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MRI in Dogs: What Is It and When Is It Done?

MRIs in dogs can provide valuable diagnostic information.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a procedure where strong magnets are used to manipulate hydrogen molecules in the body, then sound waves affect those atoms, and then a computer is used to generate images. MRI is used in veterinary medicine mostly to help diagnose brain and spinal cord problems.

How Is an MRI Performed on a Dog?

Dogs almost always need anesthesia for an MRI because they have to be very still for the procedure. The sleeping dog is placed on a table that moves slowly through the MRI machine, which is shaped like a donut standing on its end. An MRI often takes more than an hour to complete, so the dog is under anesthesia for a while.

Most of the time, MRIs in dogs are performed at veterinary referral centers or veterinary medical colleges, and they can be expensive. The equipment used, the length of the procedure and necessity for anesthesia and monitoring the entire time, and the level of expertise required to interpret the results means that an MRI might cost $1000-$2000.

What Can MRI Show a Veterinarian?

MRI captures differences in tissue density. It can reveal tumors and other subtle lesions that might be difficult for a CT scan to reveal. Some of the conditions for which MRI might be helpful in diagnosing in dogs include:

  • Brain or spinal cord tumors
  • Disc herniation
  • Seizure causes
  • Joint problems
  • Growths or infections in the sinuses
  • Causes of personality changes or other neurological signs
  • Reasons for paralysis
  • Brain hemorrhage

MRI can be done with the injection of contrast material, as well, to make certain things easier to visualize and diagnose.

Is MRI Safe for Dogs?

The MRI procedure itself has no known negative effects on a dog. Unlike x-rays and CT scans, MRI does not use radiation. The anesthesia that is necessary for completing an MRI has potential dangers. Most of the time, a dog will have blood work done prior to the MRI, so if there are conditions such as kidney or liver dysfunction that might increase the risk of anesthesia, they are known. Otherwise, MRI is a non-invasive and fairly safe diagnostic tool.

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