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According to a study in Pediatrics, children who grow up with pets in the home have better respiratory health and increased resistance to illnesses. Petting an animal can be soothing, reduce stress, and even lower blood pressure. Children learn responsibility and compassion as they care for their furry (or feathered, or scaly) friends. Here are three quick tips from the experts.

Teach gentle touch and careful play. The very first thing to do when you introduce an animal to your child is to make sure they approach cautiously and touch gently. It can be tempting to rush in for a cuddle or grab a long tail, but this can hurt or scare an animal. Research the body language signs of your animal and teach your child how to recognize them. Give pets lots of space, and don’t tease or taunt.

Emphasize health and hygiene. Animals can carry all sorts of germs that can make people sick, so it’s important to remind kids to always wash their hands when they play with or pet an animal. This is also important when preparing their food or cleaning up messes. Health is important for your animals, too! Make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date, and take them to see the veterinarian for regular checkups. In the event of an animal bite, clean well and always follow up with medical attention if teeth break the skin. Infection can spread quickly, and antibiotics may be necessary.

Never leave a child alone with an animal is an important rule to remember when bringing a pet into your home. Even the most docile of pets can be triggered and react aggressively, and the most doting of kids might hurt or startle an animal. Keep your human and furry family members safe and always have an adult supervising.