The cost of diagnosing your dog’s illness is nothing to sniff at — a dog’s MRI can cost up to $5,000! If your dog needs an MRI and you don’t have pet insurance, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time navigating the veterinary health system. Here’s what you can expect if your dog needs an MRI.
An MRI — short for magnetic resonance imaging — can diagnose complicated medical issues better than a physical exam or a simple X-ray or CT scan. An MRI scan is a noninvasive way to diagnose a litany of conditions by creating a detailed, high-quality image of your pet’s body.
A senior dog, a very active dog, or a dog with preexisting conditions are more likely to need MRIs. Your dog may need an MRI if other tests, like blood work, fail to determine why your dog is sick. MRI scans can reveal details of soft tissues and ligaments, including joints and ears.3 However, most MRI scans are used to diagnose brain and spinal issues. MRIs can diagnose many diseases that other scans miss, including:4
● Small tumors
● Degeneration, like IVDD
The cost of an MRI can vary widely depending on where you live, what facility you choose to use, and the complexity of your dog’s condition. MRIs are expensive for humans because the imaging machine costs millions of dollars to obtain.5 These machines use magnetic fields to create their detailed images and the entire process can take an hour or more. Radiologists, a type of veterinary specialist, are trained to use these machines, analyze their images, and care for your pet throughout the process.
The cost of the machine and the specialists contribute to the costs of a dog’s MRI. It is very likely that your local vet doesn’t have a radiologist on staff. They may have to refer you to a specialist at another veterinary hospital or to an imaging center. Based on your referral, the specialist will prepare a quote for you. Be prepared to pay a consultation fee prior to receiving this quote which will include, but is not limited to:³
● Hospital stay
● IV fluids and catheter
● Staff monitoring
● Blood tests
The total of the quote will be impacted by the size of your dog, their age, and preexisting conditions. Work closely with your veterinary care team to negotiate the cost when possible. There are many options available if you cannot afford the cost of your dog’s care.
Find out if your veterinarian’s practice has a diagnostic imaging department.6 Otherwise, you will need to get a referral. Don’t be afraid to shop around for a lower-cost option — there are some clinics that strictly provide imaging for pets for as low as $1000.7
Prepare to drop your pal off at their appointment time. Your care team will give you instructions on caring for them when you pick them up later that day. Your dog will need anesthesia because, unlike humans, they cannot stay perfectly still.2 Anesthesia side effects are rare since anesthesiologists tailor the medications to your pet and monitor them closely through the scan. By this point, you can trust that the care team will return your dog with minimal adverse effects.
After the scan, you will schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss the results. Then you’ll be able to figure out what to do next with your pup’s care.
Hopefully, you are not in this situation where your dog needs an MRI. If you have an older dog, the best thing to do is to keep up with their exams to catch issues while the conditions are treatable. A healthy, well-cared-for dog is every pet parent’s goal.
We understand that hearing “your dog needs an MRI” can be extremely stressful. The good news is that MetLife’s Pet Insurance has policies that could cover diagnostic scans for your pet.¹,2 Plan ahead and invest in your pet’s health so you can pick the best care team in their hour of need.