Pet Protection: Insurance, Preventive Practices and More

By Angela Epley

Fact: The internet runs on cat and dog videos. OK, not exactly, but it’s not hard to wonder why pictures, GIFs and videos of our favorite furry friends are some of the most-viewed media online.

In America, pets are part of the family. Studies have shown that infants exposed to pets can develop better resistance to allergies, and that petting your favorite cat or dog can reduce stress. That said, they’re still animals, and require a lot of work and care.

Keeping the peace among all species under your roof (and the house itself) requires a few approaches. For medical needs involving your pet, there’s pet insurance. But as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so focus your efforts on keeping accidents from happening in the first place.

“Pet proofing your home and a heightened level of awareness on trips outside with your pet can make a world of difference in both your mental and financial health in the long run,” says Certified Financial Planner and USAA advice director Rich Lunsford. 

Cats: Our Fickle Feline Friends

Cats are known for sleeping a lot, being fickle with their affection and occasionally lashing out. To minimize the latter, make sure the cat’s needs are being met — which starts with understanding what those needs are. Famous “cat whisperers” suggests cat owners create spaces in and around their home specifically suited for their feline friends. This includes:

  • Spaces cats can “claim.” Cats are territorial animals and derive comfort from knowing a place is theirs. A unique hybrid of both prey and predator, cats feel happiest at heights off the floor where they can survey their kingdom, even if it’s just an apartment room. So make sure you have furniture or structures in the home where cats can perch, climb and jump. Sprinkle catnip to ensure they’re attracted to designated places and not the main couch.
  • Outlets for play and hunting drives. These wild creatures descend from some of the world’s most famous hunters, like lions and tigers (oh, my!). It’s unrealistic to expect they’ve completely overcome these urges, so indulge them by making the time and providing the toys that scratch this primal itch. This will teach kitty it’s perfectly acceptable to attack and kick the feather toy, not your leg.
  • The basics: food, water, litter and bed. Make sure your cat has everything he or she needs easily within reach, in fresh and plentiful supply. As prey to larger animals themselves, they also have a burrowing or hiding instinct, so don’t be surprised if kitty prefers snuggling in the laundry hamper or snoozing in a dark corner of the closet or any other quiet, enclosed area where they can sleep for hours at a time.

Dogs: Our Lively Canine Companions

Our canine companions tend to be much larger than cats, and that size can make a big difference not only when it comes to your living quarters, but also to other animals and humans.

Remember, dogs were domesticated (or domesticated themselves, probably a bit of both) to work very closely with human beings, so they’re constantly on alert to their owner’s behavior — or lack of it. Take responsibility by understanding animal behavioral psychology and techniques to keep your dog properly stimulated, satiated and obedient.

  • Reduce destruction to property by picking proper “outlets” for behavior. For a dog — a pack animal that requires social activity to feel mentally balanced — the worst thing in the world is being left alone. For working breeds, which descend from ancestors that had jobs to do, the urge to do something never really goes away, and without a proper outlet the dog is likely to find something — anything! — to do.

As a dog owner, it’s your responsibility to give it a sense of structure and purpose by setting a predictable schedule that includes time spent together. A walk around the neighborhood every morning or evening is a great place to start, and consider throwing Frisbees or tennis balls for long fetch sessions if your dog is especially active. Tiring out your pup with healthy, structured play will make for more restful downtime while you’re away. Also, provide chew toys so your dog has dedicated items to exercise his or her jaws. Make them tasty so the pup is less likely to reach for one of your shoes or expensive furniture!

  • Invest in your pet’s mental and physical health. Many mistake obedience training as an activity just for the dog, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The training is also valuable for the human owners as a way to better understand how dogs interpret our actions, and it provides a structure for repetition to help reinforce visual and verbal commands that can prevent disaster. If there’s a higher likelihood your dog will come, stay or “leave it” when you say so, you can avoid situations where he or she might be heading directly toward potential peril. Be sure to keep up with your dog’s routine exams to ensure any behavioral quirks aren’t the result of poor health or a serious medical condition, too.
  • Supervise your pet to stay on top of any triggers. Over half of dog bites that occur happen at home with familiar dogs, which implies that too many of these injuries occur because humans don’t realize how their behavior can frighten or upset an animal, and because too many of us can’t read the signs when one is about to bite. The best way to greet a dog is actually to ignore it, only giving attention and pets when it is in a calm, submissive state. If your dog is easily agitated or sensitive to stimuli, carefully monitor time spent outside the home and reconsider whether dog parks are something your pet truly enjoys or merely tolerates because you’ve taken them there.

Of course, accidents can and will happen, even if we do our best to prevent them. That’s why safeguards like pet insurance are so critical to help cover medical and liability issues that may arise if your dog injures another person or animal on or off your property. Remember to review your liability coverage for your home or renters policy, as this is where the liability coverage would be found for a dog bite or something of the sort. 

“While we want to help protect your pet’s health in the event of illness, we also want to protect your finances should your pet cause damage to another. Ensuring you are properly insured for liability will provide peace of mind,” Lunsford says.

In fact, insurance is a preventive measure in itself since what you pay for the policy will definitely be more cost-effective if an accident happens and you find yourself responsible for a five- or six-figure hospital or legal bill. So make sure you are doing everything in your power to help protect yourself and your pet from uncertainties down the road.

Be the best pet parent you can be by protecting your loved ones, guests, and property with USAA insurance.

Property and casualty insurance is provided by United Services Automobile Association and its affiliate property and casualty insurance companies and is available only to persons eligible for P&C group membership. Each company has sole financial responsibility for its own products.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

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Tags - Family, Home, Insurance

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