UPDATED: Apr 2, 2020
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- Pet ownership can limit access to standard homeowner insurance policies through rate hikes or even worse, excluding coverage all together.
- It is not illegal for an insurance provider to implement breed restrictions or raise premiums based on your dog’s breed.
- Dog owners searching for an affordable, pet-friendly policy should be sure to shop around at listed providers not enforcing breed restrictions (State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Fireman’s, and USAA) and consider taking out a separate pet insurance policy.
Dog owners often find themselves facing a particular dilemma when trying to secure homeowners insurance. While insurance is a must for anyone wanting to own their own house, many homeowners face higher premiums, inferior policies, or even blacklisting by insurance agencies simply because they own a dog.
Homeowners insurance doesn’t just protect against natural disasters, theft, and other mishaps. It also shields policyholders against lawsuits arising from injuries or damages, even those related to pets.
However, thanks to the increasing cost of litigation, especially those surrounding dog bites and other dog-related incidents, many insurance companies refuse to write coverage for homeowners who own certain breeds of dog.
Whether you need homeowners insurance for your Siberian Husky or you love your pit bull, this guide is for you. Here, you’ll find facts on the relationship between dog ownership and home insurance, which breeds create the most problems for homeowners, and how to find the cheapest and most affordable homeowners insurance policy possible.
We have a tool that will let you compare multiple estimated rates. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code, and we’ll guide you through the rest.
Home Insurance & Dogs – The Facts
Here are some basic facts about dog ownership and homeowners insurance:
- According to the American Veterinary Association, almost 40 percent of American households have a dog.
- That’s over 48 million households, with an average of 1.6 dogs per household. The Humane Society estimates the numbers at over 83 million.
- The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. One in five of these requires serious medical attention.
- The average cost of an insurance claim related to a dog bite in 2018 was over $39,017. Dog bite insurance claims cost insurers over $675 million in liability claims that same year.
- While the number of dog bite claims has fallen, the cost of such claims continues to rise.
- Most dog bite-related claims occur in California and Illinois.
- While a few states outlaw “breed profiling,” many insurance companies allow the denial or cancellation of coverage if a homeowner owns a certain breed of dog.
The statistics listed above show that owning a dog is no longer as cut and dry as walking, feeding, and cleaning up after your pet. When it comes to home insurance, dog ownership is now a serious consideration. Homeowners with dogs need to be sure that they understand the ins and outs as well as the extent of their policy coverage when it comes to dog-related insurance claims.
U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics
A brief review of these quick facts makes it abundantly clear that Americans love owning pets, and dogs seem to be the most beloved with over half of total U.S. households owning at least one dog according to the biennial APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 2017–2018.
|Fact||2015–2016 APPA Survey||2017–2018 AVMA Sourcebook|
|Total number of U.S. households||124.6 million||125.8 million|
|Estimated number of pet dogs||77.8 million||76.8 million|
|Number of households with a pet||79.7 million (65%)||74.4 million (56.80%)|
|Households that own at least one dog||54.4 million (44%)||48.3 million (38%)|
That tallies up to almost 90 million dogs according to the American Pet Products Association. However, as mentioned in previous sections, pet ownership brings with it an entirely new set of problems for homeowners and renters when it comes to acquiring insurance.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that each household spends close to $400 a year on medical bills alone for their animal. Add to that additional liability insurance and pet ownership veers dangerously close to not being an option budget-wise.
We have rounded up the statistics and provided some clear guidelines and helpful tips on how to protect yourself and your pets when it comes to finding an insurance provider you can trust — one that will refuse to drop your policy based on the bad behavior of a select few other animals while not costing you an arm and a leg in the process.
Trust us when we say if you are a pet owner, you are not alone in this insurance limbo when it comes to dog breed restrictions.
Dog Ownership 101 – Homeowners vs Renters
Homeowners don’t have an issue with their dog(s) being allowed to live in their home, but they do run into problems with insurance companies placing breed restrictions on their policy coverage. It is not illegal for an insurance provider to deny, cancel, or increase premiums because of the type of dog you own.
Renters seem to have it doubly hard, though, as certain breeds bar them from even renting out an apartment.
It’s hard enough to get a landlord to accept pets, much less large dogs whose breeds may have been designated as “dangerous.” In this case, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you and your dog have a safe place to live.
