Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 11:59 UK

Some vets 'exploit pet insurance'

By Katie Law
BBC Radio 5 Live

Black cat
The average claim has nearly doubled in five years, say pet insurers

Some vets are carrying out costly, non-essential procedures, which could be leading to increased premiums for pet owners, a leading insurer has said.

Chris Price, from Direct Line, told BBC Radio 5 Live the company had received claims for treatment that its consultant vets considered unnecessary.

The increasing cost of claims means insurers have had to increase premiums.

The British Veterinary Association said vets did not "milk" insurance and high costs were due to expensive treatment.

Just under a quarter of all cat and dog owners hold an insurance plan in case their pets need treatment - and that figure is growing.

What we see is a tendency to select more expensive and elegant forms of diagnosis over something more pragmatic
Chris Price
Direct Line

Figures from Petplan, the biggest provider of pet insurance in the UK, show the average claim per condition has nearly doubled in five years to 715 for a dog and 501 for a cat.

Wendy Dean, from Warwickshire, said she was horrified when she was told that the insurance premiums for Jo-Jo and Robyn, her two five-year-old cocker spaniels, had risen by 58% and 68%.

"We were paying or being asked to pay somewhere in the region of 570 per year for two small dogs," she said.

"There was no negotiation, it was take it or leave it and I left it - I just felt it was totally ridiculous."

'Non-essential procedures'

Mr Price, head of animal insurance at Direct Line, told 5 Live costs were rising because although vets were seeing fewer animals, some were recommending non-essential and costly treatments to make up for the shortfall in earnings.

He said the company's consultant vets had discovered the practice when analysing claims and assessing whether or not the treatment was appropriate.

"What we see is a tendency to select more expensive and elegant forms of diagnosis over something more pragmatic," said Mr Price.

We must not milk insured clients at all - it's an act of disgraceful professional conduct
Nick Blaynay
British Veterinary Association

"If MRI is not clinically indicated as the necessary means of diagnosis when an x-ray would have been perfectly sufficient, we do tend to question why on earth that diagnostic technique was chosen."

He added: "If you want to make a very simple equation, you've got reduced footfall, and an increasing proportion of cats and dogs that are insured - then you've got vets who are leveraging the insured pets in order to compensate."

Nick Blaynay, president of the British Veterinary Association, agreed that it was becoming more expensive to insure a pet but said rising costs were for a number of reasons.

One was that there were now "extremely expensive techniques" available to vets.

However, he strongly denied vets were doing anything inappropriate.

"We must not milk insured clients at all. It's an act of disgraceful professional conduct," he said.

"The vet should always put the welfare of the animal before any other consideration. If he doesn't, shame on him."

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