With increasing emphasis by horse owners on approaching their horses’ health issues through more “holistic” and “natural” strategies, one such “natural” and relatively inexpensive treatment might include the use of honey for wound care. As a veterinarian you need to understand the physical and financial aspects of potentially using this option.
Honey application to cutaneous wounds is far from a “new” treatment; honey has been used since Egyptian times dating as far back as 2,000 B.C. as a means of managing wounds and inhibiting bacterial infection.
Yet it is important to know that not all honey is created equal. Manuka honey, derived from floral sources Leptosperum spp in New Zealand and Australia, has specific antibacterial and antioxidant properties that are absent in other honeys. Manuka honey is reported to have osmotic and pH effects; for example, it creates a more acidic pH environment that counteracts the alkaline pH of an infected wound, which is helpful for wound contraction. By lowering wound pH, protease activity is decreased and fibroblast activity and oxygen release are increased, all of which facilitate wound healing.
In addition, while bacterial-generated biofilm is known to impair healing, manuka honey has potent anti-biofilm properties: methylglyoxal, the bactericidal component of manuka honey, kills biofilm-embedded bacteria.
With the resurgence of the use of honey for wound care, licensed, medical-grade manuka honey is commercially available in therapeutic wound dressings: Medihoney (Derma Sciences) and Active Manuka Honey UMF 18+ (Manuka Honey USA). A medical-grade product is one that has been “sterilized by gamma irradiation and has a standardized antibacterial activity.”
Use of non-sterilized honey has the potential to contaminate a wound with aerobic bacteria or fungi, therefore it should not be used.
Application of medical-grade manuka honey on a wound has the potential to reduce both the duration and expense of systemic antibiotic treatment while achieving favorable therapeutic results for the patient and client.