What Is Dog Liability Insurance and How Does It Work?

You hope it never happens, but if your dog somehow injures someone or damages someone’s property, you may wish you had dog liability insurance.

Written by Dr. Amanda Hensley DVM, MPH / December 30, 2021

Quick Bites

  • Dog liability insurance pays for injuries or property damage caused by your pet.
  • Some homeowners insurance policies offer coverage for dogs, but they can be limited in scope.
  • Dog bites are the most common form of injury that requires medical attention.
  • The average dog liability claim on homeowners insurance policies was a whopping $50,245 in 2020, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Many of us have a blind spot when it comes to our beloved dogs. We embrace all of their endearing, quirky behaviors without much consideration for the potential damage they could cause. 

Even if your dog has never shown any signs of aggressive or dangerous behavior, other behaviors, such as jumping up in a friendly but boisterous greeting, can unintentionally cause serious harm.

While some homeowners and renters insurance policies cover injury or damage done by your dog, the coverage may be very limited.

To protect yourself and your dogs from the unexpected, research the limits of your current policies and, if they come up short, consider getting a dog liability policy to ensure you have enough coverage.

Inside this article

  1. What is dog liability insurance?
  2. What’s covered?
  3. How much coverage do I need?
  4. What it costs
  5. Where to get liability insurance

What is dog liability insurance?

This type of coverage protects you if your dog damages or injures another person or their property. It’s a “third party” insurance in that it compensates others in case of injury to them or their property.

In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries caused by their pets. In 17 states, pet owners are not automatically liable, but are subject to criminal charges in the case of a dog attack.[1]

While many homeowners and renters policies provide adequate coverage, there are some common exclusions to be aware of:

  • Certain breeds that are deemed “dangerous” may not be covered. 

  • There may be specific exclusions for damages caused by dogs or other pets.

  • Coverage may be denied if there is a bite history or previous loss.

Dog liability insurance is designed to cover these exceptions and ensure high enough limits to protect you in case of a damaging incident or lawsuit.

It works by offering coverage for:

  • Anyone who can’t get a homeowners or renters policy

  • People whose current policies don’t offer enough coverage

  • Pet owners with dogs that are excluded from coverage by other policies (certain breeds or dogs with a bite history)

What does dog liability insurance cover?

Generally, you can expect a policy to cover:

  • Compensation for medical bills if your dog harms another person

  • Costs to repair or replace property your dog damages

  • Your legal expenses in case of a lawsuit 

Dog Bites

Dog bites are the most common injury caused by dogs that end up requiring medical attention. In 2014, over one-third of all homeowner liability payouts were due to dog bites.[2]

Although the total number of dog bite claims has decreased, between 2003 to 2020, the average cost per claim increased by 162%, resulting in a nationwide average of $50,245 per claim in 2020.[2]

According to the Journal of Pediatrics, the highest incidence of dog bites occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 9, with a higher likelihood of bites occurring to the head and neck of younger children.[3] This increases the potential for serious injury and major medical costs.

Note, though, that most dog bites, especially of children, come from the family dog. This is important to remember because dog liability insurance is third-party insurance—which means the policy doesn’t cover you or anyone within your household. 

Even the sweetest dog can bite in certain circumstances, especially if they’re scared or in pain. 

If your dog escapes your yard and gets injured, they’re much more likely to bite a good Samaritan trying to help them than they would under normal circumstances. Dog liability insurance is designed to protect you in this type of situation.

Other Injuries Dogs Can Cause

Just a few weeks ago, a friend’s dog excitedly jumped up to greet me, accidentally giving me a deep, painful scratch on the leg. This scratch became infected and required a round of antibiotics to clear up. 

Luckily, I’m healthy and it’s healing normally with only a bruise left to show for the incident. But, if I were immunocompromised or taking blood thinners, this kind of accident could have become a serious medical issue resulting in big medical bills. 

Jumping dogs also frequently cause people to fall, resulting in all kinds of injuries. Children and older people are particularly susceptible to being knocked down by a dog and are more likely to be injured.

Broken bones, cuts that need stitches and head injuries are all common from falls and can result in significant medical expenses for which you may be liable.

Property Damage

Most of us have experienced the damage a new puppy can cause—the chewed shoes and baseboards, the peed-on carpets. But adult dogs can also be very destructive in certain situations.

I once had a patient named Riley, a nearly-200-pound Great Dane adopted from a rescue with serious separation anxiety. His owners worked hard and made great progress with him on this, but eventually, they had to board him for a last-minute trip. 

During his first night there, Riley became so anxious that he destroyed the room where he was supposed to be comfortably resting. This included destroying the drywall, damaging the door beyond repair, destroying the beds and tearing down a section of a fence. 

