Manuka Honey for Horses
Many people swear by Manuka Honey as both a medicinal product and also a general tonic, come pick me up for humans. Let’s explore the why’s and how’s on using Manuka Honey for horses.
What is Manuka Honey?
Not all honey is created equal. The original Manuka Honey comes from New Zealand where the Manuka bush is native, honey produced by the bees that pollinate this native bush is rightly called Manuka Honey.
Australia also has Manuka bushes and you can get excellent quality manuka honey from Australian producers.
There is quite some uproar at present as the New Zealand honey producers are pushing to trademark “Manuka Honey” and thus preventing any of the other countries producing the product from calling it that. Proponents of the NZ push say it is akin to the trademark on “Champagne” which prevented any producer from outside that region using the name, hence why those types of wine are called sparkling instead of champagne.
The world market for this product has gone through the roof over the past few years as the benefits of the honey for both humans and animals has spread.
Since 2012 the New Zealand market for Manuka Honey has tripled in value, according to a report on ABC News late in 2017. Click to read the full article – Manuka Honey stoush anything but sweet between Australia and New Zealand
Why is it so special?
Due to its complex chemical composition all honey has some protective properties against damage caused by bacteria, but manuka honey is different.
According to the US National Library of Medicine human use of honey can be traced back some 8000 years, appearing in Stone Age drawings of the time.
Over time as honey has been subjected to intense scrutiny through laboratory and chemical analysis, it has cemented its place in modern medicine. Honey is reported to have an inhibitory effect on over 60 different types of bacteria, fungi and some viruses.
Honey has also been proven to have antioxidant properties, due again to the chemical makeup of honey including acids, enzymes and peptides.
What is a UMF score?
Honey producers in NZ have developed a potency scale to allow them to rate the quality of their honey, and adequately inform the buying public of the strength and benefits of the various scales of honey being marketed.
You will see on manuka honey jars ratings such as 10+ up to about 25+.
The Unique Manuka Factor or UMF Scale is a clear indication of any medicinal or therapeutic benefits to the honey. The UMF is determined by the levels of an antibacterial component in manuka honey called methylglyoxal (MG).
The video below gives a quick 2-minute overview of how the Unique Manuka Factor score is determined.
Without going into the science basically the higher the levels of MG the more antibacterial component is present in the product.
Not all Manuka Honey is produced equal and for a product to be considered therapeutic it must have a UMF of at least 10 and honey marked at or above the 10 scale is considered therapeutic grade.
And if that wasn’t enough honey also produces hydrogen peroxide which provides an antibiotic quality.
How to use it with horses
The two main uses for Manuka Honey are as a topical treatment for wounds and internally for digestive upsets.
Wounds, cuts & open sores
The most common use is as a topical treatment for open wounds, cuts and abscesses. The antibacterial, antiseptic and antibiotic properties are well-known to horse owners who swear by its use on these types of ailments.
The application of a medical or therapeutic grade manuka honey is to simply pack it on. You will find it is a little more solid than your supermarket grade honey and will stick quite well to open wounds etc.
Depending on your horse you may need to cover the honey and wound, and that is perfectly OK. Just use a suitable size dressing and vet wrap to secure it in place.
Many horses love the taste and without covering it you may be just feeding your horse and not getting the real benefits of its topical treatment.
Another issue with horses to consider is the environment your horse is in. Very dusty paddocks and yards or those stables with bedding can quickly become fixed to the honey, which is obviously not ideal. In this case, a dressing over the top which is replaced every 2 – 3 days will keep the area clean and the honey working to its full potential.
Some chemists these days are also stocking a sterilised form of the honey in a tube or as wound dressings which can be applied directly to the area. If you have trouble getting the raw manuka honey these alternatives are fantastic and work just as well.
I haven’t met a horse yet that doesn’t like honey in its feed, but I am sure there may be some out there.
To treat digestive upsets such as diarrhea, horse generally off its feed, early signs of tummy discomfort etc. you can simply mix two – three tablespoons of honey with warm water to dissolve it and then wet down the horse’s hard feed with the honey water mix.
If your horse doesn’t like the taste you can simply reduce the amount of honey to water until they get use to it.
Alternatively you can make up the same mix and syringe it into your horse’s mouth at the back of the tongue. Empty rinsed out worm paste tubes are great for this job so you don’t need to go out and buy a syringe.
I also give this increased amount (2 – 3 tablespoons) before we travel as both my horses tend to get loose manure during and after transport. For two days prior to travel they have the increased amount in their feed and I have definitely noticed an improvement in their manure.
Both my horses get honey in their feeds each night. They love it!
Jon had ulcers as a racehorse and while we have treated them 12 months ago, he is prone to eating very slowly and often not finishing his feed. He is simply not that interested, and will have a few mouthfuls and then wander off and watch the comings and goings, totally forgetting to go back and finish his meal.
Not since I have added honey to his nightly feeds! Now his head doesn’t leave the feed bin until every last piece of chaff and supplement is gone. Even his morning feed, which doesn’t have the honey added, he finishes. I can only assume that the honey generally improves his appetite and I feel may add a coating to his stomach lining easing any discomfort caused while eating.
If you are tossing up introducing a new feed or not sure what you should be feeding your horse you can check out our article What Makes a Total Equine/Horse Feed?
There is anecdotal evidence that honey can also reduce inflammation. After a hard racing life, Jon’s joints require careful management to prevent any lasting lameness, so I am hopeful that the daily addition of honey is helping in that regard as well.
This is in no way a substitute for veterinary advice and treatment if you are in any doubt get a vet out to your horse.
Veterinary prescribed antibiotics and treatment should always be used as directed. You can always talk to your vet about using manuka honey alongside any treatments they may be recommending.
I certainly recommend the use of manuka honey not just for horses, it is excellent for dogs and cats too.
I have personally used it on a number of occasions for open wounds on my horses and a friends dog with great success.
The wounds heal faster and with less proud flesh than using off the shelf products.
If you do try manuka honey for your horses, leave us a comment below and let us know how you went and what you think of it.
My Horse Handbook has an affiliate relationship with some, not all, of the companies and products that appear on this site, this includes Amazon affiliate links. This means there is no additional cost to you and I receive a small commission should you buy from the link, which of course I appreciate. Believe me I know horses can be expensive, I have two of my own, so please do not buy anything you do not need or can’t afford. I provide the links so you can easily find products or seek any additional information you may need.