A mild winter and hot spring have given fleas and ticks an environment in which to thrive.
The cold weather usually causes many to die, and they can reproduce more rapidly in the warmer months, said Stephen Garton, coordinator of the Forsyth County Extension Office.
“We would expect this year to be worse than a normal year, whatever that may be,” Garton said. “The tick season follows spring. It’s just this year, spring came early and it came on very fast.”
While fleas and ticks serve a purpose in our ecosystem, they are pests to humans and pets.
Garton said both will feed on blood from a host, but ticks will actually latch on, while fleas “take a little drink and flutter off.”
Ticks can also be carriers of diseases and, in some rare cases, fleas can be as well, he said.
Checking for ticks after coming in from the outdoors should be a regular occurrence, Garton said, for both people and pets.
“It’s really important for tick prevention in humans to get the ticks as early as possible,” he said. “The best way to remove it is to remove it completely while it’s still small.
“Once it gets in, there’s really no pain until you start to be inflamed and infected and then it’s very difficult to get the tick out.”
He recommended using a tweezers to remove a tick if it’s not fully embedded to ensure the head isn’t left behind.
Garton also said that those using preventative medicines should follow the instructions because too much of the poisons can affect the host.
A variety of products exist to protect animals against the pests, said Heather Wood, a veterinarian and board member of the Humane Society of Forsyth County.
“I am a big proponent of using flea and tick control on our pets and yards year round because of your mild Georgian climate,” Wood said. “Using these products year-round guarantees that you will most likely not have a flea or tick problem.”
Pet owners should consult their veterinarians to determine the best products to protect their animals from ticks and fleas, she said.
Pets frequently scratching and grooming themselves may have fleas, Wood said. They often have a “black granular material” and fleas at the base of the tail as well.
Aside from the irritable itching, fleas can cause more serious problems, including bacterial skin infections from scratching, allergic reactions from a bite or carrying parasites that pets may ingest, she wrote in an e-mail.
Ticks can also carry and transmit dangerous diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease, so it’s important to remove them from pets quickly.
“Wear gloves and run your hands over your dog,” she said. “The small ones feel like seeds and the big ones look like warts … and feel like scabs.”
Once fleas enter a home, the pests can be difficult to get rid of, Wood said.
“Fleas lay their eggs in carpeting, so in a house where a dog or cat has fleas, most of the flea population is in the environment just waiting to hatch and find victims,” she wrote.
Even pets that stay indoors or primarily inside should use a preventative product, she said, since people or objects entering the home can carry the pests.