Renters who own dogs are beset with many of the same insurance difficulties as homeowners. Their renters insurance may cover dog bites, but finding an insurer that provides animal liability insurance is also a great way to sweeten the pot with the landlord.
Here are tips and guidelines for homeowners and renters when insuring dogs:
- Be cautious and informed – If you are thinking about getting a dog, speak with your insurance provider before bringing your pup home.
- Shop around – Speak with different insurance providers and try out different agents at the same insurance provider.
- Know your rights – Check-in with your local state insurance department and find out exactly what your state’s restrictions are regarding insuring certain dog breeds.
Following these measures can certainly help in reducing any potential future headaches involving dog-related insurance claims. However, we must stress the importance of educating yourself on these matters and openly discussing the particulars with your insurance agent to truly avoid any lapses in coverage.
The Issue of Breed Discrimination
Some organizations, like the American Kennel Club, have spoken out in favor of dogs and homeownership, claiming that dogs can act as a natural deterrent against theft and property damage. Insurance companies can question homeowners on whether they own a certain breed of dog and charge more for a policy or require additional paperwork depending on the answer.
Breed profiling is outlawed in some states, most notably Michigan and Pennsylvania.
However, in most other states, insurance companies can outright blacklist policyholders for owning certain dog breeds. These breeds, especially if they have a history, are listed as uninsurable, potentially leaving the owner liable for medical bills or lawsuits if the dog should bite someone.
Many times, insurance companies will not take a dog or dog owner’s history into account — they simply go by the average number of bites reported for certain breeds along with breeds with recent high-profile stories in the news.
This can mean a breed of dog that is “safe” one year may be “dangerous” the next. Some insurance companies can require muzzling, behavioral training, or other restraints in order to write a policy, incurring extra financial burdens on dog owners.
|Rank||Breed of Dog||Number of Attacks|
|4||Bullmastiff (Presa Canario)||111|
|12||German shepherd mix||45|
|15||Pit bull boxer mix||35|
|19||Pit mix unknown||22|
|20||Cane Corso/Italian Mastiff||21|
|26||Australian blue heeler||13|
|29||German shepherd/Lab mix||11|
It is important to remember that this period represented in the table above is over an extensive amount of time, and we cannot emphasize enough that the majority of animal professionals and veterinarians attest from proven data that breed discrimination is an ineffective measure to prevent dog bites.
So are home insurance companies correct to reduce their risk by excluding certain breeds?
Sara Ochoa, D.V.M., a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas who also acts as a veterinary consultant for DogLab, does admit that “Some breeds do have a history of being more aggressive, but most lists do not include all dogs that are actually known to bite. ” She uses Chihuahuas as a prime example, stating that they “are small but are known to bite and are not on most lists.”
Her comments bring up an important point about breed restriction lists and their ineffectiveness in being all-inclusive.
Stacey A. Giulianti, the chief legal officer of the Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, tends to agree with her, although with an eye geared more toward promoting breed restrictions. “Certain breeds, in our experience and based on industry research, are in fact more dangerous than others. Not all dog breeds are created equal, even though any particular dog could be gentle.”
Once again, the main fault of a list restricting breeds of dogs is that they don’t take into account particular animal behavior.
So what is the best alternative for insurance providers and policyholders? Ochoa offers an alternative approach that some companies have already put into use: “A bite history is a way better way to exclude certain breeds. If not a bite history (then) having a temperament letter from a veterinarian. Most of the time if a dog is aggressive they will show aggressive behaviors when having their nails trimmed or temperature taken.”
As far as measuring policy standards based on bite history alone, Giulianti tends to disagree and states that it “makes little sense … once a bite occurs, that animal is no longer insurable.” This is the primary reason most insurance providers do not bother with bite history as their litmus test for including dogs in homeowners coverage.
Giulianti further explains that “once a dog causes harm, and a claim is made and generally paid, most companies will no longer cover liability for that animal.”
That essentially makes bite history a one-and-done situation; this affords dog owners a more fair determination for coverage but fails to offer providers much in the way of assurances. The provider still has to pay for the one offense when they would have rather prevented it altogether.
