65 million dogs and more than 77 million cats currently reside in U.S. households. Many of those same households have or plan on having children. Old wives’ tales tell of babies and cats not mixing (cat’s steal babies’ breaths) and of jealous dogs attacking the new center of attention. While some pets may not be well trained and may attack humans, millions of pets interact peacefully and happily with people of all ages every day.

First, even before the baby is born, make sure your pet is up on all of its vaccinations and that it is free from internal parasites. Then, begin preparing the animal for change by introducing the pet to the nursery and to baby smells, such as powder, lotion, etc. Animals suffer from stress when changes in their routine occur, so prepare the pet well in advance to get used to the idea of change. Try not to make any changes to where the pet sleeps and eats–places and things about which she or he may feel territorial. If possible, offer to baby-sit for a friend so your pet gets introduced to the concept of “baby” or “toddler.” You can even play a tape of a baby crying to get the cat or dog used to hearing this sound. Some experts even encourage role-playing in front of the pet before the baby is born, such as carrying a blanket-wrapped doll to a changing table and “changing” the doll, all the while speaking to the pet about what you are doing.

After the baby is born, bring his or her blanket or clothing home from the hospital before the baby comes home from the hospital to give the pet time to adjust to the smell. Then when you bring the baby home, spend time with both the baby and the pet together, in a quiet and controlled environment. Allow the pet to sniff the baby, who will be new and exciting for the pet. Depending on the personality of your pet, especially if your pet is an active canine, this may be done better if the animal is leashed. Remember that your pet probably won’t view the baby as a human being yet; some dogs may try to treat the baby as a puppy, using their mouths and paws to show who is dominant. This is why you should never leave the baby and dog together unattended, especially at the beginning of their lives together.

Your pet will get used to the baby rather quickly, but she or he still shouldn’t be left alone with an infant or a toddler, ever. Toddlers tend to use pets as “walking aids”, and some animals may not find this acceptable behavior from the child since it usually puts him or her in the dominant position over the animal. And also, “this will protect your child from an exuberant pet and protect your pet from an enthusiastic child.