What to Expect When Your Pet Has an MRI

What to Expect When Your Pet Has an MRI

By: Austin Kerns, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Neurology) and Beryl Swanson, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology)

Not every patient that has a neurological problem requires an extensive work-up, but for those that do, an MRI is often part of that process. An MRI provides a way to look at the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and the tissues that surround those structures. Here is what to expect if your pet is going to have an MRI performed with us at PASE:

Initial Appointment:
During our initial consultation, first, we will try to determine whether we think the problem is neurological in origin (as opposed to an orthopedic problem, for example). If we determine that the problem is due to dysfunction in the nervous system, we will then discuss diagnostic tests, including blood work, x-rays, MRI, and others. If an MRI is recommended, we are often able to perform the MRI scan the same day as the appointment, especially for urgent cases. Occasionally, we need to schedule it for a different day.

It is important to bring your pet in fasted the day of the appointment (no food after 10 PM the day before the appointment, free access to water is ok) in case we need to do the MRI the same day.

The MRI can take anywhere from 45-90 minutes. The patient must be perfectly still throughout the scan, so our veterinary patients must be under general anesthesia for this procedure. Unless recently performed, we will often run blood work first to help ensure anesthesia is safe in your pet. Prior to the MRI, they will have an intravenous catheter placed in either a front or hind limb. We also work with our anesthesiologist to develop an anesthetic plan. Once it is your pet’s turn for the scan, they are placed under general anesthesia and a dedicated nurse stays with them throughout to monitor anesthesia.

When we run an MRI, we acquire hundreds of individual images. The MRI images are being monitored as they are collected, and based on these images, follow-up tests are considered. Some of these follow-up tests/procedures also require anesthesia. These tests are performed directly after the MRI is done while the patient is still under general anesthesia. Additional tests/ procedures may include spinal fluid collection (eg, spinal tap), joint fluid collection, tissue aspiration, or surgery. We will discuss any of these additional tests/procedures prior to performing them.

Once the testing is complete, your pet is moved to a quiet area where he or she will recover from anesthesia. Depending on the patient, this may take anywhere from 1-3 hours. Depending on what is discovered on the MRI, some patients are able to go home the same day while others require overnight hospitalization for further treatment and/or monitoring. Often we can anticipate which patients will require overnight hospitalization prior to the MRI, but ultimately this is dependent on what we find on the scan, so plans occasionally change once the MRI is reviewed.

Take-home points:
• Patients must be under anesthesia during MRI.
• Patients should be fasted before anesthesia to help reduce risk.
• MRI can often be done on an out-patient basis, typically the day of the initial consult, but other times we schedule them to come back at a later date.
• The process takes several hours: the time it takes to prepare them for anesthesia, perform the MRI, and then recover from anesthesia. On the day of the MRI, you should plan to leave your pet with us for anywhere from 4-8 hours.

For more information about PASE Neurology & Neurosurgery, click here.

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