Honey of a Remedy

It was a balmy Sunday night. I was a year or so out of school, with a spirit too high to be deterred by any emergency, when the call came in: “yearling with a pretty big cut on the front of her shoulder.” My enthusiasm quickly faded when I saw the filly with an open wound over her tiny chest bigger than my hand.

While cleaning the wound, I went about the hard business of explaining that conventional treatment was simply not an option. The skin and subcutaneous tissues were ripped away, revealing the underlying muscle. Then, as the reality of the situation finally set in, I had a revelation. So, with as much confidence as I could muster, I explained that we would try an old remedy – honey.

Needless to say, I could see the skepticism on the owners’ faces as I told them to go shopping for raw honey, lots of it. Meanwhile, I gave the filly a tetanus shot and applied a half bottle of honey they had on hand – grocery store honey, but better than nothing – and left them with instructions to apply a generous amount of honey daily.

Each time I checked on the little gal, I was amazed at how well she was responding to the honey regimen. There were no signs of infection and the wound margins were rapidly shrinking. Within a few months, the only evidence of the trauma was a thin diagonal scar.

And so began my love affair with honey. Many years later I still marvel at the healing power of this amazing substance. But while it’s beginning to gain momentum in human practice, honey is not widely used in veterinary medicine.

A Natural Healer

Dating back thousands of years, the healing power of honey is well documented. Anthropologists have evidence that Egyptians used it as a remedy as early as 5,000 years ago, while Roman soldiers carried it into battle. Ancient cave paintings, meanwhile, depict primitive people robbing bees of their honey.

Considering the healing properties of honey, its loyal following throughout history is no surprise. Honey rapidly clears existing infection, while preventing additional invasion. This is because most bacteria are not capable of existing in the presence of honey due to it low-water content. That’s in addition to a low acidity that inhibits the growth of bacteria.

An antioxidant, honey also gains wound-fighting strength from another naturally occurring process: hydrogen peroxide is produced when honey is diluted by wound secretions, which aids in the natural debridement (removal of dead or damaged tissue) of wounds while preventing bandages from sticking. As a result, bandages can be left in place longer without being changed. This phenomenon is also responsible for reducing wound odors.

A natural anti-inflammatory, honey reduces swelling while stimulating epithelial tissue to expand – contributing to rapid healing with minimal scarring. Honey also appears to alleviate pain and help boost the immune system. Consult your veterinarian before starting a honey regimen.

Raw Honey Is Best

While honey from your grocery store may look pretty and impart a nice sweetness to your favorite tea, it’s a long way from raw honey. That’s because much of the therapeutic value is lost during processing. Pasteurized honey has been heated to reduce moisture, which helps prevent granulation and improves shelf life; however, this process also diminishes the healing constituents of honey.

As with anything else, organic is generally better. Organic honey is produced from hives untreated with antibiotics or pesticides – a real challenge in times with so much hive disease. In fact, organic bee colonies are maintained without using any chemicals and the hives are isolated in environmentally pure areas free from any potential environmental contaminants. Organic honey can be certified by national or independent agencies. Don’t assume that just because it’s raw honey that it’s organic as well.

Because raw honey isn’t heated, it’s prone to crystallization. This is a natural process and doesn’t harm the honey. When stored in large containers and at room temperature, it is less likely to granulate, but placing honey in the refrigerator will hasten the process. However, honey can be successfully frozen and thawed at room temperature without detrimental effect. When honey does crystallize, applying low heat will dissolve the crystals. But once dissolved, it should be demoted to kitchen use, as any amount of heat will diminish its therapeutic value.

A visit to you local natural food store will reveal a variety of raw honeys, all unique in color and clarity. Most raw honeys are sold in glass containers, but some producers offer the classic plastic honey-bear-bottle design. When shopping for raw honey, you’ll also encounter different varieties, such as clover, wildflower and tupelo. The flowers from which bees collect nectar contribute to the flavor and aroma of honey, and also determine its variety. Don’t be intimidated by the many different varieties; it’s simply a matter of personal choice. I’ve used practically all of them.

Proper Application Is Key

I have to admit, I’m fond of the honey-bear bottle (with tip) because it provides me better precision over small or hard-to-reach areas, while a tongue depressor and a large jar works best for extensive conditions. Whatever your method, apply a generous coating of honey daily. More severe conditions may require attention several times a day. After the initial cleaning, avoid cleansing the the area between applications – this will disrupt the healing process and introduce contamination. Just continue to add honey over top of existing residue.

