Features September 2007 Issue

Bee Products Have a Special Meaning for Dogs

Honey, bee pollen, beeswax, propolis . . . all bee products have special gifts for dogs, especially dogs with allergies.

Bees may sting, but they create some of the world’s most valuable, versatile products. Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, and even the venom from bee stings are all touted for their human health benefits – and many experts say that dogs derive the same advantages.

Feeding honey to dogs is nothing new. Juliette de Bairacli Levy, whose Natural Rearing philosophy has offered alternatives to conventional treatment for over 60 years (see “A History of Holistic Dog Care,” Whole Dog Journal July 2006), recommends honey in all of her animal care books.

Photo by Joel Hollenberg.

Photo by Joel Hollenberg.

New Jersey beekeeper Joe Dallon, who uses organic methods and feeds essential oils to his bees, introduces Chloe, the author’s Lab, to honey straight from the hive. Like most dogs, she loves the taste.

“I believe I could not successfully rear domestic dogs without this remarkable antiseptic food,” she says in The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat. She adds that while honey is not a normal item of diet for carnivores, lions in the wild enjoy honey and it is considered a staple food of the omnivorous bear.

“Honey is the greatest of the natural energizers,” Levy writes, “a nerve tonic and a supreme heart tonic . . . Predigested by its makers, the bees, it is absorbed immediately into the bloodstream of the consumer. A diet of only milk and honey can sustain life for months in humans and animals. It has been well and longtime proved that honey is also highly medicinal and will inhibit growth of harmful bacteria in the entire digestive tract and destroy those of a toxic nature.”

Levy recommends fasting animals who are ill to let their digestive organs rest and the body to heal quickly. In addition to water, the only food she recommends for fasting animals is honey.

An invert sugar, honey contains mostly glucose and fructose, which are monosaccharides or simple sugars. Monosaccharides are more easily assimilated than the disaccharides and polysaccharides found in table sugar, milk, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. A tablespoon of honey supplies 63 calories. Honey does not require refrigeration but keeps best in tightly sealed containers stored away from heat and light. Honey thickens when refrigerated.

Depending on the flowers harvested by the bees, honey is light or dark in color, and its flavors vary from delicate to complex. Raw honey contains vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K, plus calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, silicon, sulfur, potassium, manganese, copper, and iodine, with darker varieties such as buckwheat containing higher mineral levels. Vitamin C levels vary; some honey contains up to 300 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams (about 3½ ounces or 7 tablespoons).

Honey has been a medicine as well as a food for millennia. Ancient Greek, Assyrian, Chinese, and Roman physicians routinely prescribed it for health and longevity and for conditions such as indigestion, diarrhea, fevers, coughs, colds, flu, asthma, allergies, and ulcers, and as a revitalizing food for athletes, soldiers, and those recovering from illness or injury. Honey is said to increase the absorption of calcium consumed at the same time, help treat or prevent anemia, reduce arthritis pain, and work as a gentle laxative to help prevent constipation. It was also applied topically to treat open wounds, burns, cuts, abrasions, and skin infections.

Honey for dogs

Most dogs love the taste of honey, so it’s usually easy to feed. Some dogs eat it right off the spoon, some get it in their dinner, and quite a few enjoy their daily honey on toast with butter. In Denison, Texas, 50 miles north of Dallas, beekeeper and companion dog trainer Michele Crouse considers honey the best medicine for her dogs Bonnie, a four-year-old Staffordshire Terrier, and Cracker, a five-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever.

“Bonnie has always had a hard time with allergies,” Crouse says. “Her symptoms used to be worst in the spring and early summer, but they continued through the fall ragweed season. She rubbed her face, licked herself, especially on her feet and the inside of her thighs, and scratched on her stomach like crazy, creating dime-sized sores. She itched so much that the vet prescribed Benadryl and prednisone.”

To prevent these attacks, Crouse feeds her dogs a tablespoon of honey twice a day. “I mix it with their food or feed it directly,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll give them berries as a snack, with the honey mixed in. Both Bonnie and Cracker love the taste. Otis, our mixed-breed, isn’t interested in honey or anything sweet. Fortunately, he doesn’t have allergy symptoms.”

