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animal house: how pets affect homeowners insurance

Does it shed? Does it make noise? Does it smell? These are questions most of us ask before adding a pet to the house. But here's one more you may be overlooking: does it affect my homeowners coverage? We'll examine the furry (and not-so-furry) friends that could make a mess of your policy.

Why your insurer has concerns about your pet

Your pet is a member of the family, and you shower it with unconditional love. After all, that's your job. Your home insurer, on the other hand, has to view your pet (no matter how cute) objectively. That's their job.

Even the best-trained animals can be unpredictable. And your insurer looks at every unforeseen risk when creating your homeowners policy. If there's a chance your pet could pose a threat to people in your home (or away from it), you may have an increased rate, need more liability coverage, or, sometimes, be denied insurance altogether.

Homeowners insurance and dogs

One of the most common pets, dogs can also be one of the riskiest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million people suffer dog bites each year, with about 900,000 requiring medical treatment.

The good news: most homeowners insurance policies will cover dog bites and other incidents. And your liability insurance should help you avoid being on the hook for others' injury bills. But when your insurer examines your home for perils, discovering Fido and the possible risk he brings could lead to a higher premium. But it's also possible that your canine or feline counterpart could reduce your premium. Read on to see how your pet can affect your policy.

Does breed matter?

Yes, breed is a key factor when it comes to home insurance dog restrictions. Many insurers won't cover muscular canines that can inflict severe harm from a single bite, like Dobermans or even chow chows. When it comes to predicting which dogs are most likely to attack, though, many of our breed preconceptions aren't necessarily true.

For instance, a study from the Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal says that large dogs, often pigeonholed as the dangerous breeds, aren't any more likely to bite than small ones. Siberian Huskies and Greyhounds, to name a couple, scored as very calm dogs, and even pit bulls and Rottweilers registered average or below-average aggression. The tiny Dachshund, meanwhile, ranked as the journal's most-aggressive breed, with Chihuahuas coming in second.

Put simply, a liability claim can come from just about any breed, and regardless of what you think about your dog, your insurer could have other info (for better or worse).

Tips to help prevent dog bites

The best way to offset the added insurance cost of a dog is by staying claims-free and showing your insurer there's no reason to worry. Here are some steps to help, courtesy of the American Kennel Club:

  • Socialize your dog early by introducing it to other humans and pups
  • Keep your dog on-leash when it's in the yard
  • Get it vaccinated for rabies
  • Train your dog to "drop" toys so no one has to reach in its mouth
  • Limit tug-of-war games and don't let them get too heated
  • Be ready to remove your dog from tense situations or when it's nervous
  • Never leave children alone with your dog
  • Have visitors respect the dog's space, especially when it's sleeping, eating, and drinking

Exotic pets and your homeowners insurance

Some people are into things a bit wilder than dogs, kittens, and hamsters. There are over 10,000 privately owned big game cats in the U.S., for example, and over 3,000 apes! In general, because exotic pets are usually still wild animals and are hard to control, they likely won't be covered under your home insurance.

If you own a rare creature, you'll probably have to look into exotic pet insurance. These plans offer the sky-high coverage amounts capable of handling everything from lions to dolphins to zebras.

Domesticated pets

Perhaps your pet isn't truly exotic, but rather just an atypical domesticated one. Exotic pets are tamed wild animals, but domestic pets, by definition, have been bred as a population to live alongside people — like horses and potbellied pigs, for instance, both of which could potentially be included in your homeowners coverage. However, just like dogs, if they pose a high liability risk, they may cost more to insure or be uninsurable altogether.

Curious about your pet?

The only way to know for sure how your pet will affect coverage is to talk with your insurer. If you have questions about a certain type of animal, call 1-866-439-5633 and our agents will be happy to give you some advice.

You can also grab a free homeowners quote and start planning your coverage.

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