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.
“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.”
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.”
Next: Honey and herbs