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Emergency Medicine & First Aid

Harnessing the Surprising Power of Raw Honey for Dog Wounds

By Karol A Mathews DVM DVSc DACVECC and Krista Halling DVM CCRP DACVS

While dogpacking with our canine buddies, unforeseen scrapes and wounds can be part of the journey. It’s thus useful for dog owners to have a natural ally in their first aid kit. Enter raw honey – it’s great not just on your breakfast toast but also a powerful medicinal remedy for treating wounds in dogs.

Honey aisles can appear delightfully vast, yet the jars difficult to distinguish from one another

Honey terminology and processing

If you examine a jar of honey, you will see that the label says either “raw”, “unpasteurized” or “pasteurized”. What’s the difference and why does it matter? 

  • Raw honey: honey which has been sourced straight from the hive without any heat being applied to it. In its raw form, honey retains its inherent antibacterial, antioxidant and enzymatic properties. Raw honey is the ideal honey for wound healing.
  • Unpasteurized honey: also called “non-pasteurized”, this is honey which has been subjected to a sub-pasteurization level of heat, to turn it into a runny liquid, making it easier to extract from the comb. The temperature applied, while not high enough to pasteurize the honey, does still abolish some of the beneficial healing properties of the honey.
  • Pasteurized honey: honey which has been subjected to a sufficient temperature and duration to kill all enzymes and living organisims. This renders it safe for consumption by children less than 18 months of age, yet abolishes many of the wound healing properties.
  • Manuka honey: honey derived from the nectar of the manuka tree (Leptospermum sp), commonly found in New Zealand and Australia. Manuka honey can be raw, unpasteurized, or pasteurized. Most of the scientific studies on the healing properties of honey have been conducted using raw manuka honey.

Raw honey is the ideal honey for use in dog wounds. The benefits lie in its natural antimicrobial and wound healing properties.

Jar of raw honey from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Manuka honey jar indicting that this honey is unpasteurized

Jar of pasturized honey. Pasturized honey is characteristically runny.

This article will focus on raw honey (whether from the manuka tree or other sources), due to its optimal wound healing properties. While manuka honey is the currently most-researched medicinal honey, healing properties have also been identified in other honeys around the world. 

The healing power of raw honey

Honey is composed primarily of simple sugars in the form of fructose and glucose. In its raw form, honey also contains antioxidants, enzymes, and antibacterial properties. It has been used for centuries in humans – and more recently in non-human animals – for its remarkable healing abilities in both traumatic wounds and in burn wounds. When it comes to treating a dog’s wounds, raw honey can play a natural and effective role.

Why is raw honey so great?

One of the greatest properties of honey is that, unlike antibiotics, the clinical use of honey has not been linked to the development of antimicrobial resistance—the latter being an issue of significant contemporary concern in the field of medicine with the use of antibiotics. The benefits of raw honey lie in its natural antimicrobial and wound healing properties.

Honey is an ancient and time-tested natural healer of wounds

Antimicrobial properties of raw honey

  • High osmolarity: honey is an effective inhibitor of bacterial growth, in part due to its high osmolarity which mean that it has a high concentration of sugar and low amount of water. For survival, organisms – including bacteria – require a much lower osmolarity. 
  • Hydrogen peroxide: another antimicrobial feature of raw honey is due to the presence of an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which converts glucose into hydrogen peroxide. The miniscule amount of hydrogen peroxide contained in raw honey has an antimicrobial effect.
  • Methylglyoxal: this compound, identified in high concentrations in raw manuka honey, inhibits bacterial growth by preventing bacteria from replicating their DNA, a crucial step in bacterial cell division and hence bacterial growth.
  • Honey bee defensin-1 protein: this is a protein which bees produce and add to honey. It has an antimicrobial effect by signaling neutrophils – the immune system “attacker” cells – to enter the wound and kill bacteria.
  • Acidic pH: raw honey has a low pH, resulting in an acidic environment, poorly tolerated by bacteria

The above properties each act against a range of bacterial species. It is the presence of all of these properties acting in unison, that results in raw honey having antibacterial effects against a very wide range of bacteria.

Unlike antibiotics, the clinical use of honey has not been linked to the development of antimicrobial resistance.

Wound healing properties of raw honey

In both humans and dogs, for a wound to heal it needs to progress sequentially through the following stages: 1) hemostasis (blood clotting), 2) inflammation (removal of bacteria, dead cells and debris), 3) proliferation and epithelialization (formation of a healthy wound bed and the movement of new skin cells across the wound), and 4) maturation (strengthening of the wound and scar tissue).

