ITCHY time is back with a vengeance.

Summer is here, birds are singing, grass is growing, flowers are blooming and, in my garden at least, the weeds have never had it so good. But what does all this mean?

For one thing, sales of anti-histamines and Kleenex tissues are up because summer means misery for human hay fever sufferers. Runny, itchy eyes and a stuffed up nose are standard fare for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be allergic to pollen.

And you just can’t escape the blasted stuff. It’s everywhere. It’s floating about in the air, it’s in your hair (okay, okay I take your point), it’s on your clothes and, of course, it gets stuck up your nose and in your eyes.

Here, our immune system for reasons best known to itself, decides it is a potential threat and so mounts a classic allergic response to get rid of it. Hence the outpouring of tears, nasal discharge, rubbing and sneezing. All for a little bit of harmless pollen. It is different for the dogs and cats who suffer from pollen allergies. They itch. And boy do they itch.

It often starts with the ears, which become red and inflamed and hot to touch. (Remember both ears affected generally means allergy, whereas when only one is bad it is usually and infection.)

Pretty soon our patient is scratching and head shaking and secondary infection occurs, so that wax and an obnoxious smell become apparent. Next, the feet get itchy. Dogs especially will sit and lick at their feet until they are moist and scarlet. Finally, patients get irritated everywhere and constant scratching and over-grooming occurs.

Naturally, the most affected areas are those that can be reached easiest with the feet and tongue, so that the distribution of skin lesions is along the sides, the tummy and the legs.

All in all, our pollen allergy pets are just as miserable as their human counterparts and things are even worse if they are walked in long grass, as pollens cling to the coat, intensifying the reaction. When in the thick of it, treatment options are limited. Simply showering after exercise will remove much of the pollen. Anti-histamines have a limited effect, so we often use steroid tablets.

Side effects are low if the dose is properly managed and there is now a steroid spray that can be used on isolated areas. Cyclosporins are also useful to reduce the abnormal immune response but can be prohibitively expensive. Adding evening primrose oil to the diet may also improve the integrity of skin.

And then there is Bob. This wee Westie suffered so much last year that, come autumn, we took a blood sample from him and had it analysed to determine exactly the pollens he was allergic to.

We were then able to make up a desensitising vaccine which has greatly reduced his symptoms. Better still, ask your vet about a monthly injection, called Cytopoint, which is a monoclonal antibody that targets and neutralises interleukin, the chemical that induces itching at the cellular level.

It is effective within eight hours and no side-effects have been reported.