In show business, they say never work with children or animals because, despite best intentions, accidents can happen. With housing upon us, animals will no doubt find inventive ways to hurt themselves in buildings which were thought to be safe. As we continuously aim to reduce antibiotic use, we are increasingly looking to complementary non-antibiotic treatments to assist with healing.

Honey Treatment in Cattle

Honey has long been used by many societies for a variety of ailments from hay fever to skin complaints. Recently clinical trials have found that in the case of assisting wound healing, there is no statistical difference between using medical-grade, Manuka or regular shop-bought honey. So for treating large wounds, there can be less reliance on antibiotics and costs can be kept low with frequent applications of regular honey. As always, the sooner a cut is identified, cleaned and treated, the better the potential outcome.

The 7 wonderous properties of honey:

  1. Sticky! It will adhere to even the most awkward places but can still be
    easily washed off with water.
  2. Suppresses inflammation-it creates antioxidants and apalbumin-1 bee protein which limit the initial inflammatory response to dying tissue/microbes
  3. It has a high osmolality – draws fluid out of bacteria and swollen tissues
  4. Stimulates the immune response to promote tissue and skin cell growth
  5. Encourages wound debridement (removing microscopic dead tissue)
  6. It is acidic so encourages oxygen to be released from haemoglobin which makes the wound environment less favourable to destructive protein enzymes
  7. Antibacterial- it produces hydrogen peroxide which inhibits bacteria growth

We have recently had two injury cases which required veterinary attention and received honey bandages.

Case 1:

A three week old Holstein calf got its let caught in a drain grate and removed the skin, exposing the bone. The calf received a course of antibiotics and shop-bought honey was applied under bandages. Initially, the bandages were changed daily but the frequency was soon reduced to every few days. After three weeks the leg tissue had filled in the space and the skin was drawing inwards. After this point, the leg was left without bandages and the calf went on to make a full recovery.

Case 2:

A late lactation dairy cow lacerated her front leg on a mystery sharp object. A section of muscle lost its blood supply causing it to die and become a focus for infection. The cow was already on a course of antibiotics but needed extra help. After a vet visit to remove the dead tissue, the large wound was cleaned and honey was applied daily under the bandages by the owner. Time to heal was a concern for this cow as she had to move into the dry cow housing very soon. After three weeks the wound had gone from being an oozy, flabby, swollen piece of exposed tissue to an organised, dry and shrinking area. At this point the bandaging ceased, the cow moved into the dry cow housing and the wound continued to heal with the skin growing inwards. Antibiotics were discontinued as there was a healthy scab covering the area. Honey was then applied only every few days and the pen was kept well-bedded to help keep it clean.

Both of these cases required frequent bandage changes and diligent care from the owners who we thought did a marvellous job!! The amount of antibiotics was significantly reduced with the use of honey in both cases and they went on to have fully functioning limbs.