Pet Education

Does Your Pet Need an MRI, or an Expert Veterinarian?

Does your pet really need that MRI?

Things to know before concluding your pet “needs an MRI.”

Most people don’t think twice about the process of making a diagnosis, because it is almost never shown. The doctor runs a test and the test result is the diagnosis, right?

As it turns out, this is not always the case. Each blood test, each imaging result, each biopsy must be interpreted for each individual patient. A good doctor takes everything into account; patient age, symptoms, all tests results and the known reliability of the test results, to make a diagnosis in each individual case. A good example of this process is our article called, “The Case of Presumptive Pug Encephalitis,” regarding disc herniation in dogs. When someone tells you that your pet “needs an MRI,” think for a minute about what your pet really needs.

Your pet needs a veterinarian with sufficient expertise to know the best way to make the diagnosis and, beyond that, to successfully manage your pet’s condition once the diagnosis is made. Sometimes your pet’s family vet will have sufficient expertise to know all this; however, for some conditions, the expertise of a board-certified specialist is the way to go, and this is definitely the case when we’re talking about a big ticket item like an MRI.

Where did medical imaging come from?

Let’s being with some background about medical imaging. The United States put a man on the moon in 1967, with less computing power than the smartphone in your pocket. Computer technology has advanced unbelievably since 1967 and those advances have translated into many forms of technology becoming better, cheaper and more commonplace.

Various Neurology Scans: Does Your Pet Need an MRI, or an Expert Veterinarian?

Medical imaging modalities like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are no exception. They have become cheaper and more widely available in veterinary hospitals, sometimes even at outpatient centers. Veterinarians are now commonly scheduling patients for expensive advanced imaging procedures as a way to make a diagnosis, instead of using them properly: as a way to confirm a diagnosis that cannot be confirmed another way. Why? Because writing the order for the test is quick and easy, because pet owners see MRI as the ultimate in medical imaging, and in some instances because it is a huge profit center.

Is that MRI really necessary
for your pet?

But think about it – your dentist didn’t send you for an MRI before performing that root canal. Why not? Because those radiographs he took told him what he needed to know – MRI wasn’t necessary.

However, that is not to say that MRI doesn’t have its uses. For some problems (such as brain tumors), it is the ultimate in medical imaging. For some conditions, CT is the ultimate in imaging. Other conditions, like diskospondylitis (an infection in the discs between backbones), the diagnosis is routinely made by spinal radiographs (“X-rays”). For one type of disc disease, the shortest anesthesia time will be accomplished by diagnosing the problem via spinal CT, for another type of disc disease your pet is better off undergoing the longer anesthesia for a spinal MRI.

That’s a lot of different scenarios to keep track of and that’s exactly why there are specialists.

A veterinary neurologist doesn’t spend her time keeping up with the latest advances in flea control or dentistry, but she will know all the details as to what imaging modality is the best for your pet’s neurologic problems.

So, is that CT scan or MRI really necessary? The truth is, the answer depends on too many factors to list. But if it’s worth undergoing advanced imaging, it’s worth placing your pet under the care of a board-certified specialist who can help guide you in making the best choice for your pet.

ASG's MRI Unit: Does Your Pet Need an MRI, or an Expert Veterinarian?

Why choose ASG?

At ASG it is routine practice to have all CTs and MRIs read by both a board-certified neurologist and a board-certified radiologist. Why? Because it is our philosophy that when you have a major test like an MRI performed, the more minds on the case, the better.

Refer a patient to our Los Angeles Animal Hospital.

If you have an animal emergency then bring you animal to our 24-hour Animal Emergency Hospital.


Animal Specialty Group

DVM, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Neurology)

Dr. Stacey Sullivan received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from North Carolina State University in 1993. She moved to Auburn University for her internship, followed by a residency in neurology and neurosurgery at the University of Georgia.