Many families choose a cuddly cat or dog for their family pet, however these seemingly harmless pets can trigger asthma in some people. Allergens can be found in their saliva, hair, urine and dander (dead skin flakes) and are carried in the air on very small particles. The pet’s dander, which is shed on carpet and upholstery, is also a food source for the dust mite.

Symptoms may occur within minutes of being exposed to the pet, but for some people symptoms may build up over several hours and be most severe 12 hours after initial contact with the pet.

If a pet comes inside, its sheddings become part of the house dust and are present even when the animal is outside, which can make it difficult to recognise the pet as an allergen.

In general, cats produce more severe allergic reactions than dogs, and are the second major source of indoor allergens as theirs tend to stay in the house for long periods.

They are not a good choice of pet for families with members who have asthma or allergies. Other pets do not seem to produce such potent allergens, but birds, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice carry allergens that could trigger asthma.

The ideal solution is to remove the pet from the home and, wherever possible, avoid contact with other pets or the homes they inhabit. Although keeping a furry pet is discouraged if it triggers asthma, there are ways to minimise exposure to its allergens:

• Keep your pet out of the bedroom and any other areas where a great deal of time is spent.

• Always wash your hands after touching or feeding your pet

• Keep pets off chairs, sofas and other soft furnishings

• Vacuum any carpets, curtains and upholstery regularly using a vacuum with a motorised brush and a HEPA filter

• Clean hard floors with a damp cloth or a steam mop

• Clean air-conditioning and heating ducts

• Wash clothing, and pet and human bedding regularly in hot water

• Groom (e.g. brush) your pet regularly.

• Washing dogs may also reduce the amount of allergen released into the environment. Consult a veterinarian for advice regarding the pet’s skin care to prevent excessive dryness due to frequent washing.

Make sure to ask a non-allergic friend or family member to vacuum, dust and brush the pet, and to do so outside so that any loose hair and allergens from the pet are not shed indoors. The animal's litter box or cage should be cleaned out regularly and again, this is a task for a non-allergic person.

Pet allergens accumulate in areas such as carpets, mattresses, cushions and curtains as well as horizontal surfaces. The allergen particle is so small that it passes through fabric, so it is suggested that mattresses and cushions be covered with suitable coverings to prevent the release of allergens when squeezed.