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Insurance 101 for Pet Owners

(ARA) -- Pet owners are typically responsible for their animals’ actions -- provoked or not. Without proper insurance, a mishap with the family pet could mean financial ruin, especially if a child’s involved.

What would happen if a 2-year-old stuck her hand in your dog’s bowl at feeding time? How would he react if the neighbor kid jumped your fence and scared him?

“Pet owners are typically responsible for their animals’ actions -- provoked or not -- including medical bills and legal fees,” says Jon Farris, personal lines assistant vice president for insurance company General Casualty. “Without proper insurance, it could mean financial ruin, especially if a child’s involved.”

Get Covered

The liability portion of your homeowners policy will probably cover most pet-related claims (with some notable exceptions, mentioned below). But what if you don’t own a home?

“Renters or condo owners with pets should make sure they have appropriate liability coverage, since they are just as much at risk of a dog-bite claim or someone tripping over their pet and getting hurt,” says Debbie Fester, personal lines vice president for Farmers Union Insurance.

She adds that farm residents should let their insurance agent know which animals are pets and which are part of the farm operation. Typically if there are more than three of an animal and/or it’s used to make money, it should go on the farm policy because there’s extra coverage for situations like if the animal is struck by lightning or falls into a ravine.

Ask Before Buying

Homeowners policies vary, but many exclude certain dog breeds. The same goes for exotic pets and dogs with a history of biting. The insurance experts say the best advice is to check with your insurance agent before buying a pet. If you already have one, let your agent know, because you might need extra coverage.

For example, General Casualty won’t cover homeowners with certain breeds of dogs known for their size, power, and aggressive breed history. “It’s not that all Boxers are bad, there are lots of very nice ones. But from an insurance perspective, it’s about potential severity -- a Boxer could do a lot more harm than a Dachshund. We can’t tell on paper if yours is a ‘good’ dog,” Farris says.

Fester says Farmers Union Insurance typically won’t cover a dog if it’s bitten in the past because of the risk it’ll do it again. However, she says long-term customers in certain states may be able to keep their FUI insurance with a special exclusion for their dog’s actions.

Neither company covers exotic pets, like pythons or alpacas, but Farris says exotic pet owners can find coverage from companies that specialize in these. “An independent insurance agent can match customers with insurers who will cover your pet cougar or monkey or your pack of sled dogs.”

Take Precautions

Fester and Farris also suggest pet owners take precautions to protect themselves:

-- Be especially careful with children. Children are never held liable in dog bite cases, even if they provoke the animal.

-- Do your research before getting a dog that will be around kids.

-- Have your pet spayed or neutered. Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered are up to three times more likely to bite, according to the Humane Society.

-- Keep your animal fenced.

-- Post that you have a pet.

-- Never let your dog in public without a leash -- even if it’s well trained.

-- Go the extra step. Don’t let strangers pet your dog. Hold onto its collar so it can’t jump up on a child. Keep your dog in another room during your kid’s birthday party.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

© 2008 ARA

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