The patter of tiny feet does not have to be a problem for families accustomed to the clatter of their furry friends' paws. Many cats and dogs of all sizes manage to integrate well into growing families. However, paediatrician Dr Alfred Tam says there are several points to consider when a baby is about to join a family with pets. 'Number one, they have to create an environment that is safe and healthy for the baby,' Tam says. Secondly, they have to pay attention to their pet's reaction and feelings to ensure harmony in the home, he adds. The good news is that families have nine months to prepare themselves and their pet for the baby's arrival. 'The key idea is to avoid drastic changes,' says Whiskers N Paws founder, Vada Chung, who has worked with several customers with children and pets at home. Any alterations to meals, grooming and play times should be gradual and in anticipation of future changes. 'If mommy always jogs with Fido in the morning, perhaps daddy should join the jog and gradually take over, so that mommy doesn't suddenly stop jogging with Fido as soon as baby arrives,' Chung says. Jealousy is another issue that is important to address early on. Without proper planning, the sudden introduction of a baby may cause substantial distress. Rather than scolding, ignoring or isolating the family pet, gradual change is important here. 'If possible, arrange for someone else in the household to be more involved with the care of Fido and Kitty, so that when the time comes ... [they] do not feel left out suddenly,' Chung says. She recommends interacting with pets only when they are calm, or practising with a doll wrapped in a blanket. Bringing home a baby blanket prior to bringing the newborn home also lets the family pet become accustomed to the infant's scent. Monitoring your pet's behaviour prior to the new arrival is also helpful, particularly if they are given to jumping, nibbling, pouncing or swatting. 'It's best to teach [them] some basic manners, as well as to be quiet in the apartment, well in advance of baby's homecoming date,' Chung says. A well exercised dog is more likely to be calm. Owners of energetic dogs should ensure they receive adequate exercise. 'Never wait and see what happens,' Chung says. 'If you are not 100 per cent sure, there are a few positive animal behaviour counsellors in Hong Kong who can help you prepare for the arrival of a new baby.' Once the baby has arrived, there are a few key rules. Above all, new parents should never leave their baby and pet together unattended. Also, parents should set aside time to play exclusively with their pet, Tam says. 'You should also prepare your dog or cat by training him to accept the touch of your child,' he says. Babies also make noises and movements that are unfamiliar to dogs and cats. Pets need to be encouraged to remain calm and should then be slowly introduced to the baby under supervision. 'Also be prepared to remain calm yourself as well - anxious pet parents sometimes cause a pet to be anxious as well,' Chung says. Particularly from about a year-old, children tend to treat their pets as if they are toys. 'They may then touch intimate parts of the dog, such as the creases of the paws, where they are not often touched by adults,' Tam says. 'Train the dog by gently touching [these parts] so that it knows it is OK and does not take it as some kind of irritation - so there is less chance of it reacting adversely.' As children become more mobile, contact should take place gradually. 'If there's any doubt when the baby is not supervised, it's better not to risk them being together, as things can happen unexpectedly,' Tam says. Sometimes, what a dog considers normal play may not be the same for a child, so expectations have to be matched. 'This depends on the kind of dog you have, its size and behaviour,' he says. Hygiene is also important for pet owners expecting a baby. They should also be careful about touching soil where cats and dogs often play due to the risk of transmitting toxoplasmosis, which is a parasitic disease. Families should ensure that their pet is vaccinated and de-wormed regularly to minimise the risk of illnesses spreading to their baby, Tam says. Finally, 'make sure your place is clean and there is separation from your young baby and your pets'. While it is essential to keep pets out of a baby's room, pets also need a private place in the house.