Although a pet pig, pygmy goat, or backyard chickens seem easy enough to own, the liabilities associated with keeping such animals can be far greater than the risks of average pet ownership. These risks range from health and safety concerns to harsh legal penalties, and they may require the protection of specialty insurance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds people that farm animals can carry germs that cause skin infections or other more serious illnesses in humans. The popularity of backyard chickens is growing, but these birds sometimes carry disease, such as salmonella. In 2020 alone, more than 900 people were sickened with salmonella from backyard poultry.

Other bird-related diseases include E. coli, campylobacteriosis, and avian flu. The CDC also warns of disease risks associated with other animals, such as anthrax, encephalitis, rabies and ringworm. If your animals spread disease to humans or pollute your neighbor’s property, will your homeowners insurance cover that liability?

You may need special coverage

Farm animals present owners with different liabilities than standard household pets, and some home insurers won’t insure a property with certain kinds of farm animals.

In most states, damage caused by trespassing farm animals is a strict liability tort. Additionally, owners who have knowledge of an animal’s propensity to cause harm (such as a horse known to kick or a dog known to bite) are strictly liable in most states for injuries the animal causes.

Unconventional animals, even if kept as pets, can be considered an “attractive nuisance,” which is often excluded from standard homeowners insurance policies. Talk to your insurance professional about options if your current policy excludes these kinds of liabilities.

A typical homeowners insurance policy also doesn’t cover damage to your home or outdoor buildings from pets or backyard animals. In fact, you risk cancellation of your homeowners policy if you start keeping some kinds of unconventional animals on your property.

Any business aspect of owning a backyard farm animal will also create gaps in your insurance coverage. Selling your eggs, baby chicks, goat milk (or cheese or soap made from that milk), or any other agricultural product is considered a home business and must be insured as such.

If you choose to engage in commerce with your backyard animals, you should talk to your insurance professional about livestock coverage. This insurance can cover death or necessary destruction of livestock as well as legal costs arising from injury to others or damages to their property caused by your animal.

If you have more acreage than just a small backyard plot and you have multiple animals, you might be considered a hobby farmer, or a gentleman farmer.

Small-farm policies cover most barns and other farm structures as well as machinery, feed, the farm home, and household property. They also cover animals as personal property, whether they are on the property or away from it, and can be written to cover animals in transport. Under most farm policies, livestock are covered for the perils of fire and explosion, vandalism, theft, sinkholes, other natural disasters, being hit by a vehicle, and riot or civil commotion, and some policies also cover a wider range of dangers, including drowning, wild animal attacks, and accidental shooting.

There are even exotic pet insurers that offer health insurance for unconventional animals, which can help with veterinary bills.

Lower your risk of loss

The CDC recommends keeping animals clean, safe and properly vaccinated to lower the risk of disease. Feeding animals in elevated feeders and storing food off the ground helps keep disease-carrying pests away. Properly disposing of all uneaten foods and soiled bedding inhibits bacterial growth. And regularly cleaning animal enclosures prevents disease. Additionally, periodic veterinary visits, an appropriate vaccination schedule, and alerting the vet of health and behavioral changes in your animals can help keep them well.

Proper enclosures can stop animals from causing damage to people and property. You can prevent injuries by respecting animals’ space, keeping children away, restricting entry into animal enclosures, and using extra caution around scared or nervous animals, especially mothers with babies.

With good pet care and property precautions, your llama, goat, chickens, horse, pig or other captivating critter can be a wonderful addition to your home and neighborhood. Talk to your insurance professional about the kind of animal(s) you have and any special coverages you might need before you have an uncovered claim.