Wound Care

Not all Honeys are Equal, Using the Best Honey for Your Horse

The use of medical grade honey in wound care in humans is backed by some serious high-level studies.  Recently this has been further supported in horses by a research study conducted by the University of Sydney Veterinary Department.

Medical grade honey is classified as that which is gamma ray sterilized, has a standardized level of antibacterial properties and is registered as a medical use product.

Medical grade honey has been found to be effective:

As a topical antibacterial and anti-inflammatory treatment across a broad range of bacteria (including some multiresistant bacteria)

  • To reduce the smell of offensive wounds
  • As a nonstick agent that doesn’t negatively affect the new growing tissue when removed
  • To maintain a moist wound healing environment and promote healing
  • Interestingly too, medical grade honey does not seem to create resistance to its antimicrobial properties in the way we are seeing with our modern antibiotics.

Medical grade honey is generally sourced from New Zealand and Australian bees feeding on the Leptospermum scoparium bush.  These species contain high levels of the phytochemicals that have antibacterial properties.

It’s important to understand the difference between different kinds of honey – not all kinds of honey are equal.  All kinds of honey have some wound healing properties however these diminish over time and are destroyed by heat.  Honey produced for consumption on the supermarket shelves has been heat treated to remove impurities.

I see a lot of people on horsey facebook pages saying it doesn’t matter but it does.

Manuka honey is the most commonly used medical grade honey and it is rated according to the level of antimicrobial factors within.

“Most honey is active against bacteria because they contain an enzyme glucose oxidase, which produces hydrogen peroxide from glucose. With heat treatment and time, this enzyme is destroyed.The active constituent in manuka honey is methylglyoxal which actually increases in concentration over time.”  (Dart et al, 2017)

To further complicate matters there are 3 different rating scales NPA, MG0 and UMF. NPA (Non-peroxide antimicrobial) is the lab certified level of Non-Peroxide Antimicrobial),  UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) is the trademarked industry created measure indicating certain criteria and MGO (Methylglyoxal) is the trademarked measure for New Zealand Health products.  NPA relates to the level of enzyme produced. UMF measures the NPA activity and so these are the same rating scale for the purposes of the confused horse owner.  MGO ratings are different and are measured in the hundreds.

(Using NPA scale)

In this latest study published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, Professor Steven Dart and his team measured the efficiency of Manuka honey.  The team compared UMF 5+ to UMF 20+ and found that the higher level healed heavily infected wounds more rapidly than the lower.

The article made the observation that in non-complicated, non-infected wounds lower grades (between UMF5 and 10) would likely be sufficient and more cost-effective.

So when should you use medical grade, honey?

  • During the rebuilding and healing phase of wound healing
  • On infected wounds
  • On chronic wounds

How is it applied?

I tend to apply the medi honey to the dressing that I’m going to put over the wound with a spatula rather than trying to apply it directly to the wound area.  It’s easier and less painful for the horse.  If you are using sanitary pads or disposable nappies/diapers put a non-stick dressing between the honey and the wound otherwise you might find that the honey is drawn into the diaper/pad instead of acting on the wound.

When shouldn’t I use medical honey?

  • If advised by your Vet not to use it
  • If your horse exhibits allergy to bees or honey

I hope that you have found this review of medical honey useful.  As you can see, not all kinds of honey are equal!

If you haven’t already you can download your FREE Equine Wound Care Ebook in the resources tab.

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