Apitherapy refers to the medical use of bee products such as pollen, venom, honey and propolis to help treat a variety of conditions. Can this approach be applied to dogs and cats, and just how effective is it?
Also called “bee therapy”, apitherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses products from honeybees to treat a range of health conditions, from allergies to arthritis. These products include everything from the honey itself, to the pollen collected by the bees, as well as propolis and even venom. This article looks at how apitherapy may be used for treating various conditions in dogs and cats.
Bee pollen as a natural remedy for allergies
Bee pollen is a highly nutritional food, full of protein, amino acids, vitamins and enzymes. Since allergies are often caused by pollen, it may seem illogical to think that taking bee pollen could be helpful for this condition. The idea is that by taking small quantities of the type of pollen causing the allergic reaction, the body develops a tolerance to it and stops responding with allergy symptoms.
Here’s an important point: the more local the bee pollen is to where the patient lives, the greater the chances it will have some impact on his allergies. In other words, bee pollen is not likely to help with allergies if it contains no pollen from the plants in your area that cause the symptoms. That’s why many people believe that eating local raw honey also helps with allergies, although raw honey does not contain bee pollen in appreciable amounts.
Doses for cats and dogs are estimated – be sure to consult with a holistic veterinarian for advice and guidance for your own animals. Start with a just few grains of the pollen. Then slowly increase the amount every few days, watching for any reactions such as wheezing or breathing troubles. In general, a good daily maintenance dose is ½ teaspoon for cats and small dogs, and up to one teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight for larger dogs. Start a few weeks before allergy season starts, then maintain your animal on the dose throughout the season.
Apitherapy can help treat arthritis, autoimmune disease and more
The use of bee venom dates back to the time of Hippocrates. In the US, it was introduced in 1935 for multiple medical uses, and the literature has over 2,000 studies on its use.
Initially, the venom was administered by having a live bee sting the patient – ouch! Later, the venom was extracted from the stinger and then injected, but both these methods often resulted in the death of the bee. Now, using an electrical low frequency on glass plates, the bees are induced to “sting” the glass, thus leaving the venom available for collection. The stinger is not damaged, so no bees are harmed in the process!
Bee venom is comprised of some 40 different compounds. Its main anti-inflammatory pharmacological components are known as melitten, apamin, adolapin, and protease inhibitors.
- Melitten stimulates the adrenal to produce cortisone, the body’s own potent anti-inflammatory.
- Apamin inhibits inflammation as well as enhances neurotransmission.
- Adolapin is a COX inhibitor, so it is analgesic and anti-inflammatory, and is 70 times stronger than indomethacin.
- Protease inhibitors inhibit prostaglandins (another pro-inflammatory compound), and function as anti-histamines.
Other compounds in bee venom include neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters help the nerves “talk” to one another. Venom also has strong antibacterial and anti-fungal effects
We use bee venom in neurological disease (such as degenerative myelopathy, peripheral neuritis, facial never paralysis), as well as for chronic pain, arthritis, and autoimmune disease such as lupus. Venom has also been successful in treating Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Our bee venom protocol
The protocol at our clinic is to do a bee venom allergy test on the first visit, to make sure the animal is not allergic to it. We inject a tiny amount of venom intradermally and watch for a reaction over 30 minutes. If there is none, we start a schedule of injections in three days. Usually, we give two injections at the first session, which are given in the sub-dermis at no more than 0.1 ml. We repeat this every three to four days.
Local reactions after injections, such as inflammation, swelling and itching, are actually desirable effects as it shows the body is reacting to the venom. These effects usually disappear without intervention, anywhere from a few to 72 hours. If an injection point is still inflamed at the time of the next session, we do not re-inject that point. At every session, we add more points (two to four), so the total number of point injections might come to 20 per session. Injection points are where the local/clinical signs appear, and/or may be distal points related to the treated area. Tender points and acupuncture points are also injected. For acute conditions, we treat over a period of two to four weeks. For chronic conditions, ten to 12 weeks are often required.
Like many alternative therapies, the use of bee venom is not FDA approved. However, along with other bee products such as pollen, honey and propolis, it can become one more “tool in the toolbox” for holistic doctors.