Raw honey assists the stages of wound healing in the following ways:

  • Prevents or treats infection: the presence of infection in a wound interferes with all stages of the healing process, so it is crucial to prevent bacterial growth in a wound.
  • Nutrients for healing cells: raw honey contains glucose, amino acids and vitamins which are used by the cells involved in wound healing.
  • Removes unhealthy tissue: raw honey accelerates the sloughing of dead cells in the wound, allowing them to be rinsed off with warm water. The removal of dead cells is necessary for wound healing to progress. 
  • Forms a protective layer: raw honey is sticky and thus is effective at covering an open wound, protecting the healing cells and mitigating invasion by bacteria 
  • Promotes development of granulation tissue: comprised of new blood cells and fibroblast cells, granulation tissue is the scaffolding required at the base of a wound, upon which new skin can form. The presence of raw honey promotes granulation tissue formation by providing optimal levels of oxygen, nutrients and hydrogen peroxide in the wound.
  • Absorbs excess wound fluid: the composition of honey and its high osmolality results in the honey absorbing excess wound fluid, such as that resulting from the initial swelling of the injured tissue.
  • High levels of antioxidants: raw honey naturally has high levels of antioxidants, which scavenge toxic substances called free radicals, which are a frequent by-product of wounded tissue.
  • Acidic environment: as mentioned above, the low pH of honey causes an acidic environment which bacteria do not like. Fortunately, the cells present for wound healing do like a low pH, and this acidic environment additionally promotes wound healing.

The authors have used raw honey successfully for the treatment of burns and extensive wounds in dogs at their veterinary referral hospitals and on injured wildlife at the National Wildlife Centre. It is an effective arsenal to have in a veterinary hospital and first-aid kit. 

Gauze soaked in raw honey applied to the severely burned foot of a dog. Photo: Dr Karol Mathews

The above dog’s foot after 3 days of honey treatment. The bright red and pink areas reveal healthy healing tissue. Photo: Dr Karol Mathews

The above dog’s foot after 3 weeks of honey treatment. The wounds have almost healed. Photo: Dr Karol Mathews

How is honey applied to a wound?

  • The wound is initially rinsed with warm water to remove debris
  • Raw honey is applied to squares of (ideally sterile) gauze.
  • The gauze is applied to the wound and adhesive bandages are applied to keep the gauze in place. If on a foot, a sock (baby socks work well for dogs) could instead be placed over the honey-soaked gauze.
  • The wound is rinsed once to twice daily and honey reapplied, for the first 3 days, and then less frequently if there is evidence that healing is progressing well 
  • Any bandages that wrap around a limb or body part have a high risk of cutting off circulation and are not advised, unless placed by a veterinarian. If you need to keep a wound covered during transportation to a veterinary clinic, be sure to wrap any bandage material loosely. 
  • Veterinary attention should be obtained as soon as possible for any wound that is not minor, i.e. that is large, or over a joint surface, or is deeper than an abrasion, or that is not healing on its own.
  • Commercially-produced medical honey products are also available and effective. These are typically sold as either honey-impregnated sheets or as a paste in a tube

If raw honey is not available, can pasteurized honey be used?

While raw honey is by far recommended, granulated white sugar can offer some benefit to a skin wound, due to the hyper-osmolality which mitigates bacterial growth and absorbs excess wound fluid. We have not come across peer-reviewed studies assessing the effects of pasteurized or unpasteurized honey on wound healing, and thus we will refrain to speculate on whether they would be a reasonable to use in lieu of raw honey.

Precautions and when to seek veterinary care

While raw honey is generally safe for topical use on minor wounds, it is essential to exercise caution. If your dog has a pre-existing condition, allergies, or if the wound is not minor (ie large, or over a joint, or deeper than an abrasion, or not healing, or your dog has other injuries), consult with your veterinarian.

As we embark on dogpacking adventures with our four-legged companions, having a natural and effective solution for minor wounds is invaluable. Raw honey, with its time-tested medicinal properties, emerges as a canine first aid essential. So, pack a jar of raw honey on your next adventure. Your dog – and your breakfast companions – will thank you for it.

Additional resources for dog owners and veterinarians

About the authors

Karol Mathews, is a veterinarian board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care and Professor Emerita at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Krista Halling is a veterinarian board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and Co-Founder of Dogpacking.com.


Mathews KA, Binnington AG (2002). Wound management using honey. Comp Cont Educ Small An Pract, Vol 24(1): 53-60.

Mathews KA. (2017) Pharmacology of honey. In Mathews KA (ed) Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Manual (3rd Ed), 1115.

Saikaly SR, Khachemoune A (2017). Honey and wound healing: an update. A J Clin Derm, 18:237-251.

Simon A, Traynor K, Santos K, et al. (2008) Medical honey for wound care – still the ‘latest resort’?. Adv Acc Pub 7.

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