What is DMSO for dogs?


When your dog suffers from arthritic pain or some trauma, your vet might prescribe a topical anti-inflammatory, such as Domoso.

Usually, this gel is prescribed for a 14-day treatment as long term use can cause significant side effects. 

Let’s see what this drug is and whether it is safe for your pet.

What is DMSO?

Domoso is the brand name for DMSO or dimethyl sulfoxide.

DMSO is a solvent and it appeared as a by-product of the lumber industry.

It is extracted from lignin, the material that binds together tree cells. DMSO is produced during the manufacturing of pulp and processed to gel form.

It became widely used in medicine after 1963 when a medical team at the Oregon Health and Science University discovered the compound could penetrate skin and tissues without damaging them to deliver other drugs.

As a water-soluble compound, DMSO is ideal as a carrier for other drugs, but it has many beneficial properties of its own. The compound is approved by the FDA for use in dogs and horses, as well as in humans for a limited number of conditions. 

Domoso is a DMSO gel with a concentration of 90%, and presents itself as a colorless gel. It acts as a muscle relaxant and blocks pain receptors.

How does DMSO work?

Once applied to the skin, DMSO is rapidly absorbed and distributed to the tissues. It has a strong analgesic effect as it acts on the peripheral nervous system as well as the central one. 

The compound is metabolized to dimethyl sulfone and dimethyl sulfide and is excreted mainly through urine and feces. Part of the drug is also excreted through the skin and lungs. You will certainly notice this as the drug gives the dog’s breath a strong garlic odor. 

Veterinary preparations usually come in 60g or 120g tubes. If the vet doesn’t instruct otherwise you should apply the gel to the affected part of the body every 6 hours. The daily dose should not exceed 20g

How to apply DMSO to your dog?

If your dog suffers from painful osteoarthritis you’ll have to learn how to apply DMSO gel. The first thing you need to know is that DMSO should be handled with care as it can carry toxins into the skin. Experts recommend you should wear gloves when applying DMSO on your dog’s skin. This means that your skin will be protected, but this leaves open the possibility that some toxins could tag along and get free transportation into his body via the gel. The risks are however low and you should evaluate the risks/benefits ratio. If your dog is in severe pain, taking such a risk is probably worth it. 

If you find the gel inconvenient to handle, you should look for a roll on preparation, which is way easier to apply. 

As for the dog, the gel will cause a pleasant heating sensation on the skin, so you probably won’t hear any complaints. Actually, you can feel the heat the drug generates even through the gloves. Since DMSO acts as a mild sedative, it’s not uncommon to see your pet lie down for a nap after you apply the gel. However, he will wake up refreshed and ready for some action as the joints no longer hurt. Or not so much. 

What are the benefits of DMSO?

When used topically on the skin, DMSO acts as an anti-inflammatory drug. As it penetrates the skin quickly it is a fast pain reliever. 

For dogs, it is used to

  • Treat inflammatory conditions and musculo-skeletal disorders
  • Reduce arthritic pain
  • Relieve pain associated with physical trauma, such as tendon or ligament injuries
  • Treat cerebral edema caused by trauma, by reducing intracranial pressure
  • Treat interstitial cystitis (as an oral medication)
  • Boost absorption of other topical medications

What are the possible side effects of DMSO in dogs

The most common side effects observed in canines are fortunately not of a severe nature, but they can be quite annoying.

Skin reactions

DMSO is a chemical solvent, so it’s generally not something you’d want on your skin or that of your pet. 

This gel can cause erythema, mainly because DMSO triggers the release of histamines. This might create a burning sensation on the affected skin portion. It also causes dry skin and the dog might be tempted to scratch the area to relieve itchiness. The erythema will probably go away on its own when you stop applying this gel on your pet.

If used long term, DMSO can cause dermatitis, characterized by persistent redness and scaling. 

Central nervous system effects

These are mostly associated with long term use of DMSO gels. When the drug interacts with the central nervous system it can cause fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting. DMSO also has a sedative effect, so your pet might appear drowsy.

Eye damage

Long term use of DMSO can affect your dog’s vision. Exposure to this compound can lead to changes in the refractive index of the lens and the apparition of cataracts. This is the reason why DMSO human clinical trials were banned in 1965. 

You will probably notice an opalescence on the dog’s lens, which will persist for quite some type after you cease treating him with DMSO. 

Special precautions

DMSO should not be used on pregnant dogs as it can trigger fetal malformations. At the same time, this compound is thought to boost the effects of other drugs such as blood thinners, steroids, sedatives and heart medicines. If your dog is on such medications, you should talk to the vet. 

What happens if the dog licks DMSO?

If you need to apply DMSO to an area that your dog can easily reach, your vet might recommend using an Elizabethan cone, to keep him from licking off the gel. If putting a cone on your dog is not an option, you need to know that at least DMSO is not toxic.

Ingesting some DMSO can cause a mild irritation of the GI tract, and the most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 

How to use DMSO for calcinosis cutis in dogs?

Calcinosis cutis refers to a condition caused by calcium salts deposits into the skin. This causes skin damage. Pets suffering from calcinosis cutis have one or more itchy rough lesions. Lesions are more common in the groin area, in the armpits or on the back. As the calcium deposits push their way through the skin your pet will be in significant pain, and scratching or licking the affected area can only make matters worse. The condition is caused by a physical injury or by corticosteroids overproduction, 

Treatment consists of curing the underlying issue, but DMSO gels are recommended to alleviate the pain and inflammation. 

Can you use DMSO for ear infections in dogs?

DMSO is a strong chemical compound and it should not be applied in a concentrated form on the sensitive skin of a dog’s ear, much less on the inside. However, it can be used to treat ear infections and there are various veterinary use drugs on the market containing DMSO and corticosteroids. Such drugs are designed to combat inflammation and relieve the itching. 

Is DMSO good for dog tumors?

There’s a lot of debate surrounding the use of DMSO to fight cancer, either in dogs or in humans. While the research on this topic is still insufficient, some studies show that DMSO can fight cancerous cell invasion and proliferation, and it might prevent cancer from spreading through the body. 

On the other hand, DMSO is sometimes prescribed to dogs suffering from various tumors as it alleviates pain. Dogs with cancer are in as much pain as humans, and topical DMSO is a powerful and fast-acting analgesic. 

Is DMSO good for hot spots in dogs?

Hot spots are very painful sores that develop on a dog’s skin and they can have various causes. Even a small bite or a scratch can develop into a hot spot. The main problem is that minor sores can be very irritating so the dog will lick and scratch at it until it grows infected with some type of bacteria.

In most cases, vets prescribe antibiotic ointments to cure hot spots. Some pet owners also recommend DMSO, and, short term, the gel can provide pain relief. However, DMSO is not exactly what you want to put on or even around an open wound. Keep in mind that it can trigger an allergic reaction and make the dog even more miserable. Also, there’s always the risk of the gel helping dirt and bacteria from the dog’s fur get into the skin. 

Instead of DMSO, you should try applying used black tea bags on the sores. The tannic acid in black tea helps the sore dry out and heal quickly.

Closing thoughts

DMSO is a fast-acting analgesic gel and it can be used to treat pain caused by osteoarthritis, injuries to ligaments and tendons or head edema. It can also be used to alleviate cancer pains. The product is approved by the FDA, but you need to keep in mind that it’s a solvent and it can cause significant side effects. 

Sarah Pulsen

Hello, I have been in love with dogs since I was a little girl. I became even more infatuated with them when I was told by my Mum that I couldn't own one. Since I left home there has rarely been a time in my life when I have lived without a dog. My current dog is a Collie Terrier cross, called Ian.