Crouse uses raw honey which she strains through a single filter to remove debris. “Otherwise,” she says, “it’s straight out of the hive.”

As long as Bonnie receives her daily honey, she remains free of allergy symptoms. “But if I forget for a week or so,” says Crouse, “the symptoms come right back. I know several other dogs who have had the same response. They react to seasonal allergens until their owners put them on honey, and then they’re fine.”

Crouse agrees with beekeepers and health experts who have observed that local raw honey works best on allergy symptoms. “It makes sense,” she explains. “When you eat the honey, you ingest minute amounts of local pollen, and after your body adjusts so that it doesn’t react to the pollen, you can be exposed to larger amounts, such as when plants or trees are in bloom, without being affected.”

Savannah’s cyst healed quickly with topical honey.

In addition to using honey as a food, Crouse washes her dogs with it. “I start with a clear, natural shampoo base from an organic supplier,” she says, “and mix it with an equal amount of honey to which I’ve added aloe vera and essential oils like lemon grass, orange, lemon, lavender, tea tree, citronella, and the Asian herb May Chang (Litsea cubeba). All of these plants have disinfecting, deodorizing, or insect-repelling properties. The essential oils make up about 5 percent of the formula, so it’s safe for adult dogs and older puppies. To dilute the shampoo and make it easier to use, I add about 25 percent water.”

Crouse says that the resulting shampoo doesn’t lather much, but it cleans the dog well and soothes the skin. “I let it stand for a minute or so, rinse it off, reapply, and then give a final rinse. I board dogs, and if a visiting dog is scratching and itching, I’ll give him a bath in honey shampoo, and that always helps.” In Jacksonville, Oregon, Natural Rearing consultant Marina Zacharias feeds her dogs honey and applies it topically to cuts and wounds.

“The high sugar content of honey is one of the factors that makes it such an excellent infection fighter and wound healer,” says Zacharias. “Glucose oxidase, an enzyme in honey, produces hydrogen peroxide, which helps kill harmful bacteria. In addition, there are yet-unidentified substances which bees collect from flowers that give their honey antibacterial properties. For best results, it’s important to use raw honey that hasn’t had its effectiveness destroyed by processing.”

Clinical trials of burn and injury patients show that the application of honey as a wound dressing rapidly clears infection, inflammation, swelling, pain, and odor while speeding the sloughing off of necrotic tissue (dead skin) and the growth of new skin cells. It remains moist, seals wounds – including skin grafts – and protects them from exposure to air, absorbs pus, reduces scarring, and prevents wounds from sticking to bandages. Unlike other topical antiseptics, honey prevents microbial growth without causing tissue damage.

Raw honey eventually crystallizes or solidifies, making it difficult to apply. In addition, honey crystals can feel sharp on tender or inflamed skin. For best results, apply soft or liquid honey. To liquify crystallized honey, stand the jar in hot water until it can be stirred or poured. Microwaving is not recommended because in addition to destroying enzymes and other nutrients, heating honey in a microwave increases its hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content, which adversely affects its flavor.

In addition to applying honey to wounds, Zacharias has successfully treated wart-like growths with honey. “When honey is applied daily, they eventually soften and disappear,” she says. “Juliette recommends honey as a treatment for burns. I have personally seen this work, and the healing is remarkable. In one case, a young mixed-breed toy dog tripped his owner and the scalding hot coffee she was carrying burned his back. The skin did not blister but it was very painful and angry looking. Thanks to honey, the dog healed very well, and his hair grew back beautifully.”

The procedure Zacharias recommends is to wash the burned area with vinegar and apply honey thickly every 10 minutes until the pain subsides, then apply light bandages over the area. “Unfortunately, the hair will need to be clipped away,” she says, “and if the dog wants to bother the bandage, you will need to use an Elizabethan or cervical collar.”

On other wounds, Zacharias says, you can apply honey directly without bandaging. If the dog wants to lick it off, try distracting him for 20 minutes or so and give the honey time to be absorbed by the skin. You can reapply it this way three or four times a day.

