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The holiday season often includes images of cute puppies under a Christmas tree or a kitten with a sparkly ribbon around its neck. But before you do your holiday shopping at the pet shop, be sure to consider the risks and liabilities you may also be bringing home.

A new national survey by Trusted Choice® found that 29% of respondents, representing more than 65 million households in the United States, said they have either given or received a pet as a gift. Of those, 73% said they never considered liability or risk factors of pet ownership such as higher insurance rates or the need for specialty coverage.

Be sure to consider the following points before giving someone a pet for the holidays:

• Sick puppy? While the concept of health insurance for pets has received a lot of attention lately, it is important for pet owners to know that this coverage is NOT suitable for everyone. These policies are non-regulated insurance products, so purchasers have no recourse through state insurance regulators if there is a complaint or problem with their coverage. In addition, many pet insurance policies exclude routine examinations, vaccinations and pre-existing conditions. This coverage may have some merit for certain pet owners, but consumers should research any pet insurance product carefully before buying it.
• Is Fido a biter or a chewer? As a dog owner, you can be held financially responsible if your animal attacks and injures a person or property. That bite can also have huge implications for insurance. Most people are bitten by dogs they know, not strays. About 50% of all dog bites happen on the owner’s property according to the Insurance Information Institute. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children are the victims of about half of the 800,000 dog bites that are reported yearly in the United States, with the highest rate among children ages five to nine and many requiring medical attention. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10% of children (7.5 million) in the United States do not have health insurance. Be sure you have adequate liability coverage and be aware if there are animal liability limits or exclusions.  Also, be sure to consider safety measures in order to protect your family and those who visit your property.
• What kind of dog is that? Many insurers are now routinely asking in their policy applications if homeowners or renters have dogs and if those dogs have a history of aggressive behavior. Some companies may even deny coverage to those who own certain breeds of dogs, including wolf hybrids, pit bulls and Rottweilers. Insurance companies can deny claims or limit coverage for dog owners who do not take precautions to prevent their animals from attacking.
• How much was that doggy in the window? Pet owners must understand that no matter what they paid for their pooch (or any pet), most homeowners insurance policies exclude any damage or injury to animals. So if your pet is injured or killed in a fire or other disaster, it is not likely a consumer will be able to claim it as a loss with your insurance company.
• Cruisin’ with canines. Some auto insurers are now including a pet clause which allows for a certain amount of coverage for expenses relating to a dog’s injuries in the event of an accident when a dog is in the vehicle.  This is a relatively new policy feature and is not yet available with most auto insurers.

The survey was conducted for Trusted Choice® via telephone by International Communications Research (ICR), an independent research company in Media, Pa. Interviews of a nationally representative sample of 1,048 households were conducted in November 2010. The survey has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.1%.
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