We’ve all seen the images of puppies in a basket under a Christmas tree, or a kitten with a sparkly ribbon around its neck.
But before your clients do their holiday shopping at the pet shop or local animal shelter, remind them to consider the less cute parts of what they’re bringing home: risks and liabilities.
“Many people don’t understand or take into consideration the huge financial risk and expense they may be presenting along with that cuddly puppy,” says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I” vice president of agent development, education and research. “Pet owners are responsible for their pet’s actions and could be held liable if, for example, their animal bites or injures someone or causes property damage.”
If your clients are adding a pet to the family this holiday season, encourage them to keep the following in mind:
Sick puppy? Health insurance for pets is a popular topic, but pet owners should research their options thoroughly before purchasing—this coverage is not suitable for everyone. Because these policies are non-regulated insurance products, purchasers have no recourse through state insurance regulators in the event that a problem arises with their coverage. In addition, many pet insurance policies exclude routine examinations, vaccinations and pre-existing conditions.
Biter or chewer? Homeowners and renters policies, as well as homeowners association rules, often mention dogs explicitly. As dog owners, your clients can be held financially responsible if their animal attacks, bites or injures a person or damages a property. That bite can also have huge implications for their insurance: Most people are bitten by dogs they know, not strays, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about half of the 4.5 million dog bites reported annually in the U.S. occur at the property owner’s home. Meanwhile, the highest rate of dog bites occurs among children ages five to nine, and many require medical attention.
If your clients plan to bring a new pet into their home, make sure they have adequate liability coverage, and inquire about safety measures to protect the family and those who visit their property.
What kind of dog is that? Many insurers routinely ask in their policy applications if homeowners or renters have dogs, and whether they have a history of aggressive behavior. Some companies may even deny coverage to those who own certain breeds, including wolf hybrids, Pit Bulls and Rottweilers.
Insurance companies can deny claims or limit coverage for dog owners who do not take precautions to prevent their animals from attacking. Many industry experts recommend at least $500,000 in liability protection for owners of particular breeds or large dogs in general.
How much was that doggy in the window? Regardless of what they paid for their pet, your clients should know that most homeowners insurance policies exclude damage or injury to animals. If their pet is injured or killed in a fire or other disaster, they will most likely not be able to claim it as a loss with their insurance company.
Cruisin’ with canines? Some auto insurers are now including a pet clause which provides a certain amount of coverage for expenses relating to a dog’s injuries if the dog is in a vehicle when an accident occurs. Also remind your clients to use a proper animal transport crate or restraint when traveling with pets.
More than just a pet? Pets like ponies, piglets and baby goats are not uncommon gifts in some parts of the U.S., especially in rural areas where state fairs, livestock competitions and youth agriculture programs are prevalent. Families considering horses, goats, calves, pigs, chickens and other farm animals as gifts may want to consider livestock or animal mortality products that cover certain losses, including drowning and electrocution.
Beyond dogs and cats? On that note, exotic animals such as ferrets, snakes, lizards, spiders, turtles, sugar gliders and others can be popular pets—but they can also present liability concerns. Inform your clients of state and local laws that address ownership of these animals before they purchase one. Also check for other risks, such as disease and propensity for biting.
Margarita Tapia is Big “I” director of public affairs. Sue Nester is Big “I” director of broadcast media.