Honey – How to Sweeten Your Pet’s Health (and your own)

[This article first appeared as a guest blog on OneDogOrganicBakery.com. Pay them a visit!]

Honey. The Egyptians called it the nectar of the gods, treated wounds with it and even embalmed their dead with it. Other ancient civilizations, from the Romans and the Greeks to the Assyrians and the Sumerians, celebrated its medicinal qualities. Today, modern science has rediscovered its wonders

Of course,  many of us have always loved honey and thought of it as a natural, wholesome, healthy food.

And it is.

Sometimes. 

When Honey Isn't Honey (or, that little plastic bear isn't as innocent as he looks!)

Before we explore the health benefits of honey, for our dogs and cats as well as for ourselves, we must issue some words of caution: If you’re used to buying your honey off the supermarket shelf, you may not be buying honey at all. It’s sad but true. Over 75% of honey sold in the United States is not the pure, unadulterated sweetener we all think of as honey. That’s according to Dr. Vaughn Bryant of Texas A & M University, a respected palynologist (i.e., he studies pollen). His research, and his ability to recognize hundreds of varieties of pollen within seconds, has earned him the name of “the honey detective.” His conclusion? That cute little plastic bear full of honey isn’t as innocent as he looks.

How can this be??

According to Dr. Bryant, most honey sold in supermarkets, big box stores, and pharmacies, as well as those little restaurant packets of honey, is processed in a way that removes virtually all of the natural pollen. What’s left no longer fits the accepted definition of “honey.” What’s wrong with removing the pollen? Apart from removing what makes honey honey, the heat often used in the filtration process damages some of the wonderful nutrients that make honey such a nutritional powerhouse.

However, the main concern about removing pollen is that honey without pollen is like a person without a fingerprint. In other words, pollen identifies the honey (clover, buckwheat, etc.) and its place of origin. Without the latter, illegally-imported honey – most of which comes from China, by the way -- cannot be traced; and it’s the illegally-imported honey that has been known to be watered down with high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, or water. Worse than that, such honey has also been found to be contaminated with antibiotics and pesticides. This may not be the stuff you want to stir into your tea or drizzle over the nooks and crannies of your toasted English muffin.

Sadly, the FDA has done virtually nothing to ensure the purity of honey. In spite of repeated petitions from groups like the American Beekeeping Federation dating back to 2006, the best the FDA has come up with are “guidelines” that “advise” the industry on proper labeling of honey. A bill that might have helped the government better police imported honey died in the Senate in 2013. We are left to educate ourselves and ferret out the impostors.

The good news? The honey Dr. Bryant has tested that comes from farmer’s markets, co-ops, and natural stores contained normal amounts of pollen. That’s because their honey is in its raw, natural, unprocessed form. So if you want “real” honey, his advice is to buy from local beekeepers and health food stores.

Honey – a natural healer for humans, canines and felines

Ancient civilizations celebrated the healing properties of honey for millenia. Today, what was known by the ancients has been corroborated by modern science. There is even an alternative branch of medicine called apitherapy which promotes the use of honey and honey products to treat illnesses and injuries.

The number of nutrients in honey reads like the label of a mega vitamin and mineral supplement. However, the value of honey lies less in its vitamins and minerals and more in its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Modern researchers attribute honey’s antibacterial properties in part to the hydrogen peroxide that is produced when honey comes in contact with skin. In addition to killing bacteria, honey acts as a protective barrier to infection (think thick and gooey) and provides the moist environment that promotes healing. Bacteria don’t seem to develop a resistance to honey’s effectiveness either, a claim antibiotics simply cannot make.

The effectiveness of honey can vary widely depending on the variety, but one in particular is worth noting. Manuka honey, from the New Zealand Manuka bush (or leptospermum scoparium), can kill more than 250 strains of bacteria, including MRSA. In fact, the FDA approved Manuka in 2007 for the treatment of wounds and burns. If you want to give it a try, be sure to buy medical grade Manuka (available on Amazon, of course). It’s a bit pricey as honey goes; but if you think of it as an essential component of your personal or pet first aid kit, it’s worth every penny.

Raw honey – how it can help both you and your pet

When it comes to cats, whose digestive systems tend to be finicky, honey should only be used externally. However, our dogs and the rest of us can benefit from making raw, preferably local honey a regular part of our diets. Just don’t go overboard. One tablespoon a day is sufficient for a dog of 30 pounds or more; one teaspoon for smaller pups. For us humans, keep in mind that honey, though natural and full of good things, is still sugar and loaded with carbs (17 grams per tablespoon) and calories (64 per tablespoon). Having said that, honey is a great alternative to other sugars as well as sugar substitutes.

Wounds, burns and infections

Apart from just being part of a healthy diet, raw honey has definite medical benefits.The National Institutes of Health cites numerous studies that prove the effectiveness of honey as a dressing for wounds, burns and even skin grafts, reducing inflammation, speeding the growth of new tissue and healing infections. Even when antibiotics don’t do the trick.

For either you or your pet, you may simply wash the affected area and then apply honey (raw and unprocessed, of course!). Your pet may want to lick it off (you might be tempted to do the same) so try to distract him for 20 minutes or so to allow the honey to be absorbed. Cats should be prevented from consuming the honey, so a cone collar or bandage may be necessary. Reapply three or four times a day

If you want to try Manuka honey, you may order medical grade on Amazon; or you can buy Manuka honey in the form of a gel, paste, or patches under the name of Medihoney, also available from Amazon.