This incident cost his owners more than $3,000 in damages. This is the type of situation dog liability insurance can help you cover.

Other common property damage caused by dogs includes:

  • Breaking windows while lunging at outdoor animals

  • Jumping up on a car door to greet someone and scratching the paint

  • Digging holes and destroying expensive landscaping

  • Breaking fences and gates when other animals or people walk by  

Remember: Because dog liability insurance is third-party insurance, it doesn’t cover damages to your own property. But it protects you if your dog damages someone else’s property.

Animal Attacks

Although most of us don’t consider our pets to be property, by law they are. This means you’re liable for damages your dog causes to another person’s pet, too. 

By far, the most common “property” damage situations I’ve encountered as a veterinarian are the so-called big-dog-little-dog (​​BDLD) injuries.

BDLD refers to a larger dog injuring or killing another dog or cat. There are often extensive, life-threatening injuries requiring thousands of dollars in veterinary care.

One patient I treated—a beautiful, sweet cat named Toby—was attacked by a neighbor’s dog and nearly killed. After multiple surgeries, weeks in the hospital, and months of physical rehabilitation and pain management, Toby’s veterinary bills were over $20,000.

The dog’s owners were generally responsible and tried to keep him contained, but he somehow managed to open the front door when he saw Toby outside walking with his owner. The owners’ renters insurance didn’t cover any damages because the dog was on the excluded breeds list. 

When the dog’s owners were unwilling or unable to pay for the damages, Toby’s owner sued and is still wrapped up in a lawsuit three years later. If the owner had dog liability insurance, there may not have been a lawsuit in the first place.

How much coverage do I need?

Dog bite lawyer Kenneth M. Phillips recommends a minimum of $100,000 for liability and $1,000 for medical payments, but $300,000 for liability and $5,000 is even better.[4] Medical and legal expenses can easily reach six figures, and you’re responsible for any amount that exceeds your liability coverage.

Some homeowners and renters are covered adequately through their current policies, but many are not. Your homeowners policy may have a $300,000 limit for personal injuries—which would appear adequate—but could have a lower limit if the injuries are caused by an animal. In addition to breed exclusions, some policies exclude coverage of property damage caused by any animal.

Be sure to understand all of these exclusions when determining whether you have adequate coverage from your current policies, and if not, consider a dog liability policy. And if you’re a renter, consider getting pet liability insurance designed for you.

How much does it cost?

Policies can range from as little as $10 per month to $125 per month,[5] depending on the amount of coverage and the circumstances. For instance, if your dog has a bite history or a prior claim against them, your premium will be higher than for one that doesn’t.

Where can I get dog liability insurance?

First, check with your homeowners or renters insurance company. Many of them offer pet coverage within or in addition to your policy. If you find it doesn’t, or the coverage is inadequate, here are several companies that specialize in dog liability insurance:

  • Einhorn Insurance Agency provides coverage for all breeds, including those often listed as “dangerous” by most insurance companies.

  • Lester Kalmanson Agency provides liability coverage for personal pets, working/performance dogs and landlord coverage for non-owned dogs.

  • XINSURANCE provides coverage for all breeds and for dogs with a bite history in some circumstances. It also covers working/performance dogs.

  • InsureMyK9 provides coverage in some states (check the list on its website) for all breeds and will consider dogs with a bite history.

  • Dean Insurance Agency provides coverage for all breeds with no deductible in all states except Alaska and Kentucky.

For more about insurance for your pet, see our stories on what to do if your dog has a pre-existing condition, how to tell if getting pet insurance is a good idea for you, what's covered when you buy pet insurance and more.

Article Sources
  1. Insurance Information Institute. “Spotlight on: Dog bite liability.” https://www.iii.org/article/spotlight-on-dog-bite-liability.
  2. Insurance Information Institute. “Dog Bites Accounted for More Than One-Third of All Homeowners Liability Pay Outs Last Year As Cost per Claim Soars.” https://www.iii.org/press-release/dog-bites-accounted-for-more-than-one-third-of-all-homeowners-liability-pay-outs-last-year-as-cost-per-claim-soars-051315.
  3. Journal of Pediatrics. “Dog Bites in Children Surge During Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Case for Enhanced Prevention.” https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(20)30824-6/fulltext.
  4. Dog Bite Law. “Where to Get Dog Owner Liability Insurance.” https://dogbitelaw.com/insurance-for-dog-owner/where-to-get-dog-owner-liability-insurance.
  5. Insure.com. “Guide to dog liability insurance: cost and coverage.” https://www.insure.com/home-insurance/dog-liability-insurance.html.

About the Author

Dr. Amanda Hensley DVM, MPH

Dr. Amanda Hensley DVM, MPH

Dr. Hensley is a former veterinarian in Colorado who specialized in animal rehabilitation and pain management.

Full bio

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