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MRI in Cats: What is IT & When Might Your Cat Need It?

With magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), veterinarians can diagnose many health issues in cats, from a herniated disc to brain tumors and more. In this article, our Santa Rosa vets explain the process involved in an MRI scan and the potential cons. 

Veterinary Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

While human doctors have used MRIs to diagnose health conditions in people since the early 1980s, veterinary MRIs have only recently become more widely used. Depending on the purpose of the MRI scan, images of the brain, ligaments, spinal cord, tendons and abdominal organs may be captured in high resolution. 

How Veterinary MRIs Can Help 

While you and your veterinarian may be able to identify if your pet is experiencing pain or discomfort, diagnostic examinations and testing are used to find the root of the problem, since your cat is unable to explain their symptoms or how they're feeling. With non-invasive veterinary MRI scans, vets can detect many diseases or injuries of the soft tissues in your pet's body. Veterinary MRIs often produce a more detailed image of your cat's body than other diagnostic imaging tools such as CT scans or X-rays. 

Conditions That MRIs Can Help Diagnose

Is your cat suffering from pain in their neck or back? Perhaps they've been afflicted by joint pain, lameness, limping, or even paralysis. If so, your vet may recommend an MRI to help diagnose the cause of your cat's pain or discomfort. MRI scans can be used to help diagnose many conditions in cats, including:

  • Abscesses or inflammation in the brain
  • Brain tumors 
  • Abdominal conditions that cause enlarged organs or tumors 
  • Musculoskeletal diseases and injuries like shoulder instability or ruptured cranial cruciate ligament. 
  • Spinal disc tumor, stenosis (narrowing of nerves or spinal cord) or herniated disc

The MRI Process 

For pets and people, an MRI scan takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour and requires the patient to be absolutely still for the entire time. As you may imagine, trying to coax a cat to stay completely still in a strange machine for 45 minutes would be impossible. Therefore, a general anesthetic is used on cats undergoing an MRI scan. Vets typically recommend blood tests and X-rays be done before the MRI to help ensure that your pet is healthy enough to be put under general anesthetic.

Possible Drawbacks of MRI Imaging for Cats

One of the primary drawbacks of MRI for veterinary diagnostics is the need for general anesthetic. Some cats may not be healthy enough for anesthesia, so an MRI will not be an option for them.

While MRI is particularly useful in diagnosing brain, spinal cord, and ligament issues, some conditions are better detected using other diagnostic imaging tools such as CT and radiography (X-rays). MRI may be less helpful when diagnosing internal organs, fractures, or head trauma in cats.

Another drawback of MRI is the cost. The cost of MRI for cats varies based on several factors including your geographical location, the size of your pet, and more. To obtain an accurate estimate of the cost of your pet's MRI, speak to your veterinary team at Montecito Veterinary Center. We will be happy to explain why an MRI is being recommended, provide a detailed estimate for this diagnostic imaging procedure and any others, and address any questions you may have.

Pet insurance plans typically cover the cost of diagnostic testing, such as MRI, but it's important to check with your insurer to see if an MRI is covered as part of the plan.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have questions about MRI scans or other diagnostic imaging technologies? contact our Santa Rosa vets today.

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