Stephen J. Birchard DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sugar For Wounds in Dogs and Cats? Sweet!

Why put sugar in an open wound in a dog or cat? Granulated sugar is a time-honored technique of debridement and fluid absorption from open wounds in humans and animals.(1) It is absorbent, soaking up contaminated fluid and debris from the wound surface, and is anti-bacterial. The hyperosmolarity of sugar or honey in a wound prevents bacterial proliferation and even resolves existing infection. Besides all that, it is very inexpensive.  A 5-pound bag of sugar costs roughly 4 or 5 dollars. Compare that to hydrogels or biological wound dressings.

I have been using sugar for wounds routinely for the past several years and the results are impressive. Sugar is very good for open, traumatic, and even infected wounds. I especially like it in wounds containing large areas of dead space. Caution: do not pour sugar into a wound and then immediately close it. It is very important to flush the material out of the wound with sterile saline no more than 24 hours after using it.
Applying sugar to extensive infected open wounds originally caused by dog bites
Don’t be bashful with the quantity of sugar used. Pack the wound with a liberal amount of sugar, then change the bandage daily and perform copious lavage to remove the fluid and debris from the wound surface.

Medical grade honey has also been found to be an effective topical agent for open wound management. Gauze sponges soaked in honey can be placed on open wounds and have similar benefits to sugar. One human study found honey to be preferable to sugar for wound healing and associated with less pain during bandage changes.(2)


After initially treating traumatic wounds with wet saline dressings (or wet to dry dressing), sugar provides an excellent transitional strategy for wound management. The sugar bandage allows for continued absorption and debridement of a wound but is non-adherent making the bandage less painful to remove. Sugar can be poured directly on the wound or sprinkled on a saline moistened sponge and then placed on the wound.  A standard or tie-over bandage can then be placed. (See previous blog on tie-over bandages.) Once a healthy bed of granulation tissue has been established, the wound can either be closed or petroleum impregnated gauze used as the primary layer of the bandage until it heals. Look for more on these topics in upcoming blogs.
Medial elbow area open wound in a dog
Application of sugar prior to placing a tie-over bandage
Appearance of wound after several days of sugar therapy.

Wound almost completely healed a few weeks later

1. Emergency Medicine and Critical Care: Wound Management:
Initial Wound Management. The Merck Veterinary Manual

2. Mphande ANKillowe CPhalira SJones HWHarrison WJEffects of honey and sugar dressings on wound healing. J Wound Care. 2007 Jul;16(7):317-9.

Blog Update: Dr. Birchard has published a book: "Their Tails Kept Wagging", a collection of moving stories about pets with serious illness who survived. Click here for more information. 

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