“Honey applied twice a day healed an open cyst that wouldn’t close in one of my older Basset Hounds, Savannah. As soon as I started applying honey, her skin closed over the wound, it healed fast, and we avoided surgery.”

 

10coupon112612728.png

Next: Honey and herbs

Comments (5)

If anyone's still reading this thread I'd be grateful to hear from some of you regarding honey and teeth. I have two young Golden Retrievers and we've given them raw honey since they were little, they love it. I love everything about honey and we take it ourselves. I also brush my pups' teeth regularly and they love that too. My concern is whether raw honey in my pups' mouths can cause some sort of effect on their teeth over time? Sometimes they get it straight from a spoon or our fingers, sometimes in their dinner, and they do enjoy it. But I'm just wondering whether over time there may be any detrimental effect on their teeth, any marking or decay? I'd appreciate any input you may have, thanks.

Posted by: balconybar | February 26, 2014 1:24 PM    Report this comment

I've used raw honey (LOCAL) for several years for my dog who chewed his feet raw until they bled. I start giving him 1 tblsp daily from early March until late Oct. (or until the first frost). It takes MORE than a week until you see any kind of improvement as it needs to build up in the system. At first, I gave Benadryl when necessary to help the dog with the itching. It has been at least 3 years using it now and the dog no longer is bothered by the allergy AND his feet have fur . He no longer rubs his face on us or the furniture either. There has also been no adverse affect on his teeth . He is now 10 and I do brush his teeth daily anyway as I always have. He is in wonderful shape and health and his Vet is aware of my using the honey. I no longer have to use the Benadryl either. The dog is a Rough Collie.

Posted by: KATHLEEN M | July 3, 2013 12:09 PM    Report this comment

At Costco I found a raw local honey bottle that said it was good to fight allergies. I purchased it, researched the Internet and then decided, if it could help my fierce seasonal allergies, could it work on my German Shepard Brandy. Many sites on the web stated it had great benefits for dogs as well as humans. So I am starting Brandy on a 2 spoon/day regiment. You must remember though that in order for this to work, the honey MUST be LOCAL and RAW because bees in your area feed on the things you are allergic to. I will add an update on this site after Brandy eats the honey for a few weeks. FYI, the sugar will not affect the dogs' teeth per what I have read.

Posted by: Unknown | February 10, 2013 8:52 AM    Report this comment

I hope someone reads this comment. .. My 18lt Terrier dog went into anaphylactic shock last summer from a bee sting and almost died. I am terrified of taking him out of the house now and I'm horrified not that summer is on it's way. Will any bee products help him to fight off another sting? Or since he is allergic to the sting will all bee products be harmful to him? Will anything help him? We see a holistic vet, but we were seeing him when he got stung.. his immune system has always been an issue. He has food and skin allergies as well. Thanks

Posted by: Dana W | January 26, 2013 5:56 PM    Report this comment

Our almost nine-year old Spinone Italiano has been experiencing some intense itching on her chin (she rubs it against rough surfaces like the carpet or the deck) and has been licking her right rear leg enough to remove hair. She's never had an issue of this sort before, so we've tried changing her kibble (we do that anyway, but she had been on the same kibble for the last two 30 lb bags). We only feed her brands approved in your publication and supplement dried kibble with The Honest Kitchen's dehydrated food once a day. I've been giving her a Tbls of honey twice a day for about a week and haven't noticed any improvement as yet. I really don't like the thought of having to give her Benadryl (which makes her temporarily stupid) or prednisone (which is likely to cause additional side effect issues). I'm willing to continue .. AND to find a local source of raw honey as well .. but my husband is concerned about her teeth. Only an occasional store-bought treat of hers contains any sugar (usually honey or molasses), so she doesn't get a lot of the stuff. My husband's concerned that a 2 Tbls dose of honey every day will have a negative affect on her dental health. The article mentions nothing about this possibility.

Posted by: CROSS & LAVARNWAY | December 20, 2012 10:50 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In