There have been lots of changes in my career since that first experience with honey. I guess you could say that filly and I grew up together. She has thrived and so has my veterinary practice. And to this day, I am still a hero to her owners. Not because she went on to flourish – but I like to think because of my courage to go out on a limb.

Since then, my use of honey has multiplied and evolved numerous times over. I discovered many other uses besides catastrophic wounds – from the simple to the severe. Over the years, I have successfully utilized the healing powers of honey on a daily basis in my practice. And, at the same time, I began exploring other natural remedies to compliment my use of honey. Several paths coalesced and MeliHeal was born.

MeliHeal All Purpose Healing Salve is comprised of honey, lanolin and a blend of essential oils. I developed this all natural remedy over many years of experimentation in my practice. After years of successful use – and glowing testimonials from clients – I decided to make my product available to the general horse public. Using the highest quality therapeutic grade ingredients found in nature, MeliHeal creates an optimal environment for healing. I invite you to learn more about my product at http://www.MeliHeal.com.

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Muddy Mishaps: An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

One of my horses, Tonto, is on the disabled list from an ankle injury after slipping in the paddock following a period of heavy rain. It caught me by surprise because this horse detests inclement weather, so much that he seldom stirs in the mud. But it’s a good reminder that some simple precautions can go a long way in preventing serious problems later.

Lameness is my biggest concern right now, but there are others, too.

Standing in mud or water for prolonged periods can lead to fungal and bacterial infections of the feet, such as scratches and thrush. Long periods of standing, in general, can cause poor circulation and impaired digestion. Depression, immune system dysfunction and behavioral problems can also result.

Make the Best of a Bad Situation

If possible, restrict access to sloppy areas, especially if there is standing water. And, if necessary, rearrange essentials on higher ground where there’s better drainage, but don’t expect your horse to travel slippery terrain to obtain food, water or shelter. Overall, there’s no need to pen your horse – he still needs fresh air and sunshine – just make a dry area available.

Excessive rain tends to wash all sorts of things to the surface – rocks, glass and other debris. The water also can stir up organisms in the ground, so make sure your horse is current on his tetanus vaccination. And don’t forget the bug spray.

Who Needs a Coggins, Anyway?

Even though most horse owners know they need a Coggins to travel with their horse, few actually understand the significance of the test. With the current outbreak of Equine Infectious Anemia in Arkansas, now is a good time for a refresher.

Coggins testing, required by most states annually, is a blood test performed by your veterinarian to detect Equine Infectious Anemia. Less common since the advent of effective insect control, lower incidences of Equine Infectious Anemia have made horse owners and veterinarians a bit complacent.

However, as the Arkansas outbreak illustrates, this is no time for complacency. Spread via biting flies or blood-contaminated equipment, there is no treatment for Equine Infectious Anemia. As a result, horses that test positive are generally euthanized because of the mandatory lifelong quarantine.

Silent Carriers

While symptoms of Equine Infectious Anemia include loss of stamina, lack of condition, and anemia, some affected horses appear healthy. Fortunately, Coggins testing looks for those asymptomatic carriers that show no signs of sickness but are still capable of spreading the disease.

The case in Arkansas really brings this concern home. Of the 40 horses that tested positive and ultimately were euthanized, only two displayed signs of the disease. The good news is that this operation was a closed herd, without horses moving off the premises. Sadly, this likely contributed to the idea that Coggins testing was not necessary.

Simply put, every horse needs a Coggins – even if it never leaves home.

West Nile Virus: To Vaccinate or Not, That Is the Question

Let’s begin with the history of West Nile Virus vaccine. While its safety and effectiveness were at one time questioned, it is now an accepted part of preventative maintenance programs. And although once available only from a veterinarian, the vaccine is now sold through retail outlets.

The good news is that healthy horses are not susceptible to West Nile Virus. In fact, your horse may have been infected and you didn’t even notice. Perhaps you detected some lethargy around the barn or the horse was a little off on the trail, and then returned to its usual self in a few days. In otherwise healthy horses, a light fever is likely the most common course of the disease.

Before automatically reaching for the needle, take time to understand the virus. For starters, do your part to control mosquitoes. And secondly, only vaccinate those at risk for West Nile Virus – young, old and debilitated horses are most susceptible. Since vaccines work by insulting the immune system, do not inject sick animals. Their defenses are already lagging and any vaccine will only depress their immune systems further.

Although the vaccines promise year-long immunity, booster your horse six weeks prior to the onset of mosquito season in your area. Since mosquito strikes peak in late summer and early fall, the West Nile Virus vaccine isn’t likely as effective when administered in spring. Now is the time to administer the vaccine.

