Pets can be a child’s best friend—and children can be great friends for pets. Here’s how to make sure everyone stays happy and safe.

Research before you buy. “A pet is a long-term commitment,” says Zara Boland, a veterinarian with Purina Health and member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. “You want one that fits your family’s lifestyle. Different pets and breeds have different personalities and needs. For example, not all dogs are active, but some breeds need to play a lot. Some cats like to be left alone, but others are social.”

Take it slow. “Let children get to know new pets over small periods of time,” says Stacey Berry, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Young animals can get overwhelmed easily. Make sure kids touch animals softly. Most importantly, stop the meeting as soon as anyone shows signs of being upset, whether child or animal.”

Always supervise. “Never leave young children alone with pets,” Dr. Boland says. “As much as we love both pets and children, they can both do things we wouldn’t expect.”

For more information about pets and safety, call the Family Resource Center at 314.454.KIDS (5437) and press “5.”

Four-legged friends have a wonderful power to heal. The newly opened Purina Family Pet Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital lets kids visit with a family pet while they’re in the hospital. Learn more about the center, made possible thanks to a generous donation from Purina, at


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