If your insurance provider fails to measure your policy by bite history, Ochoa suggests not giving up on more traditional methods like talking with your agent and insurance provider. “A homeowner should talk with insurance companies on things they can do to still have their house insured with their pet. Ask about temperament statements or other options to still be able to insure their house and have the pet of their choosing.”
Top 10 At-Risk Dog Breeds
The following types of dog are most often considered at-risk breeds by many insurance companies:
- Akita – A large Japanese breed that weighs anywhere from 65–115 pounds, the Akita was originally bred to hunt large animals such as bear or elk. Today, many of these dogs are involved in police work. The Akita’s temperament is generally described as devoted, protective, and potentially aggressive toward other dogs but somewhat unresponsive when it comes to strangers.
- Alaskan Malamute – Ranging from 65–90 pounds, the malamute has an energetic and playful temperament. These dogs can be difficult to keep within fences.
- Chow Chow – A Chinese breed, the Chow Chow are bred for all sorts of activities including hunting and herding. They are highly territorial, distrustful of strangers, and have been known to show aggression toward other dogs.
- Doberman – Contrary to how they appear in the majority of cartoons, this breed of dog is known for being sweet and loyal. The Doberman is highly intelligent and was initially bred as a guard dog.
- German Shepherd – These smart, active dogs require a high level of activity from their owners. They are worker dogs, so sitting around the homestead will not cut it for a German shepherd.
- Pitbull – Short, stout, and muscular, these often villainized dogs are also friendly, lovable, and loyal. In fact, they are so misunderstood that most people do not know that “pit bull” is not even an actual breed of dog. It is a generalized term used to describe a variety of breeds once trained for bull herding and eventually dogfighting.
- Rottweiler – Recognized by its large head, muscled body, and the black-and-tan coloring of its coat of fur, this breed can weigh in at around 195 pounds.
- Siberian Husky – The husky is a well-tempered socialite that generally does well around children and other animals. Loyal and a bit mischievous, this dog tops out around 50–60 pounds.
- Wolf-Dog Hybrid – Due to varying genetic makeup, the behavior patterns of hybrids can be difficult to predict. However, hybrids can be skittish and unpredictable around strange people, situations, and other dogs. They need a lot of attention from owners and benefit from increased socialization with other dogs from a young age.
This detailed rundown from Forbes titled America’s Most Dangerous Dog Breeds provides up-to-date stats and some additional information on which dog breeds are most often targeted by insurers.
However, the title alone is aggressive and slightly offensive to owners of those breeds and serves as a perfect example of how these particular breeds are demonized. In response to such claims, many articles from credible news organizations like Psychology Today and nonprofit alliances like Bless the Bullys have all but denounced this practice, though the stigma around certain breeds still persists to this day.
Dog Owners – Dealing with Breed-Specific Legislation
Homeowners may have it slightly easier when it comes to pet ownership, but that does not mean their insurance woes are any easier. Since it is not illegal to ban certain breeds of dogs in the U.S., the majority of the states either have or allow some form of breed-specific legislation (BSL).
The cases are different for every state, so check with your state insurance department to see the particulars of each restriction. In the meantime, here is a listing of states’ BSL status.
|BSL Enforced States||BSL Prohibited States||No BSL States|
Thankfully, BSL seems to be on the decline as more people become better educated about the problems in restricting breeds. Most recently, 21 states passed laws prohibiting BSL on the local level while some 100 municipalities replaced BSL laws with breed-neutral policies.
Dogs & Home Insurance Claim Trends
Even though experts have proven that no particular breed is more likely to bite than another, states and insurance providers still attempt to protect themselves in cases where certain breeds have had more instances of biting individuals. Estimates suggest that 4.7 million dog bite injuries occur per year for a total cost of around $200 million for insurance providers.
|Year||Number of Claims||Average Cost Per Claim||Value of Claims (millions)|
Unfortunately, the statistics are not in the favor of pet owners when it comes to accidental dog injuries through biting. The number of cases has risen each year with a total estimated cost of $686.3 million to insurance providers in 2017.
|Year Range||Number of Claims||Average Cost per Claim||Value of Claims|
The table above shows that increases in dog-related claims and costs have occurred every year. The cost has risen 111 percent since 2003, which indicates breed-banning efforts have done little to reduce dog bite insurance claims.
