Smart Buying

Pet Owners’ Tech Gadgets May Call for Extra Protection

Animal lovers have extra incentive to consider service plans that cover accidental damages to electronic devices.

Ginger McDevitt has a new, ahem, pet peeve: forking over hundreds of dollars to replace personal electronic devices destroyed by her Irish wolfhound, Oisin.

McDevitt, a surgical technician in Warner Robins, Ga., has spent nearly $500 to repair or replace two gnawed mobile phones and two digital cameras. She bought a Kindle tablet about a year ago and stashed the device on a kitchen countertop. But Oisin “did quite a thorough job of destroying it,” too, says McDevitt. This time, she paid nothing to replace it, thanks to a service plan from SquareTrade, a San Francisco-based company that offers protection plans for a wide range of digital devices.

At Kiplinger, we usually advise consumers to skip extended warranties. But pet owners may have extra incentive to invest in service plans that cover accidental damages. Every year, pets damage more than eight million tech devices by chewing them, urinating or vomiting on them, or knocking them to the ground – at a cost of $3 billion to replace or repair the devices, according to a study by SquareTrade.

Smart phones are the main victims, accounting for one-third of devices damaged. The living room is the most common crime scene, with 62% of accidents happening there, followed by the bedroom, with 22% of accidents. Two-thirds of accidents happen while a pet is unsupervised or at home alone, and 21% actually happen while the owner is using the device.

Dogs are twice as likely as cats to damage tech devices. “Dogs have a very strong sense of smell, and they seek things that smell like us when they miss us,” explains pet behavior specialist Flip Biondi. Also, dogs learn by watching other animals, Biondi says, and after they see you playing with your mobile devices, they’ll want to give it a try.

Keep your pets busy, and don’t ignore their demands for attention. “Pets are no different from children. When they’re bored, they look for things to play with,” says Sandy Robins, a pet lifestyle expert in Los Angeles, whose 15-year-old cat, Fudge, is “all over my keyboard” when she seeks attention.

The price of a SquareTrade warranty varies depending on the type of device, how much you paid for it, how long the coverage lasts, and whether you want to make a one-time payment or monthly installments. For example, a two-year warranty for an iPhone 5 costs $99, if you make a single payment, while a monthly plan runs $7.99 per month for 24 months. A two-year warranty for a tablet valued at $275 will set you back $59.99 (no monthly option available). Some plans charge a deductible on claims, so read the fine print before you commit.

If you think your gadgets are already covered by your existing homeowners or renters insurance, think again. According to Jeanne Salvatore, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, standard policies don’t cover damage caused by your pets to your own belongings. And even if the damage is eligible for coverage, your insurance deductible might be higher than the repair or replacement cost, so you’ll pay out of pocket anyway.

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