Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) at Upstate Veterinary Specialties

MRI exam roomAt Upstate Veterinary Specialties’ new hospital located at 152 Sparrowbush Road, our facility features Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) which gives our veterinarians a clear picture of the causes for some patients’ symptoms.

What is MRI?

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It is a special imaging technique that allows us to look, in a non-invasive way, at a patient’s internal anatomy.  It is particularly useful when looking at soft tissue structures, especially the nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

How does MRI work?

Unlike traditional x-rays or CT scan, MRI does not use ionizing radiation. Instead it utilizes the most abundant molecule in our body, water (H2O).  Pulses of energy are emitted from the MRI machine that excite the hydrogen ions in the body.  In turn the hydrogen ions then emit the energy they’ve absorbed, this is called relaxation.  This energy (signal) is then collected by special sensors (coils).  The signal is then turned into a digital image, allowing us to see in fine detail the cross-sectional anatomy of our patients.

How powerful is the MRI at Upstate Veterinary Specialties?

The power of an MRI is partly based upon the strength of the magnet. Our MRI is a 1.5 T unit.  A tesla (T) is the unit of measure that we use to define the strength of a magnetic field.  (It is also the name of a car company and a rock band from the 1980s.)

1 Tesla = 10,000 gauss. For some perspective, the earth’s magnetic field is ~0.5 gauss.  That means our MRI unit is 30,000 times stronger than the earth’s magnetic field!

MRI preparation with Dr. Bishop and techniciansWhat is MRI used for?

We utilize MRI to look inside a patient’s skull or spine, looking for diseases of the brain and spinal cord respectively. MRI is so powerful that we can often see microscopic diseases not visible to the naked eye.  We also use MRI to study diseases of the nasal cavity and musculoskeletal system.

Is MRI safe for my pet?

Yes, because it does not utilize any radiation, there are no long-term or cumulative side-effects for your pet. If you have ever had an MRI yourself, you’ll know that it can be quite loud.  Therefore, we provide hearing protection for all of our veterinary patients.  Please alert the doctor or a veterinary technician if your pet has a metal surgical implant or a pacemaker as these may not be safe for MRI (remember it is a large magnet).

Will my pet have to have anesthesia for his/her MRI?

During MRI, patients must remain perfectly still. Any movement will cause the images to appear blurry.  Because our veterinary patients will not sit still long enough for the 30-60 minutes necessary to complete most MRI studies, pets are anesthetized for MRI.  That said, the anesthesia for MRI is more of a deep sedation, designed only to immobilize the pet.

Will my pet require any testing prior before MRI?

Yes, we request that a patient have a complete blood cell count, comprehensive serum biochemistry profile and chest x-rays within 1 month of the scheduled general anesthesia for MRI. This is done to ensure that a patient’s heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are healthy enough for general anesthesia.

Will my pet have to be hospitalized for the MRI?

MRIs are performed on an outpatient basis. However, most patients are hospitalized for at least 4-6 hours to complete the entire process of: admission to the hospital, IV catheter placement, pre-anesthetic testing, general anesthesia, MRI, recovery from anesthesia, MRI review with the neurologist and discharge.

Dr Bishop MRI reviewWhen will I get the results of my pet’s MRI?

The UVS specialist will go over the results of the MRI at the time your pet is discharged from the hospital. In addition, we automatically submit the MRI to a board-certified veterinary radiologist for additional review and second opinion.

Can I get a copy of the MRI results?

Yes a copy of the MRI study itself or a copy of the MRI imaging report is available upon request.


How do I go about setting up an MRI for my pet?

Your pet should first have a consultation with the appropriate UVS specialty service. If your pet is having a problem with his/her brain or spinal cord, this would be our neurology/neurosurgery service.  Once you have met with the appropriate specialist, the MRI can be scheduled.  In most cases, an MRI can be arranged within 24 hours of the initial visit.  Occasionally the MRI can be done the same day, depending upon what other studies have already been scheduled for that day.  Overnight boarding is also available to facilitate this process.

Many diagnostic technologies are available to UVS specialists.  Ask your family veterinarian if advanced imaging will help with the diagnosis and treatment of your pet.

For general practice veterinarians: UVS neurologists and other specialists welcome your questions about whether a referral to a specialist, MRI or other imaging technologies could help your patients who have challenging medical conditions.