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When They Bite: Dog-Related Injuries Are up by 300% – Does Home Insurance Help?

One of my irrational fears growing up was of dogs. Small dogs, big dogs it didn’t really matter – I always thought they would try to chase me or bite me. Now many years later I count myself a dog lover, but I do know that my fears were not completed unfounded. 

A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics finds dog-related emergency room visits to one children’s hospital in the U.S. spiked nearly 300 per cent following the start of stay-at-home orders in March 2020. A recent study from the United Kingdom found a similar increase.

There are many reasons for the increased number of dog bites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the factors include increased child-dog exposure. Also, dogs are under greater stress, because of increased child presence. There is also a decrease in adult supervision of children around dogs, due to new and competing home responsibilities for parents and caregivers.

To top it off, pet ownership has increased in the last year. This phenomenon is often referred to as getting a ‘pandemic puppy.’ 

Home insurance service provider ‘Square One Insurance Services’ says more than one-third of Canadian households now have dogs, and pet industry sales increased by 5 percent in 2020.

But are you protected if your new pooch causes any damage? Here is how to protect you, your dog and those around your pet. 

Does home insurance cover dog bites? 

Your home insurance provider should know if you have a dog or any pet for that matter. Some cover them under your home policy, some may not. This is because your furry friend may present a liability exposure. Square One says, you may be liable if the legal process finds you responsible for harming another person. Which would be the case of a dog biting or injuring someone. Square One says, once you’re found liable, you’ll be legally obligated to compensate the victim in some way. Part of the legal process of determining liability also involves deciding what the compensation should be. 

Compensation of this type of insurance incident is referred to as “damages.’ “Not everyone is aware that, in Canada, many home insurance policies will cover the cost of defending you in the event that someone alleges they were injured by your pet,” says Stefan Tirschler, Product and Underwriting Manager at  Square One Insurance Services, “This is critical coverage for any dog owner because defending against such a lawsuit without insurance can be frightening and costly—even if your dog was innocent of causing any harm.”

As a dog owner if you are not 100% certain that you are covered for dog bites, you should contact your insurer immediately to find out. If they won’t offer you coverage for your dog, you may want to consider shopping the market & comparing home insurance quotes to find an insurer who will.

What kind of dog raises your home insurance premiums? 

Letting your home insurance provider know you have a dog is the first step, but the provider may even ask you about the breed when calculating your home insurance quote. Square One says this information may be requested not because those breeds are inherently more dangerous, but certain dog breeds are, however, featured more frequently in lawsuits than others.

Public perception also plays a role. As someone may be more likely to launch a lawsuit again certain dogs considered ‘dangerous’ because they feel more threatened. “The larger and more powerful the breed, then potentially the more harm it may cause when it does bite,” says Animal Behaviour & Welfare Specialist Dr. Rebecca Ledger, “and so owners of such breeds need to be aware of this when their dog is interacting with other dogs and people.”

This is much like asking how many young drivers are in your home when getting a quote for your car insurance. The company is basing their quote on the probability that something may go wrong, not that your teenager is a reckless driver. 

What dog breeds are excluded from home insurance? 

There are some companies that do not provide protection for your dog under your home insurance, in these instances it is recommended you move on to a new provider who will insure you for all your coverage needs & risks, including your dog. Common dog breeds that are typically considered are:

  • German Shepherds
  • Dobermans
  • Siberian Huskies
  • Pit Bulls

If your fur baby is one of these breeds your home insurer may not cover them in the act of any injury to another person, especially if they have a previous history of aggression or claims against them.

If your dog bites you or someone who visits your home, are you protected if they suffer injury?

Unfortunately, there is no short answer, and every situation will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If your insurance provider is aware that you have a dog, and they know the breed and have agreed to list it under your home insurance policy your claim will be given full consideration. But they will need to review all the facts of the situation that occurred to make informed judgement.

If you have approved coverage for a dog by your insurer, it would generally fall under the liability portion of your policy because you’re considered responsible for them. Again, you will want to confirm with your provider that you are indeed covered, as it’s not a guarantee. Square One recommends you seek out a home insurance policy with liability coverage that includes your dog. They say liability coverage helps cover legal costs and damages when you’re found liable for a negligent act, or when someone injures themselves on your property.

How much does a dog add to home insurance?

There is a lot that goes into determining the cost of having your dogs on your home insurance policy. For example, the breed, it's history, if it has ever been aggressive before. Homeowners would be aware of some increased costs if a dog is added to their home insurance. 

Can a lost dog be claimed on home insurance?

Unfortunately, that type of coverage is not available in Canada. A home insurance provider may only provide liability coverage for dog owners. The animal is not viewed as a possession and therefore cannot claimed if lost or stolen under your contents insurance. Any dog owner may want to consider pet insurance, some carriers offer resources to support you in the event your animal is lost or stolen.

The bottom line

Having a dog is a huge responsibility. They are after all a family member that requires care and attention. But you do need to be protected if someone is injured by your dog, in any circumstance, even if the dog was playing. As more Canadians adopt dogs it’s important to let your insurance provider know so you are not opening yourself up for an expensive lawsuit.