But the secret to better equine wound healing might have been with us all along, thanks to bees.
Previous studies have already shown the benefits of honey in experimental wound healing. But researchers recently learned that medical-grade honey (MGH, which has been sterilized by gamma irradiation to eliminate any naturally occurring viable bacteria or spores) appears to facilitate significantly improved healing rates in naturally sustained wounds.
When field practitioners applied MGH to horses’ wounds prior to suturing, the defects were more likely to have complete wound healing within two weeks, before suture removal, than horses that didn’t receive MGH, said Gal Kelmer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, in Beit Dagan, Israel.
Further, he said, these horses had fewer signs of infection, and their veterinarians were generally more satisfied with the wound healing process than those whose patients hadn’t received the honey.
Kelmer, who uses MGH in clinical settings regularly, said he wasn’t surprised by the results. “I use MGH inside repaired lacerations and inside elective surgeries, just prior to skin closure, in most of the surgeries I’ve performed in the past couple of years,” he said. “I’m extremely satisfied with the outcome.”
Study Design and Results
In their recent study, Kelmer and colleagues assigned participating veterinarians with randomly ordered treatment options for repairing horse wounds in their daily practices. The team instructed the vets to repair all wounds in the same manner, with one exception: They were to apply MGH gel directly into the wound just before suturing in half the horses, which the researchers selected randomly. The others weren’t treated with MGH and served as controls. In all, the team gathered data from 127 horses of various breeds and ages, 69 of which veterinarians treated with MGH.
Kelmer said wounds ranged from 2 to 37 centimeters and were located on various parts of the body.
Only 31% of the control horses healed completely before suture removal, he said, while 50% of treated horses experienced complete wound healing.
While limb wounds heal differently than upper body wounds, the results were comparable because treated and untreated horses had a good mix of wound locations, Kelmer said.
The major difference in complete healing versus incomplete healing appeared to be related to whether the wound developed an infection, he said, because none of the fully healed wounds in either treatment group showed any signs of infection.
Bacterial Fighting Properties?
Honey’s natural bacteria-fighting properties likely contributed to the improved healing by warding off infections without threatening antimicrobial resistance the way synthetic pharmaceutical compounds do, Kelmer said.
“Developing resistance is an acquired trait that the bacteria develop in response to antibiotics they encounter,” he said. “Currently, it appears that they have not develop resistance to honey.”
The reason for this phenomenon? “While antibiotics usually target a particular process, causing a specific evolutionary pressure for the emergence of resistance genes, honey contains various compounds acting synergistically by different routes,” the researchers said in the study. “As there is an ethical concern regarding widespread prophylactic use of antimicrobials and its contribution to the development of bacterial resistance, use of an alternative treatment, such as honey, is preferred.”
The study, “Intralesional application of medical grade honey improves healing of surgically treated lacerations in horses,” was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.