Veterinary MRI and CT scans explained: what are they and what problems can they detect?

PUBLISHED: 13:12 02 October 2020

There are all kinds of reasons for mobility problems in dogs and the practice carries out a spectrum of operations to get them moving again. Picture: Simply C Photography

There are all kinds of reasons for mobility problems in dogs and the practice carries out a spectrum of operations to get them moving again. Picture: Simply C Photography

© 2019 Simply C Photography

Advanced imaging has been revolutionary to veterinary medicine, giving surgeons a detailed view of internal problems and providing them with plastic 3D models to work from

Christchurch Veterinary Referrals founder, Shane Morrison, says the referral unit has been at the forefront of UK surgical veterinary medicine for almost 20 years. Picture: Simply C Photography.Christchurch Veterinary Referrals founder, Shane Morrison, says the referral unit has been at the forefront of UK surgical veterinary medicine for almost 20 years. Picture: Simply C Photography.

Shane Morrison, vet and founder of Christchurch Veterinary Referrals in Ipswich, where vets refer patients from Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire for MRI and CT scans and complicated surgery on small animals, says the equipment is used for diagnostics and to assist in surgical procedures.

MRI and CT scans essentially provide 3D views,” he explains.

Using advanced imaging can be advantageous to many pet treatments. Picture: Simply C Photography.Using advanced imaging can be advantageous to many pet treatments. Picture: Simply C Photography.

“They have made such a difference in areas such as spinal surgery. If there is a ruptured disc pressing on the spinal cord, we will be able to see exactly where it is.”

Only a select few referral centres across East Anglia have both CT and MRI facilities on-site.

What is an MRI scan?

MRI tends to be employed for soft tissue problems, including brain and spinal cord issues.

“That might be for diagnostics,” says Shane. “Sometimes you get dogs presenting with signs that require brain scans and we find brain tumours.

“Other soft tissue problems we scan for might include looking for foreign bodies that are embedded in tissue.”

What is a CT scan?

CT scanning tends to be used for bones and joints, he explains.

“If a dog has lameness, we can scan the elbows to look for tiny changes in the joints to see if any surgery is required.

“We can also scan dogs with angular leg deformities and carry out corrections.”

CT scans are submitted to a company that generates 3D plastic models of the bones and provides programmes highlighting where to cut; this enables perfect corrections.

What does an MRI/CT scan for a dog cost?

It costs between £1,000 and £2,000 for an MRI scan and £700 and £800 for a CT scan.

“When animals come for MRI or CT scans, they are anaesthetised because they need to be completely still,” he explains.

“For an MRI this might be for up to 45 minutes and for a CT five to 10 minutes.”

The charge is made up of the cost of the anaesthetic, scan, interpretation and original capital outlay.

“Our MRI machine cost £500,000 and we pay £50,000 a year for its upkeep. With the CT machine, the capital outlay is less and the process quicker.”

High-tech animal medicine

Using advanced imaging can be advantageous to many pet treatments.

“A CT scan is much like an MRI in that it looks sequentially at slices through the body rather than giving a 2D view of something that is 3D as an X-ray does,” he adds.

“This can make an incredible difference in what we do.”

For more information visit christchurchreferral.vet.

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