Medical-Grade Honey Creates ‘Sweet’ Buzz for Preventing Incisional Complications In Horses

Using the natural antimicrobial prophylactically offers another line of defense against incisional infection in horses undergoing colic surgery.
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Medical-Grade Honey Creates ‘Sweet’ Buzz for Preventing Incisional Complications In Horses
Both doctors and veterinarians have been using honey topically to treat wounds to good effect, but Gustafsson investigated if its antimicrobial properties might also work below the surface and significantly decrease the incidence of colic surgery incisional infections. | Photo: Courtesy Dr. Kajsa Gustafsson

Nearly 3% of horses colic during any given year, and up to 17% go to surgery because of it. If that’s not enough to worry about, 11-42% of horses get an incisional infection after colic surgery. But Kajsa Gustafsson, DVM, and researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine might have found a promising solution to preventing these postoperative infections: medical-grade honey.

Honey has been known for its medicinal properties since ancient times, said Gustafsson during her presentation at the 65th Annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Denver. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria has created renewed interest in this natural infection-fighter. Both doctors and veterinarians have been using honey topically to treat wounds to good effect, but Gustafsson investigated if its antimicrobial properties might also work below the surface and significantly decrease the incidence of colic surgery incisional infections.

In a two-year study using 89 horses, the Koret surgical team applied medical-grade honey (L-mesitran soft) within the incision after suturing the linea alba prior to skin and subcutaneous closure. The veterinarians randomly assigned horses to treatment and control groups. The evaluators, who did not know which horses had been treated with the honey and which were not, conducted assessments for postop incision four times in a 14-day period. After the horses were discharged, researchers continued to follow their progress with the animals’ referring veterinarians

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Betsy Lynch has been an equine industry professional for 30-plus years as an editor, writer, photographer, and publishing consultant. Her work appears in breed, performance, and scientific journals. Betsy owns her own business, Third Generation Communications. She is a graduate of Colorado State University, continues to keep horses, and lives near Fort Collins, Colorado.

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