As with any vaccine, there are potential side effects. I’ve seen adverse reactions with all of the West Nile Virus products ranging from the relatively minor (pain and swelling at the injection site) to significantly more serious side effects like anaphylaxis, as well as a mare with personality changes. The most common complaints are fever and swollen lymph nodes. Just last year, one manufacturer did a voluntary recall after reports of systemic reactions and death in horses after using their vaccine. If your horse has a reaction of any kind, it’s important to discontinue the vaccination.

If West Nile Virus vaccination is not for you, consider spending about the same amount of money on immune stimulants. Ask your veterinarian about an intravenous immune stimulant or invest in nutraceuticals like MSM and Ester C. Therapeutic grade essential oils – not those used for aromatic purposes – can also stimulate and protect the immune system. Lavender, orange and pine oils can be applied topically, while citronella, peppermint and eucalyptus oils can be incorporated into a homemade insect repellent.

Ultimately, I believe West Nile Virus vaccines serve a useful purpose – they just aren’t appropriate for every horse. Even though I don’t vaccinate my own, I encourage owners to weigh the pros and cons and make informed decisions. Do not allow a sense of guilt imposed upon you by the pharmaceutical industry replace your own good judgement.

When used correctly, vaccines decrease the severity and duration of disease. However, vaccines do not guarantee protection and may actually give horse owners a false sense of security. That’s because manufacturers often manipulate data to influence veterinarians and use clever advertising to create demand for their products. Lost in the marketing buzz is the fact that healthy horses are capable of fighting disease, and that excessive vaccination is eliminating that ability from the gene pool.

After Dinner Mint

It’s a common sight at many restaurants – the complimentary peppermint-flavored candy at the cash register. No surprise there because peppermint is traditionally used as a digestive aid. But did you know that it can do the same for your horse?

Skip the Candies and Go Straight for the Oil

While horses are known to indulge in the occasional peppermint candy treat, digestive upset calls for a stronger remedy: therapeutic-grade peppermint oil. “Therapeutic grade” simply means a very pure form of the oil, which is derived from a plant extract. You can find therapeutic-grade peppermint oil, which normally retails for about the same price as a couple bags of feed, online or at your local health-food store. Avoid cheaper aromatic only versions that offer no therapeutic value. I personally like Young Living essential oils.

For best results, apply a dab (moistened fingertip) of peppermint oil on the gums and under the belly of your horse. When applying, allow your horse to sniff the open vial to experience the stomach-soothing aromatic properties. Since essential oils are readily absorbed and act quickly, repeat every few hours. You should expect to a see a difference in about an hour.

This remedy is an aid for mild digestive upset only, and not intended to treat undiagnosed or severe gastrointestinal disorders.

Bugs Be Gone

Beau is a cremello. With his delicate skin and light hair, insects are drawn to him. It makes keeping him comfortable this time of year a real challenge.

Earlier this summer, a client gave me a bottle of Liquid Net insect repellent for horses. It was new to me, but I liked that it was all natural and had a pleasant scent. Without hesitation, I tried it on Beau.

Long story short, it really works. Beau is no longer covered with bites, and he even stands still when sprayed with Liquid Net. And though the label suggests re-applying after four hours, it lasts much longer.

This is not an official endorsement, just something I like for my own horse – and I thought you might like it, too.

What’s In a Name?

When it comes to tetanus shots, not all vaccines are created equal.

Out of habit, I always look in the refrigerator at feed stores to see what kind of tetanus vaccine they sell. More often than not, I find vials of tetanus antitoxin along with, or in the place of, tetanus toxoid. I often wonder if the person doing the ordering understands the critical differences between the two vaccines.

Let’s take a look at both.

Tetanus Toxoid
Toxoid is the typical tetanus shot, the one you should use for your horse’s initial immunization and annual booster. It is labeled “for prevention of tetanus” and takes 2 to 3 weeks to confer immunity. Since horses are prone to tetanus, give a toxoid booster at least once a year, as well as with any surgical procedure or penetrating injury.

Tetanus Antitoxin
Antitoxin is labeled “for prevention and treatment of tetanus.” It offers immediate protection from tetanus for 7 to 14 days, so only use antitoxin when you need quick and temporary immunity against tetanus in an emergency involving an unvaccinated horse. However, remember to follow up with a tetanus toxoid vaccine.

It all seems innocent enough, but tetanus antitoxin is known to cause liver damage in as little as a single dose. So read the labels and make an informed decision, regardless of what you find in your store’s refrigerator.