Does My Pet Need an MRI? What to Expect

Does My Pet Need an MRI? What to Expect

You probably know someone who has had to have a CT (aka CAT scan) or MRI. Just as advancements in human medicine and technology have helped in diagnosing humans, it has also helped in diagnosing animals.

Many animal hospitals are now equipped with digital X-ray machines and ultrasound machines. More and more animal hospitals are equipping their facilities with CT and MRI machines. If you have been told that your pet needs an MRI, your veterinarian is likely to refer you to a local specialist for this imaging.

Why Do Pets Need MRIs?

When it comes to neurology, the clinical symptoms that your pet exhibits will depend on the location of the disease as opposed to the present disease process. Therefore, an infection, stroke, or brain tumor in the same exact area of the brain can cause very similar signs, and because of this, an exam cannot be used alone to diagnose your pet’s illness. Instead, advanced imaging is generally necessary for a proper diagnosis.

With sophisticated imaging and testing, a safe, quick, and accurate diagnosis can be obtained. As a result, a more accurate and thorough treatment plan can be developed, improving your furry friend’s quality of life.

What Is an MRI?

An MRI has the ability to offer incredible clary of the tissues, and it is used by veterinary radiologists and neurologists to assess the nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Unlike CT imaging (which is ideal for evaluating the bones), MRI is better at the evaluation of soft tissues like the spinal cord, brain, muscles, ligaments, tendon, and intervertebral discs.

An MRI is capable of detected incredibly small abnormalities (1-2 mm in size in fact) that tend to be overlooked on CT scans. An MRI also allows images to be obtained from three different planes of the body without the patient having to be moved: 1) top to bottom; 2) front to back; and 3) left to right. This allows the body to be viewed in 3D.

Are MRIs Safe for Pets?

In contrast to CT scans, which consists of taking multiple X-rays through the body, there is zero radiation with an MRI. Therefore, MRIs are safe. This type of imaging equipment utilizes an incredibly powerful magnet in order to align the protons within the hydrogen of the body’s water molecules in the exact same direction as the magnetic field.

Then, the computer will send a short radiofrequency pule that will knock those protons out of alignment. Once the radiofrequency pulse ends, the protons will realign with the magnet, which sends energy that will be detected by a coil placed around or on the patient. This particular signal will be processed by the computer in order to create a very detailed image of the body.

Are Pets Awake During MRIs?

MRIs are the same for animals as they are for humans; however, unlike humans, pets won’t just lie still. Any kind of movement will cause the image to blur, and the pictures won’t be able to be evaluated. Because of this, cats, dogs, and other animals must undergo general anesthesia first.

Although it can be a little scary to think about, the risks of anesthesia tend to be relatively low. Most pets do very well under anesthesia. To ensure this, blood samples are collected ahead of time to evaluate both the white and blood cell counts, kidney and liver function, and electrolyte levels. This allows for the ability to screen for any underlying diseases that could potentially increase the overall risk for general anesthesia.

For older pets, chest X-rays are also taken to look for any evidence of lung conditions, heart conditions, pneumonia, or the spreading of cancer to the lungs that could change the decision to move forward with an MRI.

How Long Do MRIs Take?

Once your pet is under anesthesia safely, the actual procedure should take somewhere between 5 minutes and a couple of hours. The specific amount of time will vary depending on the area of the body that is being scanned.

During the procedure, a veterinary technician will monitor your pet very closely. Due to the fact that your pet will be under general anesthesia for the duration of the MRI, the scan must be focused on the specific part of the body for the safety of the pet. This is why whole-body MRIs are generally not performed in veterinary medicine.

As soon as the images from the MRI have been obtained, they must be evaluated by a radiologist or neurologist. More often than not, you will have the results of the MRI the same day.

If you have any further questions about pet MRIs or your pet has been referred for an MRI, don’t hesitate to contact our team at Huntsville Veterinary Specialists and Emergency.

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