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Pets and renters insurance: Why you need it

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According to the American Pet Products Association, 67% of households in the United States have at least one pet. 63.4 million households own a dog and 42.7 million households have a cat. If you are a renter and own a pet, you may want to consider what your renters insurance covers for your pet in terms of liability for injuries and property damage and what it does not. You may even want to consider purchasing pet insurance.

Although pets can provide numerous benefits to owners, there is also a risk of your pet biting or otherwise hurting one of your guests, which can lead to medical bills and even lawsuits. Additionally, the financial burden of caring for your pet’s health could be a stressor for you. Insurance can help in some cases, but it is important to understand the difference between pet insurance and renters insurance and how they each function.

What is the difference between pet insurance and renters insurance?

Renters who are pet owners may want to consider having a pet health insurance policy and a renters insurance policy that includes pet liability coverage. Each of these policies is designed to cover different scenarios and has its own specific set of coverages.

Renters insurance

Renters insurance is a policy that typically includes coverage for your personal property and liability when you are renting your home or apartment. While your landlord’s coverage should cover the actual structure of your rented home, your renter’s insurance is designed to provide coverage for your belongings and your liability exposure.

Having a pet increases your liability exposure; the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. If you have a pet and it injures someone — by biting them, scratching them, knocking them over or in any other way — you may be facing a large bill for their medical expenses. Depending on your specific renters insurance policy, your medical payments coverage and liability coverage may help you pay these expenses.

Pet insurance

Pet insurance is essentially health insurance for pets and can help ease the burden of expensive treatments. While coverage options vary, many plans do not cover pre-existing conditions or routine veterinary visits. Other plans may cover alternative care such as acupuncture and chiropractics. You may have the option to include dental care, X-rays and other medical procedures to the list of covered expenses on a pet care policy.

Just like with human health care, there are different tiers of health insurance coverage for pets. Many basic plans cover veterinary procedures and treatments for accidents and illness such as cancer, with caps on reimbursements. Comprehensive plans are generally more expensive, but may include coverage for X-rays, prescriptions medications and lab fees, and may have a lower deductible.

Although the decision to buy pet insurance is a personal one, the coverage could help you to pay for medical bills should your pet become sick. Pet coverage may not be available for all types of pets, though. It is most commonly offered for dogs and cats, although some specialty companies may offer coverage for additional types of pets. Pet insurance is offered by numerous national and regional property and casualty carriers.

How can renters insurance protect you and your pet?

A renters insurance policy is for people who do not own their residence and want to protect their personal property and shield themselves against liability. If you have an animal, you may want to make sure you have enough coverage to protect yourself financially if sued in the event your pet injures another person or animal or causes property damage. Please note that renters insurance policies typically do not cover “exotic pets” such as reptiles, amphibians and ferrets.

Renters insurance can pay for damages to your rental home and to other people and their possessions if you, your pet or a family member causes injury or damages. It also pays medical expenses when a guest is injured in your home and extra living expenses if your home becomes uninhabitable due to significant damage sustained from a covered peril such as a fire, windstorm, blizzard or other disaster.

Liability coverage is part of a standard renters’ insurance policy and pays medical and legal expenses up to your policy limit — typically $100,000 to $300,000 — if your pet injures someone. If your dog bites another dog, your liability coverage might also pay the veterinary expenses for the other dog. Any costs above your policy limit are your responsibility.

However, it is important to let your insurance company know that you have a pet, as not all renters insurance extends your liability coverage to your pet. Some insurance companies will deny coverage for damages or injuries caused by a pet that they were not aware of. Additionally, some dog breeds are often considered ineligible for coverage. If you own an ineligible breed, you may not be able to buy renters insurance from that particular company, or your policy may exclude liability for any damages resulting from that pet.

Your renters liability insurance generally will not protect you if your dog damages property that you own. If you have renters insurance policy, read it thoroughly or speak with your insurance agent to check for coverage limits under certain circumstances, such as when an incident occurs in your rented home or away from it.

The cost of renters insurance

The price of a renters insurance policy depends on numerous factors, including how much coverage you choose, your age, your marital status and your credit-based insurance score. However, the average premium for a renters insurance policy in the United States is $179 per year, or about $15 per month, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).

Having a pet could increase the cost of your renters insurance. Because a pet adds an additional liability exposure to your policy, your insurance company may charge you a higher premium to offset that risk.

