Family 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.

Asthma symptoms may occur within minutes of being exposed to pet-related triggers, 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 dander and fur can become part of household dust and are present even when the animal is outside.

In general, cats produce more severe allergic reactions than dogs, as they tend to stay indoors for longer. 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. There are ways to minimise exposure to pet allergens, but in some cases it may be necessary to re-home your pet.

Minimising exposure to pet allergens:

• Keep your pet out of the bedroom and any other main living areas

• 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

• Have your pet groomed/brushed regularly.

• Washing dogs may also reduce the amount of allergen released into the environment.

If possible, try to find someone without allergies to groom/brush your pet. Ask them to do this outside, so that any loose hair or allergens don't come into your home. 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 flat surfaces. The allergen particles are so small that they can pass through fabric. It can be a good idea to cover mattresses, pillows and cushions with dust protection covers.