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

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.

Of the 49 horses in the treatment group, four developed incisional infections (8.1%), compared to 13 horses in the untreated group (32.5%)—a statistically significant difference. With the application of medical-grade honey, horses in the study were four times less likely to get an infection. There also appeared to be no adverse effects at the incision line in any of the honey-treated horses.

Bacteriological samples were obtained from the incision sites of 12 of the 17 horses with infected incisions. Eleven of the 12 suffered from multiresistant infections to common antimicrobials, and three out of these suffered from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. Notably, all three were members of the control group, meaning they did not receive intraoperative medical-grade honey.

“Applying medical-grade honey on the linea alba intraoperatively is a simple, easy, and rapid procedure that does not appear to have any adverse effects,” Gustafsson concluded. Medical-grade honey appears to have strong protective factors, she added, and using it prophylactically offers another line of defense against incisional infection in horses undergoing colic surgery.