Ask the Vet

Tick Bites and Red Meat Allergies

Backrubs and dust bags are an old, but effective, way to boost fly control. (PF photo by Becky Mills)


We spend a lot of time outdoors in the fall, hunting and fishing. Some of my buddies were telling me about a red meat allergy you can get from a tick bite. What can you tell me about this?


This is the real deal and quite a concern to a meat eater like me. It is commonly called the alpha-gal allergy because is caused by something in the bite of the lone star tick that leads to an allergic reaction to a sugar compound (alpha-galactose) found in mammal proteins.

The lone star tick is most common in the Southeast, but it's expanding its range rapidly. Cases of this allergy have been reported in the Midwest and as far north as Maine.

This is a relatively new problem and is not even included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of tick-borne diseases. In addition to red meat, dairy products, gelatin capsules and medication with antibodies derived from animals can cause an allergy. This allergy is different from food allergies that develop very soon after eating. The reaction can be delayed up to 12 hours. First signs are often severe itching and hives, which can progress to stomach cramping, difficulty breathing, fainting and even death. If you have had a tick bite and/or develop symptoms like these, contact your physician immediately.

Some reports have contended the allergy is permanent, but this has not been proven.

Everyone should take steps to avoid tick bites. I will leave those steps to common sense and the medical profession, but I will tell you that having all your dogs and cats on tick preventives is important since they can bring the ticks to you. While dogs and cats are not affected by this condition, remember this is just one of many tick-borne diseases we must be concerned about.