Do Chickens Eat Ticks?—Chickens and Lyme Disease
Yes, chickens eat ticks—so why don’t they get Lyme disease?
Chickens are a natural pest control that can significantly reduce tick populations in your garden. Naturally, you may wonder if a chicken that eats ticks can have Lyme disease.
Let's look at why chickens don’t get Lyme disease and why it’s safe to eat chickens used for tick control.
Can chickens get Lyme disease from ticks?
“Despite chickens being prolific tick eaters, there's no concern that tick consumption causes Lyme disease in chickens,” says Dr. Berg. “Chickens have a specialized digestive tract that allows them to eat ticks and other insects without the risk of bacterial infection.”
After ingestion, ticks pass from the crop, a storage pouch filled with lactic acid that initiates protein breakdown, into a highly acidic stomach where ticks are exposed to powerful digestive enzymes, including pepsin.
A study published in Frontiers of Microbiology confirms that the combination of pepsin and stomach acid breaks down the hard outer shell of the tick's body and kills microbes, including the Lyme disease-causing pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi.
Guinea hens and chickens are natural predators that can eat around 80 ticks per hour. And, what’s more, chickens don’t just eat deer ticks linked to Lyme disease. Chickens are believed to eat most tick species, including the brown tick and the American dog tick that can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially fatal bacterial infection.
Watch the video below to discover why chickens don’t get Lyme disease.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which are transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick.
Deer ticks are external parasites that feed on the blood of birds and warm-blooded mammals, including humans. Once attached to the skin, ticks gorge on blood and can infect the host with Lyme disease-causing bacteria.
Lyme disease symptoms can vary and may include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin inflammation called bullseye rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body and cause more serious symptoms such as joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations, and neurological problems.
If you suspect that you suffered a tick bite or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if you may be at risk of Lyme disease and to formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
Most cases of Lyme disease are successfully treated with antibiotics. However, in rare cases, some individuals develop long-lasting symptoms, including chronic fatigue, muscle aches, insomnia, and cognitive difficulties.
While not all tick species carry Lyme disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report warning the public that, depending on the local tick population, between 5 to 50 percent of deer ticks are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.
Should you be worried about getting Lyme disease from eggs or chicken?
There have been no reports that chickens transmit Lyme disease or that consuming eggs or chicken causes Lyme disease in humans.
The chicken’s digestive system essentially deactivates any bacteria that may be present in a tick, making chicken products from tick-eating flocks safe for human consumption.
It’s important to note that chickens could get bitten by deer or fowl ticks. However, this is extremely rare due to the dense plumage of chicken feathers.
“Even if a chicken had been infected with Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria degrade and die at around 104° F,” says Dr. Berg, “which is significantly lower than 165° F, the recommended internal temperature for cooked chicken and eggs.”
Chickens don’t get Lyme disease from eating ticks, and it’s perfectly safe to consume chicken meat or eggs from tick-foraging flocks.
The chicken’s stomach is highly acidic and contains pepsin, breaking down the tick’s outer skin and deactivating the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.
Free-range chickens are natural predators of ticks that can significantly reduce the number of ticks in your backyard and lower your risk of tick bites and Lyme disease.
1. Do chickens eat ticks?
Chickens eat ticks at an incredible rate, and keeping chickens for tick control is an excellent choice to lower your risk of tick bites and Lyme disease.
2. What happens if chickens eat ticks?
Ticks ingested by chickens are quickly broken down and digested. Chickens’ highly acidic digestive tract and pepsin, a protein-digesting enzyme, break down the body of ticks and deactivate the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.
3. What animal eats the most ticks?
While the opossum is widely known as a tick's natural predator, the guinea fowl is believed to eat more ticks than any other animal and can consume as many as 130 ticks per hour.
4. How many ticks can one chicken eat a day?
Depending on how hungry chickens are and what other insects are available for foraging, an average chicken can eat around 80 ticks per hour.
5. Can chickens get Lyme disease from ticks?
Chickens can’t get Lyme disease from eating ticks due to their highly acidic digestive tract that deactivates Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.
While chickens could get bitten by a tick, the thick plumage of chicken feathers protects them from tick bites, making Lyme disease in chickens incredibly rare.
6. Why do chickens not get Lyme disease from ticks?
Because of their dense feathers, chickens don’t tend to get bitten by deer ticks which are typically responsible for transmitting Lyme disease.
Although chickens ingest ticks, there have been no reports of Lyme disease in chickens. Chickens have a specialized digestive tract that quickly breaks down ticks and deactivates the bacteria linked to Lyme disease.
7. Can chickens help get rid of ticks in your yard?
Raising chickens is a great way to keep ticks in your backyard at bay. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Parasitology suggests that chickens are prolific tick foragers and can consume as many as 130 ticks per hour.