Dog Bite Statistics by State
If you are thinking about purchasing or already an owner of a dog, you should check out the dog bite statistics by state. Generally speaking, areas with fewer occurrences are probably more lenient when it comes to insuring various breeds of dogs.
|Rank||State||Number of Claims||Average Cost Per Claim||Value of Claims (millions)|
California has the highest number of dog bite incidents with Florida a close second. If you live in either of these states, be sure to address your pet issues with your insurance provider and make sure you are covered. If your homeowners policy fails to cover your dog, look for alternative measures of insurance as these areas are the most likely to have stricter regulations regarding pet restrictions.
Dog Owners – Preventing Dog Bites Before They Happen
According to the Insurance Journal, more than a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims are due to dog bites. As the AVMA points out, one in five dog bite incidents requires medical attention, and the majority of incidents happen with children. The first line of defense for any dog-related bite injury is preventative care and responsible pet ownership.
Your first priority needs to be protecting yourself and your pet from unnecessary claim suits, and the best way to avoid a bite-related incident is to stop it before it even happens.
This means providing fencing and enclosures for animals along with care and attention. Dogs learn most of their bad habits from the humans who care for them.
The video below helps describe how children can avoid getting bit by a dog, but the lesson depicted is good advice for people of any age.
These are simple steps that may seem like common sense, but it is still important for everyone, dog owner or not, to know how to avoid potential risks when it comes to intimidating dogs and prompting a biting reaction. The ASPCA and humane societies have plenty of literature online to provide more guidance and helpful tips for preventing bite incidents and the resulting insurance debacle when you own a dog.
Quick Tips – How to Avoid Dog Bites as a Pet Owner
While no one can prevent accidents or unintended injuries, there are many precautions that dog owners can take to prevent bites or other incidents. Taking the time to be a responsible dog owner will save you money on homeowners insurance and make life easier for you and your pet.
- Educate yourself about your dog breed. Consult your veterinarian or a trainer.
- Spay or neuter your pet. Fixed dogs tend to be less aggressive, and this may also make a difference to insurance companies.
- Keep your dog leashed when outside. If your dog has access to the outdoors when not on a leash, make sure the fence or enclosure is secure.
- Keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date.
- Make sure your dog is properly socialized. Many dogs that do not have sufficient experience with strangers may bite out of fear.
- Focus playtime on non-aggressive games. For example, switch out tug-of-war for fetch.
- Don’t leave your dog unsupervised with strangers. This particularly applies to small children.
Education and awareness are reducing the unfounded practice of BSL and making it easier each year to insure your pet, but it is still important that you take the appropriate measures if you are a dog owner of any breed.
Dog Owners – Tips on Finding Homeowners Insurance
So what do you do if you own a dog and want to find cheap homeowners insurance? Fortunately, you may have more options than you think. Here are some tips for making the search a little less stressful.
- Take precautions – Many insurance companies will take extra precautions into account, such as certified obedience training, dog socialization classes, fences, kennels, and so on. The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program is a prime example of the kind of precaution insurers should keep in mind when writing a policy.
- Shop around – Find independent agents and stay away from the smaller insurance companies that tend to be skittish about insuring dog owners. Insurers who don’t discriminate by breed include State Farm, Amica, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, and USAA. For more information regarding insurance providers that do not discriminate based on dog breed, check out the AKC’s Homeowners Insurance Resource Center and MSPCA for guides on the legalities of home insurance and pet ownership.
- Talk to more than one agent – Not all insurance agents are created equal. If the first agent you talk to for a particular carrier won’t work with you, try another.
- Contact the insurance commissioner for your state – Some states forbid insurers from denying a policy to a homeowner because they own a certain breed of dog. Your insurance commissioner can provide you with a list of insurance companies in your state and review a refused policy to see if it falls within your state’s legal guidelines. The American Kennel Club has a link to each State Insurance Commissioner for easy reference.
- Purchase a separate policy for your dog – Organizations such as the Federation of Insured Dog Owners were created to provide just such a service to dog owners. A separate pet liability policy can be costly, but not nearly as expensive as a lawsuit.
For more on finding cheap homeowners insurance as a dog owner, the AKC is a great place to start for all types of guides and helpful tips. Even if you are simply unsure of what measures to take regarding pet ownership and home insurance, their home resource center can at least get you started on the path to protecting you and your family, which of course includes those lovable pets.