Owning a pet can be bad for your health if you are allergic to fur, leaving you with the choice of struggling against ill-health or being forced to get rid of the animal.

Siobhan Ryan speaks to one couple who have managed to achieve the best of both worlds.

Margaret Miller adores her cat Smudge but at one time he was very bad for her health. She only had to go near him to start sneezing and wheezing, develop an itch and runny eyes and nose.

If she wanted to stroke the slate-grey coloured cat she had to wear a special mask to cover her eyes and nose. The problem was made worse by the fact the cat, which has three-quarter length hair, preferred to stay indoors rather than go out. This meant no matter how many times he was brushed, the cat would shed small hairs into the atmosphere which Mrs Miller would then react badly to.

She and her husband Derek, from Newhaven, were very fond of the cat and did not want to get rid of him.

Mrs Miller said: "My doctor was worried because it was obviously causing me a lot of problems but there was no way I was going to get rid of the cat. "I would have rather carried on suffering instead but it was clear something had to be done."

The solution was to try out a new specially-created lotion which is not harmful to the pet but reduces the amount of fur that escapes into the atmosphere. Mrs Miller said: "I was pretty ill and suffered a lot so I was willing to try anything.

"I started using the spray and it took about five weeks but finally started to work".

"It has made a lot of difference to our lives as I can now let the cat sit on my knee and brush him without worrying about getting an allergic reaction". "I was absolutely delighted when I felt the improvement. My breathing is much easier and my eyes are no longer sore".

"I can now really start to enjoy owning an animal without having to think about my health all the time".

Hundreds of people throughout Sussex are believed to have some allergic reaction to animal fur which can lead to increased costs in medicines such as anti-histamines. About 40 per cent of asthmatic children are allergic to animals such as cats and dogs and 26 per cent of adults also have problems. A spokesman for the Sussex branch of the National Asthma Society said there were several ways people could manage to control their allergies and own a pet.

He said: "One of the first things we recommend is to constantly hoover and dust a place every day although this is not always practical.

"We have also heard of specialist products, lotions and sprays that can help reduce the amount of hair shed by pets.

"As long as we are sure the products are safe for the animal then they could be useful, but we would recommend people check with their doctor and vet first. "

Petal Cleanse is a new anti-allergy product developed by a Welsh company called Bio-Life International Ltd.

The product has been designed for people who suffer from allergies to cats and dogs.

The lotion is made up of a balance of cleaners and moisturisers that remove the substances from animals that trigger allergic reactions in humans.

The moisturisers then help the whole process by conditioning the coats and skin of pets to further reduce the amount of material shed.

It generally takes about two-to-three weeks to ease the allergy symptoms and the lotion then has to be applied to the animal's fur at least once a week to keep the protection going.

Help and advice on allergies or the use of Petal Cleanse is available by calling the allergy Helpline on 01492 596660.