Honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly and venom—ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined Hunter taking any of these, let alone enjoying them. But just the other day, I caught her drooling as I took bee pollen from the freezer. Who knows? Buzzing could be next. Why did I start using these hive commodities for my old-timer? It started last spring after I interviewed local beekeeper and apitherapist, Kate McWiggins, for an article. She highlighted nutrition and the health issues each product addresses, starting with pollen.
“It’s an almost perfect food—just the right balance of carbs and protein, with all the essential amino acids, plus enzymes, minerals and flavonoids. And it’s used for desensitization of allergies,” said McWiggins.
I thought about Hunter’s weepy, itchy eyes. Airborne allergies are a problem for her. “Can dogs benefit from bee pollen?” I asked. Almost as soon as she said yes, I was checking beekeepers’ booths at farmers’ markets for pollen.
Apitherapy, the medicinal use of bee products, has been used since ancient Egyptian times. Honey was included in physicians’ formulas, propolis was used as a medicinal balm and bee stings were prescribed for arthritis. It’s likely canine companions throughout time also benefited from these treasures. In The Complete Herbal Handbook for Dogs and Cats, Juliette De Bairacli Levy discusses using propolis and honey. The idea is that by taking these natural products, the body is stimulated to heal itself. But health benefits of apitherapy are not widely known in the US.
“Most of the world knows a lot more about apitherapy than we do,” says McWiggins. “When all hive products are used, they have a synergistic effect in the body.”
Apitherapists are often beekeepers, self-educated about bee products, but a growing number of holistic veterinarians are incorporating bee commodities into their practices.
Honey has been used medicinally for centuries and can be taken internally or used externally on wounds. It contains 75 different compounds, including enzymes, a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as tiny flecks of pollen and propolis. Seattle-based, veterinary acupuncturist Richard Panzer recommends adding local honey to food to help desensitize pollen-related allergies. And in Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Buhner says raw honey contains antibiotic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune stimulant components. Applied externally, honey relieves burns and heals cuts. But, spread it on a laceration, and like Hunter, your dog may eagerly lick it off.
Pollen is gathered by bees as they visit flowers and contains the richest source of antioxidants in a single food. I bought pollen from local beekeeper Roy Nettlebeck. To desensitize allergies, start slowly. I gave Hunter one pollen grain in Nettlebeck’s honey, and added two grains each day for a week. Then I increased her dose to half a teaspoon. The ancient basset hasn’t turned into a border collie, but her eyes don’t itch from allergies.
Propolis is composed of saps and resins that bees gather from a wide range of trees and plants. A potent antibiotic, antiviral substance with antitumor elements, propolis caulks the inside of the hive. Veterinarian CW Shaubhut in New York City says his most successful consistent internal use for propolis is for animals “who fail to thrive, but no specific cause has been found.”
For external use, Dr. Panzer suggests using a tincture of propolis solution to relieve yeast-based ear infections. After one week, Hunter’s chronic ear problems cleared up.
Royal jelly, a vitamin-rich food manufactured by worker bees, is an immune system remedy suggested by holistic veterinarian Anna Maria Gardner on the Olympic Peninsula. She first used it when she lived in Hong Kong around 1990. Her dog Isis, a German shepherd mix, needed extensive nutritional support when her immune system was compromised due to two tick-borne diseases.
“Packed with nutrients, royal jelly is considered rejuvenating and healing,” says Gardner. “I’ve used it for overall health, and it also helps slow down the aging process and boost the effects of other treatments.” Isis recovered and lived a long healthy life. Hunter eats royal jelly every day to revitalize her aging immune system.
Bee venom therapy (BVT) is used to desensitize a patient to bee and wasp stings and has been used to treat arthritis for centuries. BVT was popularized in the United States by Charles Mraz, author of Health and the Honey Bee. Venom contains 30 biologically active substances. According to the American Apitherapy Society, one sting is 100 times more potent than hydrocortisone. With anti-inflammatory and immunological components, venom stimulates protective mechanisms in the body and has been used to treat chronic inflammatory diseases. Besides arthritis, BVT relieves disc disease, acute and chronic bursitis, tendonitis and autoimmune diseases. To try venom therapy, you can’t simply capture bees and sting your own dog, but precautions and techniques can be learned from experienced apitherapy practitioners like McWiggins.
However, neither holistic nor conventional veterinarians in the Pacific Northwest have extensive knowledge about BVT. “The reason is education,” says Ben-Yakir. “Holistic vets are open-minded but you have to teach and conduct labs where they will be exposed to this new medical option.” Dr. Ben-Yakir plans on offering BVT seminars for veterinarians on the East and West Coasts soon.
Last spring when Hunter’s arthritis immobilized her, I wondered about venom and phoned McWiggins. I explained Hunter’s problems. “Is there another way to take venom besides stings? “ I asked.
“Homeopathic bee venom pellets contain minute doses of venom. They aren’t as effective as stings, but there aren’t allergy dangers using them,” McWiggins replied. Chewy, her nine-year-old black Lab, improved significantly after taking the pellets. “He tore a ligament and had surgery, but he kept limping. So I gave him bee pellets. Now he chases squirrels.”
After a day of taking homeopathic pellets, Hunter got up and walked. She plays with our kitten and strolls over to visit our neighbors.
Beehive treasures provide alternative treatments for many canine medical issues. Fresh local honey and pollen help relieve allergies, propolis is a natural antibiotic and can revive weakened dogs. Royal jelly builds stamina and rejuvenates old dogs. And a safe and less invasive treatment for old dogs with joint problems, bee venom pellets (Apis Mellifica), are worth a try.