If you don’t want to go the thick and sticky route, PurSpray Pet Care is a highly effective treatment for skin, eyes and ears. Our key ingredient kills 99.999% of bacteria in seconds, speeds wound healing, tackles ear infections, and can be used long-term as a preventive. PurSpray Pet Care has just two ingredients and contains absolutely no harmful chemicals. While it’s not as sweet as honey, it is safe to lick!

Allergies

Seasonal allergies can plague both dogs and their people. Holistic and integrative vets say that consuming raw honey on a regular basis can reduce and even eliminate allergic reactions. The key is to use local honey, as it contains the pollens that may be causing the reaction; or you can also note what trees and flowers are blooming when the allergies flare up and then look for honey with those pollens. Build up to 1T a day for large dogs, 1t a day for the little guys.

A 2011 study on humans found that pre-seasonal use of specific honeys resulted in far fewer symptoms, more symptom-free days, and less antihistamine use. If you or your pet have ever suffered from seasonal allergies, honey may be the sweetest remedy you’ve ever tried. Begin before pollen season starts to give the body a jump start.

Digestion

Honey has been known to aid the digestion of carbs, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, and soothe gastrointestinal problems in dogs, e.g. gastritis, IBD, colitis and other issues.

Coughs and colds

Different varieties of honey seem to have different benefits. According to some holistic practitioners, buckwheat honey will ease early symptoms of a cold, soothing inflamed membranes and easing the cough. A 2009 study of 139 children by Penn State College of Medicine compared honey to dextromethorphan (DM, a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (DPH, an antihistamine). The results? Honey was far more effective at soothing nighttime coughing and improving sleep.  A word of caution: Honey can become tainted with a toxin related to botulism. Adults are unharmed; but children under one year are vulnerable. Wait until after their first birthday to introduce them to honey.

What about kennel cough? Holistic vets often recommend 1T of honey mixed with 1t of lemon juice three times a day. Amounts don’t need to be exact, and dosage can be three times a day or as needed. If your dog won’t lick this tangy concoction off a spoon, try a needleless syringe to squirt it into her mouth. [Note for humans: honey and lemon are great for your cough, too! This was my mother’s go-to remedy for coughs when I was growing up.]

Honey -- nature’s energy drink

With its high carbohydrate content, honey is a natural source of energy for the athlete. Taken before and during workouts, honey provides an energy boost; and because honey is gradually assimilated by the body, you won’t feel that jolt of fatigue that follows a “sugar high.”

Honey can give dogs an energy boost as well. If you are doing agility training with your dog, a regular dose of honey may just give him that competitive edge.

Honey – how to know if it’s really raw and unprocessed

The Permaculture Research Institute [http://permaculturenews.org/] has done us a great favor by giving us four ways to spot artificial honey. They have a fun short video that shows how pure honey and “not pure” honey will respond to each “test.” I tried #1, 2 and 4 on some honey I recently bought from a local beekeeper, and it passed the test! Since I can’t improve on PRI’s list, apart from a minor edit to #4, here it is (almost) verbatim.

  1. The Thumb Test — Put a drop of the honey on your thumbnail. If it spreads around right away or spills, it’s not pure. If it stays intact, it’s pure.
  2. The Water Test — Fill a glass of water and add one tablespoon of “honey” into the water. Pure honey will lump and settle at the bottom of the glass. Adulterated and artificial honey will start dissolving in water.
  3. The Shelf Life Test — Pure honey will crystallize over time. Imitation honey will remain looking like syrup, no matter how long it is stored.
  4. Light a Fire — Dip the tip of a matchstick in “honey.” Light a second match and use it to ignite the first. Natural honey will light easily and the flame will burn off the honey. Fake honey will not stay lit because of the moisture it contains.

SOURCES for this article:

Dodd, Jean. “Raw Honey: A Sweet Food for the Health of Your Pet.” drjeandoddspethealthrresource.tumblr.com. Aug. 2013.

Edgar, Julie. “Medicinal Uses of Honey: What researchers are learning about honey’s possible health benefits.” webmd.com, December 2011.

Foster, Karen. “There are Shocking Differences Between Raw Honey and the Processed Golden Honey Found in Grocery Retailers.” http://permaculturenews.org/2014/02/08/shocking-differences-raw-honey-processed-golden-honey-found-grocery-retailers/ Feb. 8, 2014.

Geiling, Natasha. “The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life.”  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-science-behind-honeys-eternal-shelf-life-1218690/?no-ist Aug. 22, 2013.

Rice, Chelsea. “Sticky switcheroo: FDA cracks down on honey labeling.” http://www.Boston.com Apr. 2014.

Schneider, Andrew. “Top Pollen Detective Finds Honey a Sticky Business.” http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/top-pollen-detective-finds-honey-a-sticky-business/ Nov. 2011.

Manisha Deb Mandal and Shyamapada Mandal. “Honey: its medicinal properties and antibacterial activities.” Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. April 2011.

Dr. Richard Palmquist. “Honey in Integrative Veterinary Medicine.” http://www.Huffingtonpost.com, March 2011.

CJ Puotinen. “Bee Products Have a Special Meaning for Dogs.”  http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/10_9/features/Bee-Honey-Products-Help-Canines_15967-1.html September 2007