Lesson 801 – Lyme Disease in Chickens?

Yesterday I wrote a piece for Community Chickens on the *possibility* of chickens having Lyme disease.

I wrote the article for two reasons:

I recently participated in a chicken diseases class where one of the diseases identified – Spirochetosis (which Latin for “general infection with Spirochetes” –  definitely caught my attention. The bacteria identified was the Borrelia anserine transmitted by the fowl tick and the symptoms were, guess what? Some that are very similar to Lyme.

  • Depression
  • Cyanosis
  • Diarrhea
  • Leg weakness that progresses to paralysis and death

So chickens can get spirochetes and as a former microbiologist, I know that a spirochete by any other name still stinks.

I’ve looked and looked and there doesn’t seem to be any studies on Lyme disease in Backyard flocks (maybe I should go back to school just to do this study.) I did find one study that showed young chicks can transmit Lyme but not older ones. Perhaps chickens develop a natural immunity by eating ticks, or maybe it’s just because no one’s looked that it’s not found.

But, if chickens have blood and chickens are around ticks, and this can happen to a bird:


well I’m just saying that Lyme disease in a chicken is not outside the realm of possibility.

The other reason I wrote the article is because one of my daughters who has been previously treated for Lyme had a recent relapse (perhaps re-infection) and is suffering from symptoms again. (4 of my 6 kids have Lyme disease – that’s what you get for hiking in New Hampshire.) Her joints hurt, she’s sleeping all the time and she has these strange rashes on her body. Our doctor has put her back on the Lyme protocol and she should be feeling better in a few weeks but she’ll have to be on the meds for months. (I’m one of those people who brings my kids to a Lyme literate doc.)

So yeah, Lyme is weighing heavy on my mind these days.

Does this mean I’m going to get rid of our chickens?

Not at all.

But it does mean that in our neck of the woods where we are surrounded by ticks and where if you get bit by a tick you have a 70% (SEVENTY PERCENT!!) chance of being exposed to Lyme disease, I’m going to take the same precautions that I would for my dog.

  • No blood/skin contact – gloves used for treatment of wounds
  • Poop gets cleaned up.
  • And all foods from chickens (we only eat eggs but this would include meat) will be properly cooked.
  • Hands thoroughly washed after each contact with the chickens

Oh and full body tick checks, constant, constant, tick checks. I’m just not going to take any chances.

Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

Also, join me on Facebook to find out more about the flock (children and chickens) and see some pretty funny chicken jokes, photos of tiny houses, and even a recipe or two.


Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Life Lessons, Lyme Disease, Violet

13 responses to “Lesson 801 – Lyme Disease in Chickens?

  1. There is a really interesting article on chronic lyme in last week’s New Yorker. Before moving up to the NEK, VT I lived in Greene/Columbia County in NY, the epicenter of Lyme. It was a matter of when, not if, you got it. And yes, it sucks!

    • Wendy Thomas

      With more and more people getting Lyme up here, it certainly also feels like a “when” situation. Every day I meet more and more people who have been diagnosed.


  2. fngrpntr

    Have you looked into Buhner’s herbal protocol for your daughter? He has some good books out on herbal treatments, and a website (buhnerhealinglyme.com). Note that the protocol on the website might not be his latest preferred protocol, but it still will have good effects. I have chronic Lyme & have had better luck at keeping it at bay with herbs. On antibiotics I either developed resistance, or the spirochetes went into cyst form, evading the abx. The right herbs will kill all forms. Feel free to contact me if you’d like: thefingerpainter@gmail.com

    • Wendy Thomas

      I have heard of that protocol and plan on looking into it. As you already know, antibiotics work but only to a point and then you need to switch things up. Thanks for the pointer, I’ll be visiting that link.


  3. Interesting question, especially for those of us who live in areas where Lyme is common. I’m in Connecticut and have seen many ticks this season.

    • Wendy Thomas

      We are already seeing a lot of ticks in Southern NH (one was crawling on my daughter’s leg just tonight and she only went outside to join us for dinner.) Even if chickens do get and perhaps are capable of transmitting Lyme disease, it doesn’t mean I’d ever get rid of them (just like I wouldn’t get rid of my dog.) I would, however, proceed with caution.


      • I agree that I wouldn’t get rid of them either. I figure they have to eat many ticks, which reduces their population and helps keep them off of me. I had two on me earlier this summer, and one bite, so extra caution has been my game plan.

  4. Barbara

    You might want to check on this website.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Thanks for the link.

      We tried having Guinea fowl in our flock but the noise was too much for our close neighbors. We ended up re-homing them and instead just let our chickens free range in the yard.


  5. adrian

    Great articles, but also came across this:


    Rich Pollack, Public Health Entomologist
    Written Jun 5, 2012
    First, realize that a ‘disease’ is a pathological manifestation or response to infection or to other physiological burdens. Consequently, a ‘disease’, itself, cannot be transmitted. Instead, the infectious agent can be transmitted. Infection is not the same as disease. The bacteria (Borrelia burgdoferi) that causes Lyme disease in human beings and some other animals causes no such burden in ticks or in certain other mammals. Now, if an bird or mammal ingests an infected tick, will that animal become infected, and will the bacteria pose risk to those that eat the meat or eggs? The answer is ‘unlikely’ for both scenarios. Transmission (of the agent of Lyme disease) from the tick is almost invariably via tick bite. It can on rare occasions be acquired via a blood transfusion or tissue / organ graft. Acquiring infection by ingesting a tick would be an incredibly rare event, and would require that the bacteria enter a wound in the mouth. Now, what of a person eating meat or eggs of an animal that is infected? Whereas the bacterial agent of Lyme disease is most abundant in the skin, a few of them may be in other tissues. Even though the risks of acquiring this infection by eating infected animal tissues are vanishingly tiny, all you’d need to do would be to cook the food. That will eliminate such risk.
    2.6k Views · View Upvotes · Answer requested by Marydale Abernathy

  6. Maggie

    Do you think that maybe the chickens attract ticks, don’t eat EVERY SINGLE tick and therefore, your children got Lyme disease from the chickens? Chickens are filthy

  7. Teresa

    I have a 1 year old hen that has Lyme – I’m just certain of it. After having removed a very full tick from her, when she was active and healthy about a month ago, all the symptoms make it obvious.
    We simply do not know what to do. So you suppose death is inevitable?

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