. Birth defects have been cited as one side effect, and several shows have banned the use of DMSO because it in conjunction with anti-inflammatories was found to be performance enhancing. So be sure to always wear thick rubber gloves when using DMSO on your horses. Secondly, not all horses respond well to DMSO. As a matter of fact, some animals will experience some skin irritation as evidenced by dry and flaky skin in the treated area. If your horse falls into this category, it is imperative to stop treatment immediately and remove any residue left on the skin with a mild soap. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence. Another question on many a veterinarian’s mind is the long term usage of this substance as this has not yet been studied thoroughly.

Most often when sensitivities are experienced it may be traced back to human error. For example, if DMSO is used inexpertly and applied at the first sign of any injury, the heating action of the substances causes increased blood flow to the affected area and increases the swelling. The proper treatment for very recent injuries is the exact opposite, namely an application of cold packs to the affected area to reduce swelling. In addition to the foregoing, DMSO is a known irritant if applied to an open wound. Once again the first treatment involves cold, not heat.

The proper application of DMSO may be in conjunction with anti-inflammatories in order to curtail the swelling of bones, and to relieve soreness of ligaments and muscles tissue. If the injury runs deep, an intravenous mixture may introduced to either alleviate inflammation or – if combined with antibiotics – to gain the upper hand on a deep infection.

Another substance that is closely related to DMSO is methylsulfonylmethane or MSM for short. This drug is edible and while less effective than DMSO it still packs a powerful punch when it comes to alleviating pain and reducing inflammations. This substance may be added to a horse’s feed yet it still lacks FDA approval and as such many horse owners are reluctant to employ it.

Read the next horse health tips article on Essential Minerals Horses Need.
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