If you’re making a living as a pet sitter, there are certain things you need to do to prove you’re the real deal and a professional who takes your job seriously. Launching a website, securing good advertising and having positive customer reviews may come to mind, but even more important than any of that is securing pet sitters insurance.
“I would say, probably first and foremost, it really legitimizes businesses, truly,” says Cathleen Delaney, administrative director for the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS), one of the pet sitting associations that offers education, certification and other resources for those in the industry. “When someone becomes a member [of NAPPS], that’s really the first thing that we tell them to do — to get pet sitting insurance. It protects the client, it protects the company and it protects the business owner.”
Both NAPPS and Pet Sitters International, another pet sitting association, offer group rates through the Business Insurers of the Carolinas, which has been providing coverage in this space since 1992. If you like to be aware of all your options, a deep dive online will yield plenty of links.
We consulted experts who reiterated a common theme when it comes to getting insured: Insurance isn’t just important for you; it’s important for your clients.
“A lot of clients, when we do meet and greets, will often ask to see the bonding and insurance,” says Liza Angerami, owner of Walks of Nature, a pet sitting and dog walking company in Connecticut. “So that’s important for the clients to see, as well.”
Megan Harris, a NAPPS board member and owner of Must Love Fur LLC, a pet sitting business in Colorado, says pet sitting insurance can make you stand out from the pack.
“When I first started my company I wanted to be sure that everyone within the service contract was covered, at least financially, should something not go well,” she says. “Having insurance adds peace of mind for my clients and me, and it sets me apart professionally from hobbyists. Like most other forms of insurance, pet sitting insurance is something I like to have and prefer not to have to use.”
If you are seeking coverage but aren’t sure what your policy should include, we can help. David Pearsall, vice president and co-owner of Business Insurers of the Carolinas, shared with us key things to consider when selecting an insurance plan, plus what you can expect to pay.
What to get: General liability insurance
General liability coverage, as Business Insurers explains on its website, protects against third-party claims for bodily injury or property damage arising from negligence on behalf of yourself, your employees (if you own a pet sitting business) or independent contractors who work for you.
The standard policy is typically about $1 million per occurrence, and Pearsall recommends you also include adequate care, custody or control coverage, which covers the client’s pets and personal property.
“Let’s say a dog were to chew up all the furnishings — those are considered personal property in your care, custody and control when you were given the key to someone’s home,” he says. “If somebody gives you the key to their house and they’re not there, you now have access and you are now caring for that home, as well as the pet.”
In his experience, Pearsall thinks an adequate limit for care, custody or control coverage is at least $25,000. They offer coverage as low as $10,000, but he adds, “[From] what I’ve seen that is not enough to cover vet medical losses,” which are the bills you’d potentially be responsible for should a pet be injured while in your care.
“For example, you open the door of the house and the dog runs out and gets hit by a car,” he says. “If [the dog] needs multiple surgeries, depending on where you’re located, some of the vet bills we’ve seen are upwards of $25,000.”
Cost: $300 – $1,000+ annually, according to Pearsall, “Depending on how big the company is and how much care, custody or control coverage they want, because that’s where the majority of the claims come.”
Add-on coverage: Bonding
As Angerami said above, coverage in the event anything is stolen is the kind of thing clients may ask a pet sitter about during a job interview.
“Employee theft and theft by the pet sitter is not covered by most liability policies, because it’s an intentional act, and it’s also a criminal act,” Pearsall says. “An employee dishonesty bond is typically what you’re going to need, paired with the liability insurance to be adequately covered as a pet sitter or dog walker.”
A bond is not insurance, but it will protect the client and it will protect you, the pet sitter or pet sitting company, when a theft occurs.
“The bond company pays to reimburse the client for the loss and then they come after me, and maybe put liens on my property if I’m the one that’s guilty,” Pearsall says. “You need the bond to cover the theft by employees. Our bond is written through Travelers [Insurance]. We cover the independent contractors, as well as employees, and we also cover the owner. Believe it or not, some owners have actually stolen from themselves.”
Cost: For a business employing one to five people, you can get a $5,000 limit for $50 a year, Pearsall says, adding, “A $10,000 limit is pretty much standard across the industry and is going to be $100 for a year.”
Add-on coverage: Lost key coverage
Let’s hope it never happens to you, but if a key goes missing, it’s a good idea to have coverage.
“We’ve had people who have keys in their car and their car gets stolen and they lose the keys, [and] the client wants the home rekeyed,” Pearsall says. “You’ll want to look at a limit to rekey the home’s locks in case the pet sitter loses the key. We offer [coverage] up to about $2,500 to rekey the customer’s locks.”
Cost: Business Insurers of the Carolinas automatically includes this in a $300 liability policy, so there is no additional cost if you get insurance through them.
“The general liability policy comes with $1 million per occurrence, $10,000 care, custody or control (CCC) and $2,500 lost key coverage,” Pearsall says.
Add-on coverage: In-home boarding
In-home pet boarding is becoming more common as clients seek boarding options that are more comfortable than a kennel atmosphere. Just make sure you tell your insurer you’ll be providing this service.
“If you’re boarding in your home, that’s going to be a different coverage, and you need to make sure you add that onto your policy,” Pearsall says. “It’s a different exposure when you’re bringing pets into your own home, because you may have pets, you may have kids, you have friends coming over.”
Cost: It can be added to most pet sitting policies, he says, and it costs about $150 a year to do so.
Add-on coverage: Workers compensation
While it can be pricey, workers compensation insurance is something pet sitters should consider getting, Pearsall says. Accidents happen, that’s a given — and so do lawsuits.
Things can get messy between a pet sitter and client when someone is injured on the job.
“If the person has been injured by the dog or slipped and fallen on the premises and they don’t have workers comp, nobody’s going to be able to pay the medical bill,” Pearsall says. “[A lawsuit is] going to be a long, drawn-out process, and there’s no guarantees that the pet sitter would win the suit against the homeowner.”
Apart from covering medical expenses, another benefit, he says, is that workers comp is also a disability policy that covers lost wages.
“If you can no longer pet sit or dog walk and that’s your primary way of making a living, you’re going to get paid under the workers comp system,” Pearsall says.
Cost: The cost of workers comp insurance is difficult to estimate, because it varies from state to state.
All workers comp policies are based on annual payroll, not number of employees. “The average rate across the U.S. is about $5 per $100 of payroll,” Pearsall says. “Typically it’s going to cost about $750 to up to $4,000 [a year].”