Sugardine seems too simple to be effective. At least that’s what a lot of my horse owner clients say.
Sugardine is simply a paste of granulated white sugar and betadine solution or scrub mixed to a toothpaste or peanut butter consistency, and it is a remarkably safe and effective wound dressing.
Get The Basics On Using Sugardine To Treat Wound Injuries
Because of the inquiries received over the years about the use of sugardine in treating horses’ open wounds, we've updated an article by legendary Texas farrier Burney Chapman that first appeared in the January/February 1989 issue of American Farriers Journal.
View the updated article by clicking: “Use Sugar to Treat Those Nasty Wound Injuries."
It’s so simple that people can’t believe that it actually works until they see it firsthand. Then afterward, they can’t believe no one ever taught them about sugardine.
I didn’t learn about sugardine in vet school. My class spent hours learning about mechanisms of wound healing at the cellular level, and we were expected to use the hospital-approved topical products that were popular at the time. I learned that having a deep understanding of how a wound healed didn’t make these products work any better, and I saw a lot of chronic infections and non-healing wounds in the hospital. Interestingly, most of these topical remedies have faded into oblivion and many are not manufactured anymore.
I had graduated from vet school and completed an internship at a busy equine practice before I encountered sugardine. I was riding along with George Platt in 2000 in the Eagle, Colo., area and the International Equine Veterinarian Hall Of Fame member pulled up to see a horse with a nasty infected wound on its leg. It was so swollen and painful that the horse held it miserably in the air. The smell from the fluid draining from the leg was awful.
A Stinking Mess
As I watched George swiftly bandage the wound, I was surprised that he was leaving all of the stinking exudate and debris under the bandage. I didn’t recognize the sticky brown paste that he was scooping out of a Tupperware container and packing onto the wound.
I asked George why he didn’t clean the wound more thoroughly and he grinned at me.
“There’s a time and a place to get your head kicked off. And that’s not today,” he said, as the horse stood wringing his tail, the injured leg still held off the ground.
He held out the container to me. “Sugardine. It’ll clean that wound just fine. Hell, it’ll suck a cat through a keyhole!” and he took a minute to dig out from his truck a cartoon drawing of a cat being pulled backwards through a keyhole, created by a client who was apparently clearly enthralled by the image.
The following day we returned. As George pulled the bandage free, there was a thick yellow exudate coating the inside of the leg wrap.
George stuck his nose into it, inhaled deeply and announced, “That’s good.”
I didn’t see what was good about sniffing a nasty bandage and watched with horror as he swiped a finger through the yellow goo, and rubbed it between thumb and forefinger.
If he had next popped a finger into his mouth, I would have passed out. But he simply nodded to himself, satisfied. I must have made a retching sound for he turned to me innocently.
“Keeps you from biting your fingernails,” he said with glee, and tossed the slimy bandage in my direction.
I turned away, shaking my head and chucked the bandage into the trash before the ranch dog ate it. George was unwinding a long garden hose and quickly sprayed the leg clean.
I was amazed to see that the once filthy, draining wound was pink and clean, and the swelling had gone down by at least 50%. The horse was taking weight on the leg and didn’t object as George patted the leg dry with a towel and bandaged the wound again. Most importantly there was no odor.
George did a few more daily bandage changes, and once the infection and drainage had ceased, switched to a gel dressing under the bandage. The next time I saw the horse, only a small scar remained.
I was so impressed that I couldn’t stop asking George questions about sugardine. He finally got tired of me, reached into his battered blue-green Ford F-250 pickup truck and retrieved a scruffy hardcover book.
“Here. Read through this,” as he handed the book to me.
I looked at the cover and it was titled, “All I Know About Horses.” The author was none other than Dr. George Platt.
“You wrote a book?” I said incredulously. This man had seen everything and done everything, and he was an author too! A real author!
George said, “If you have any questions after you read it, just let me know!”
I clutched the book reverently, planning to read it later, but he was looking at me so expectantly that I finally flipped it open to a random spot and prepared to read a little. Confused, I turned a page, then another, then looked up at George, who was watching me in delight.
All of the pages were blank.
Why Does Sugardine Work?
While there have not been any formal research studies in the veterinary field, a paper was published in 1981 on a 5-year review of human patients treated with a sugar and betadine mixture. The study concluded that the mixture was not only effective, but actually healed the patients’ wounds more quickly. Burns and other contaminated wounds required less frequent surgical debridement, the need for antibiotic therapy was decreased and hospitalization time was shortened.
Recently, there have been several published and peer-reviewed veterinary articles referencing the use of sugardine for wound management. The articles agree that the mixture is effective for several reasons. The sugar draws lymph into the wound, nourishing regenerating tissues and bacteria cannot grow in the sugar.
Swelling is reduced, white cells that help clean and debride the wound are attracted and nourished, and a protective layer of protein is formed over the wound. Sugar also deodorizes necrotic wounds, as George demonstrated.
George loved sugardine for hoof problems and would freely pack it into hoof wall resections, infected nail holes and carved out abscesses, and he taught me to use it on almost everything that I treat today. He was rigorous about the thickness of the paste (start with nine parts granulated white sugar and one part betadine scrub or povidone ointment). He would carefully mix it until it was just perfect, holding its shape slightly so he could tuck it into a crevice in the hoof wall. He’d get mad if it was too runny.
Honey Works, Too
Honey is also making a reappearance as an effective wound remedy. Science Daily published an article in 2013 about the use of manuka honey in wound infections. Honey seems to stimulate wound healing and act as an antibacterial agent. It also has deodorizing, debridement, anti-inflammatory and wound pain-reducing properties.
I’ve tried honey on several contaminated and infected wounds with spectacular results, although it is really messy to use. Manuka honey is also expensive, so for the most part, I still use sugardine and it has never let me down.
It’s entertaining to imagine George trying to pack manuka honey into a resected foot, although watching him bite his fingernails afterwards would certainly have been more enjoyable!