By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Honey is a staple in many households because of its numerous uses for baking or adding a sweet touch to any meal or beverage. Honey is also a popular holistic home remedy for its perceived medicinal properties, including soothing a sore throat, decreasing inflammation, or aiding in seasonal allergies. While anecdotal evidence exists for its therapeutic use, there is limited scientific evidence that honey is a healing powerhouse for multiple health conditions.
Many pet owners may want to supplement their dog's health naturally, but can dogs safely eat honey? In short, a small amount of pasteurized honey can be safely fed to most dogs in moderation. However, always consult with your veterinarian because honey can be dangerous for some dogs to ingest and should never be used in place of a veterinary medical examination and treatment.
Different Types of Honey
Most people are familiar with the bear-shaped bottle of honey that seems omnipresent in diners, restaurants, and most homes. However, there are numerous varieties and types of honey, which all have varied nutrients, tastes, and uses.
Types of honey include:
- Pasteurized honey has been filtered and exposed to high heat to kill dangerous pathogens and prevent food-borne illnesses. Pasteurization also extends the shelf life. Pasteurized is the most common honey found in restaurants and grocery stores.
- Unpasteurized honey is slightly heated during processing, which may help maintain nutritional integrity. Unpasteurized honey may contain pathogens like botulism, a potentially deadly bacterial infection.
- Raw honey is unfiltered and contains naturally occurring pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, and propolis. This honey type may also contain botulism spores or other bacteria.
- Manuka honey is a particular type of raw honey that originates from the flowers of a manuka tea tree. Manuka honey's properties have been scientifically researched, and it is most commonly used for topical wound therapy because of its antimicrobial properties to prevent bacterial growth.
Health Benefits of Honey for Dogs
In addition to its sweet taste, the popularity of honey is also a result of its antioxidant properties and the many vitamins and minerals in the nectar, including vitamin C, niacin, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron. The flavor, vitamin level, bacterial load, and properties are dependent on the type of flower pollen from which the honey originated. How the honey is processed and handled once removed from the beehive can also alter the nutrient level.
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that honey will improve your dog's health. It may be tempting to give your dog honey when they are suffering from a cough or if they are allergy-prone. However, it's always best to consult with your DVM to determine the underlying cause of their illness. There are various reasons your dog may be coughing, including cardiac disease, kennel cough, or a bacterial infection. Many people use local honey to improve their seasonal allergies. However, the evidence to support this claim is anecdotal. Currently, there is no science-backed evidence to suggest this can help dogs who suffer from allergies. Itchy, allergy-prone dogs should receive a thorough veterinary examination to determine the culprit of their itching. Veterinary-developed supplements, like Native Pet Allergy Chews, can also help support your dog’s immune system if they suffer from seasonal allergies.
Although ingesting honey may not improve your dog's health, they may benefit from topical manuka honey if they suffer from a minor skin wound. Including manuka honey in your dog's first aid kit can be a minor wound care option when you cannot immediately seek veterinary care. Consult your veterinarian on the best type of manuka honey to use for your pup's minor wound.
Dangers of Honey for Dogs
Honey, in small amounts, as an occasional treat, is generally a safe option for most healthy adult dogs. However, for some dogs, honey can harm their health or have deadly consequences. Generally, it's best to avoid feeding your dog raw or unpasteurized honey because of the potential for botulism spores. Botulism is a deadly bacterial infection that can lead to paralysis and death.
Raw honey should also never be given to puppies, senior dogs, or dogs with a compromised immune system. The high sugar content of honey can also increase your dog's risk for weight gain, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and dental disease. Excess honey ingestion can also cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, or pancreatitis, which is a potentially deadly inflammatory condition. Additionally, dogs who have experienced an allergic reaction and suffered from hives after a bee sting may also react adversely to eating honey.
How to Safely Feed Honey to Your Dog
Feeding your dog a small amount of honey as a special treat or using honey to give medication is generally safe in moderation. Honey should not be provided to your dog as an everyday treat because of its high sugar levels and calorie content. However, always consult your veterinarian before offering your dog new foods or treats, including honey. Additionally, ensure that the honey is pasteurized and contains no added ingredients or sweeteners, like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Once you receive the OK from your pup's DVM to give your dog honey, follow these feeding guidelines:
- Toy breeds (under 10 pounds) – ¼ teaspoon of honey
- Small dogs (10 to 20 pounds) – Up to ½ teaspoon of honey
- Medium breeds (20-50 pounds) – 1 teaspoon of honey
- Large breeds (50 pounds and over) – 2 teaspoons of honey
Healthy and Dog-Safe Honey Alternatives
Feeding your dog treats is an integral part of the bond you share and also can aid in teaching your dog good doggy manners. Because honey is pure sugar and should not be fed to your pup daily, low-calorie treat options are a must for every dog parent. Honey alternatives include:
- Plain, raw, or steamed vegetables, like carrots, green beans, or broccoli.
- Low-calorie dog cookies
- Homemade dog treats, like these training treats
- Long-lasting chews, like Native Pet Yak Chews
Although honey is nutrient-rich and used by many people for various ailments, it should never be given to your dog to treat any medical issue unless advised by your veterinarian. The high sugar and calorie content can also harm your pet's overall health and wellness. Additionally, the medicinal properties of honey are unclear, and more research is needed to determine its benefits. However, feeding a small amount of honey as the occasional treat for your healthy furry best friend is generally safe in moderation.
For more information and tips on your pet’s health, check out the Native Pet blog.