Renters insurance is not required by law, but you may have to carry a policy as a requirement of your agreement with your landlord. Even if you are not required to have coverage, you may still want to purchase renters insurance for financial peace of mind. Although your landlord will likely have an insurance policy to coverage damages to the actual structure of your rented home or apartment building, you are responsible for obtaining coverage for your personal belongings inside your living space. Additionally, if you or your pet is found to be responsible for injuries or damages, a renters insurance policy could protect you from financial devastation by providing liability coverage.

What pet coverage is not included on a renters insurance policy?

The pet damages and liability coverages in your renters policy may not cover you for certain incidents. Additionally, your insurance company may exclude coverage for damages or injuries caused by certain dog breeds. Your renters policy liability limits may be significantly reduced or not applicable at all if you have one of the dog breeds on a restricted breed list. You may want to purchase pet liability insurance for extra coverage.

Pet liability insurance

A pet liability policy gives you liability coverage that your renters insurance may not include, such as coverage for dogs with a history of aggression, off-duty police dogs or extended coverage for incidents that occur away from home.

“It is always good for pet owners to consider their specific issues, such as dog breed or if there is any aggressive history from the dog,” says Ray Farmer, director of the South Carolina Department of Insurance. “Owners should look specifically at the policy to understand what they will be responsible to cover and take steps to mitigate any damage that might happen.”

If your dog has bitten someone, insurers will likely consider it to be more of a risk, regardless of the breed. Even if your dog has never bitten or attacked anyone, if the breed is deemed dangerous or risky, it could be difficult to find coverage.

Certain dog breeds may require more insurance

Although every dog has its own personality and the likelihood of a bite occurring depends greatly on training, there are unfortunately some breeds that are viewed as having more aggressive tendencies or being at a greater risk of causing injury than others. Although each insurance company has its own underwriting regulations, following is a list of dog breeds that are often considered ineligible for insurance coverage.

The list of breeds below comes, in large part, from a study of fatal dog bites commissioned by the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in 2000. The study lasted for 19 years and found that there were about 12 dog-bite fatalities per year during that time, and 50% of those involved pit bulls, Rottweilers or combinations of those breeds. The study also found that male dogs were more likely to fatally bite someone, and that neutered dogs were less likely to attack than sexually intact dogs.

These are the breeds on the study’s list, along with additional breeds that are often excluded for coverage by insurers:

  • Akita
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Dane
  • Husky or Malamute
  • Mastiff
  • Pit bull
  • Presa Canario
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Wolf-dog hybrids

If you own one of these breeds, experts recommend informing your carrier. You may still be able to purchase insurance, but there may be a surcharge. If your carrier does not offer coverage for your dog breed, you may want to seek out a company that does not use a dog’s breed to determine eligibility. If your dog has a history of aggression, you may only be able to find coverage with a high-risk carrier. Several states have recently enacted laws either forbidding insurers from excluding any dog breeds and/or including a premium surcharge for aggressive dogs.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to let my insurance company know I have a pet?

It is important to let your property insurance company know you have a pet, even if it is not a dog, to avoid gaps in your property coverage. Although certain dog breeds may be a primary concern of insurance companies, other animals can cause damage that an insurer may have to pay for if you file a claim. Cats could scratch a guest or damage the carpeting in your rental, for example. If you do not disclose that you have a pet, an insurance company could deny a claim due to misrepresentation, which could impact your ability to find future coverage.

If my pet injuries someone, will my insurance go up?

If you file a claim for injuries caused by your pet, you will likely see an increase in your insurance premium at the next renewal date. This is because an insurance company views a claim as an indication that such damages could happen again, so you are charged more to compensate for that increased risk. If the injuries are severe enough, your insurance company may choose to cancel your policy. If your policy has been cancelled due to a pet injury claim, you will likely have trouble finding a policy to extend coverage to your pet or pay much more for coverage from a new carrier.

What happens if my dog is an ineligible breed?

If you own a dog whose breed is on your company’s ineligible list, you may still have options. Your company may exclude coverage for these breeds on its basic policy, but you may be able to add the coverage for an additional fee. If this is not an option, you can search for a carrier that will insure your dog. Every company has the right to create its own list of ineligible dog breeds, so you may find a company that does not consider your dog a higher-than-average risk. Additionally, some companies do not use a dog’s breed to determine eligibility and instead only consider a dog’s history of aggression.

Written by
Cate Deventer
Insurance Writer & Editor
Cate Deventer is a writer, editor and insurance professional with over a decade of experience in the insurance industry as a licensed insurance agent.
Edited by
Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute