MRIs Offer Bigger Picture of Stroke, Cancer, Orthopedic Injuries

Amber Hopkins, a CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital anesthesiology technologist, monitors a dog that is under general anesthesia for a scan.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology is changing the way some general practitioners diagnose and treat problems, from neurological disorders to orthopedic conditions, tumors and congenital problems. And as awareness spreads about the scans, clients are asking for the technique, according to veterinarians.

Computer-generated scans show soft tissue, which pinpoints problems without the use of exploratory surgery. “It’s a non-invasive way of looking at soft tissues and body cavities that are inside bone structures,” said Susan Kraft, DVM, and associate professor of radiology at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University.

Recently MRI scans have reversed beliefs that animals rarely have strokes. “You can run a CT and not see a problem in the brain but an MRI lights it up like a firecracker,” said Ian Robertson, BVSc, DACVR, and radiology service chief for the College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University. “We can see pathology on the MRI that’s typical of a stroke. It’s not that the number of strokes in animals is increasing but that we can diagnose them better with the advent of the MRI.”

As with humans there are minimal warning signs of an impending animal stroke though predispositions include abnormal blood pressure and hypertension, conditions that can affect blood clotting.

As a result, MRI referrals are common when clients present animals that are paralyzed on one side, walk in a circle, or cannot move their legs, all common signs that a stroke has occurred, Robertson said.

In some areas MRIs have been used to diagnose animals for 10 years. And as more centers open general practitioners are starting to refer animals to diagnose orthopedic and internal problems and adrenal masses.

The service costs between $800 and $1,800 plus anesthesia depending on region, extent of scan and magnet quality, according to radiologists. In addition to magnetic equipment, facilities must invest in shielding material for MRI suites – to restrict magnetic fields and block environmental radio waves from interacting with the client signal – that cost $50,000, said Kraft.

The magnetic technology is available at many teaching hospitals, human centers, and mobile units and at some referral centers. And Kraft believes that it will soon be even more accessible. "MRI technology is here to stay and I believe that in my lifetime it will become more affordable."

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