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Published: Aug 15, 2012

Children and pets can create a lasting bond that is healthy for both the animal and the youngster. But before you can introduce a new pet into your home, or if you already own a pet and you are expecting a new baby, there are some steps you need to take to make sure that the relationship between your child and animal companion is healthy from the start. Here are some common questions pet owners and parents may have, and their answers.

What kinds of pets are appropriate for children?

When considering what type of pet to bring into your home, it's more important to take into account the behavior and attitude of the animal, rather than the type of animal. Children can cohabitate successfully with both dogs and cats, depending on the pet's personality. You'll want to find a dog or cat who has never shown aggression toward children or adults, so be sure to inquire about dog or cat behavior problems before you sign the adoption forms.

Movies and television may portray puppies and kids as being the best of friends, but remember that the younger the dog, the more work that will likely be required of you. Kids are full of energy as it is, and bringing an untrained puppy into the house may only increase the stress factor. You may instead want to opt for a dog that is already trained and relaxed, so that you can focus on educating your child on how to properly care for a canine.

How can I prepare my pet for a new infant?

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, there are several ways to prepare your canine or feline companion for a new baby. Before the baby arrives, you may want to simulate an environment that will be similar to your new parenting lifestyle. Canine owners should start by making sure their dog can follow basic commands such as sit and stay. Once the dog has mastered these, have her stay in a "stay" position, and then carry around swaddled clothing or a baby doll, so that the canine becomes used to seeing you with a baby.  Before the baby comes home from the hospital, bring a piece of clothing with the baby’s scent into the home to acclimate your dog or cat to the new smell.

Cats will likely need less preparation, but bear in mind that felines are naturally curious, and will want to investigate the new member of the family early on. Always be on hand to supervise all interactions, and make sure to reward your feline when he responds appropriately to your new baby.

What happens when my pet passes on?

Pet loss is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult on children. VCA reports that parents should be sure to be direct and forward when discussing the death of a pet. Children may not be able to express their emotions through words, but there are other ways to help them cope. Suggest that your child draw a picture of happy memories of the pet, or allow them to take part in a memorial service for your cat or dog.