The healing property of honey was discovered centuries ago for the treatment of burns and a broad spectrum of injuries, especially chronic wounds. However, the leading role of honey in wound care rapidly declined after the discovery of antibiotics in the early 1900s. The subsequent misuse of antibiotics and the consequential onset of antibiotic resistance has recently allowed honey to regain its role as a worthy antibacterial agent. Honey is unique in that it offers natural antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier for wounds which helps prevent infection.
Equine wounds can be especially difficult to heal, given the skin’s relative thinness and the nature of the non-sterile environment horses live in. Wounds on the lower limbs are especially prone to lengthy and tedious healing and often experience infection and reopening. No matter how well a wound is sutured, complications occur in up to 75% of wound repairs, especially for injuries of the lower limb. The most common causes of wound repair failure include infection and lack of extra tissue available to suture the wound closed without tension.
Researchers recently conducted a study with Medical Grade Honey to determine its effect on equine wounds and learned it significantly improved healing rates. Medical Grade Honey is honey that has been sterilized by gamma irradiation to eliminate any naturally occurring bacteria or spores. The study involved 127 horses, 69 of which were treated with medical-grade honey. The results of the study indicated that 50% of the horses treated with medical grade honey healed completely by the time sutures were removed vs. only 31% of the non-treated horses. The study also revealed that Medical Grade Honey placed inside wounds at the time of repair did not result in any adverse effects, and significantly fewer infections occurred in honey-treated horses.
It’s important to note that only Medical Grade Honey, not grocery store-bought honey, should be applied to wounds as non-Medical Grade Honey may contain bacterial spores that can cause botulism or gangrene. Medical Grade Honey is commercially available in several forms, such as natural form, ointments, gels, and infused bandages. Owners should be aware that flies are attracted to the sugars in honey, and in its natural form, honey is quite sticky and will attract debris. For large wounds, honey-infused bandages may be the most efficient. Warmed honey can also be soaked into absorbent bandage material. Gels, which are water-based and less sticky, may make it easier to keep wounds that will be left uncovered clean.
Honey is typically most helpful in the early stages of wound repair, as it helps to reduce inflammation and remove necrotic tissue. However, it may be less helpful in the latter stages of wound repair as it naturally draws moisture and can overly dry out wound tissue. It is important to consult with your veterinarian on the best course to take with any wound, but Medical Grade Honey may be an important item to add to your inventory of wound management products.
Mandel, H.H., G.A. Sutton, E. Abu, et al. Intra-lesional application of medical grade honey improves healing of surgically treated lacerations in horses. Equine Veterinary Journal. In press.
Honey for Wound Healing in Horses. May 8th, 2019. Kentucky Equine Research Staff.
The Healing Power of Honey. July 25th, 2019. Equus Magazine.