By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA
Our pets are members of the family and we love them unconditionally, even when they misbehave. The 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that 65 percent of U.S. households or approximately 79.7 million families own a pet. Additionally, the survey found that 54.5 million households own a dog and 42.9 million households own a cat.
Do you know if your pet is covered by your home, renters or condo insurance? The answer is it really depends. Typically, the liability protection provided by your homeowners or renters policy also extends to the damages or injuries caused by your pets. However, there are exclusions to this protection.
If you own any exotic animals such as snakes, alligators, iguanas, tigers, etc., it’s important to review your coverage with an independent agent immediately, especially if they may be unaware of the situation. Although it’s unlikely that your policy will provide coverage for a claim related to an exotic pet, it’s important to be aware of any limitations or exclusions on your policy. Keep in mind that certain exotic animals, such as big cats, cannot be insured by a standard insurance policy.
Additionally, if you own any domesticated pets such as horses and pot-bellied pigs, your home or renters insurance will most likely provide coverage. However, if a certain species is considered to pose a high liability risk by the carrier, it may cost more to insure the home or end up being deemed uninsurable altogether. Remember, exotic or domesticated pets are wild animals, which means they can be harder to control.
Dogs & Your Insurance
Most homeowners and renters insurance policies provide coverage for liability lawsuits for dog bites and other dog-related incidents. Unfortunately, many insurance companies refuse to write or extend coverage to certain dog breeds. This is due to a number of factors including the rising cost to pay out a claim.
Around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and only 885,000 of those cases require medical attention, half of them being children. Although the number of dog bite claims decreased by 7.2 percent in 2015, the average cost per claim increased by 16 percent to $37,214, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
Some insurance companies blacklist the following dog breeds: Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Chow Chow, Doberman, German Shepherd, Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Bulldog, Siberian Husky, and Wolf Hybrid, to name a few.
However, larger dogs are often categorized as a dangerous breed when in fact they aren’t any more likely to bite than the smaller dogs. According to a study by the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal, Siberian Huskies, Pit Bulls, and Rottweilers display a level of aggression that is average or below-average, while Dachshunds and Chihuahuas are ranked as the most aggressive breeds.
Regardless of your dog’s breed, once a dog has bitten someone it poses an increased risk. This can result in your insurance company charging a higher premium, excluding the dog from coverage, or non-renewing the policy altogether. Proper training and socialization of your dog is critical to ensuring your dog interacts well with other people. The III offers the following tips to help reduce the chances of your dog biting someone:
- Consult with a professional (e.g. veterinarian, animal behaviorist, responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
- Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler.
- Keep the family dogs secured if a stranger comes to your door.
- Be sensitive to cues that a child is scared or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay getting one. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other animals and people.
- Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
- Be cautious when exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its responses.
- Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
- Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists or a responsible breeder if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.
If you are thinking about getting a pet, remember to talk with your independent agent first. A trusted agent can inform you of the limitations and exclusions on your home or renters policy and work with you to find a better insurance carrier fit, depending on what type of pet you have.
Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is division President of the McGrath Insurance Agency, a division of Starkweather & Shepley Insurance Brokerage, Inc., of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at 508-347-6850 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.