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When you’re picking a pet, you probably consider a number of questions: Will it shed? What—and how much—will it eat? Will it bark (tweet, chirp, howl, meow)? Will it smell bad?

There’s one more question that should be on this list, but all too often isn’t: Will a pet affect my homeowner’s insurance rates?

Read on to discover which animal pals can impact your homeowner’s policy.

Pets and Your Homeowner’s Policy

For many pet owners, that furry (or feathery, or scaly) friend is simply a member of the family. For a home insurer, however, pets may represent a potential liability. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites and other dog-related injuries account for more than a third of all payouts on homeowner’s policies. The average cost of these payouts is a whopping $33,000 per bite. Together, pet-related payout costs total more than $600 million per year—a cost that has risen by more than 94 percent since 2003.

These incidents aren’t all about bites. Fractures and injuries may occur when dogs knock down others, such as children, the elderly, or bicyclists. Given the high costs of such incidents, it’s not hard to see why home insurance providers must look at pets in an objective manner.

Pet liability is a common issue, as a majority of American households do have pets. According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of American households include pets. Of these, 60 percent own dogs and 47 percent own cats. Fish, birds, reptiles, and other small animals are among the next most commonly owned pets. Not surprisingly, most pet-related claims have to do with dogs.

Dogs and Homeowner’s Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance often covers pet-related injuries, but insurers may make decisions about pets and coverage based on dog breeds, and your dog’s breed may affect the type and price of a homeowner’s insurance policy.

While some insurers may make coverage decisions on a case-by-case, pet-by-pet basis, other insurers may determine coverage based on statistics related to the average number of bites reported for specific breeds. These numbers may change based on breed popularity and geographic distribution, but certain breeds tend to be on the list year after year, including:

  • Doberman pinschers
  • Great Danes
  • Pit bulls
  • Rottweilers
  • Staffordshire terriers

Laws vary from state to state, as well. In some states, dog owners are liable for any injuries caused by a bite if they were aware their dog’s breed had a propensity to bite, while in other areas, certain dog breeds are listed as dangerous on “breed-specific statutes” that identify certain breeds as dangerous. Some states require owners of certain dog breeds to take out insurance, while other states don’t allow insurers to deny coverage to dog owners.

Regulations are complex, and insurers must take all these factors into account when making coverage decisions for pet owners.

So, what’s a dog owner to do? Start by researching breeds before you bring a new pet home. You can talk to breeders, veterinarians, and trainers to get a professional opinion on which types of pet will work best for your specific situation. Take steps to socialize and train your dog to prevent the need for claims in the first place. Keep track of your research and document the steps you’ve taken to ensure a safe home for your dog and others.

Exotic Pets

While dogs are, by far, the most common pet to impact homeowner’s insurance, what if your tastes run a little more…exotic?

If you’re the proud owner of, say, a snake, pot-bellied pig, or big game cat, you still need to ensure that your insurance provides the right coverage. In some cases, wild animals or other exotic pets aren’t covered under typical homeowner’s policies. In such cases, you may want to consider exotic pet coverage that will offer appropriate coverage. Just keep in mind that if any pet poses a high liability risk, coverage will likely cost more.

In all cases, the key lies in being honest with your insurance provider. It’s better to be up-front, especially if an incident happens and you need to file a claim. Talk to your insurance agent about your options; they’ll help you find the right coverage for your unique situation.