MRIs are an incredible diagnostic tool and a relatively recent addition to the veterinary toolbox.
Contrary to other potentially harmful imaging options, MRIs use magnetic fields and radio waves and can shed light on cases where all other diagnostics have failed.
MRIs are rarely the first option and for cats, there’s still risk associated with the anesthesia (quite a low risk for a healthy cat though).
These are some of the conditions where MRIs can be used in cats:
- Brain issues (for example balance problems, extreme behavior change, tumor, encephalitis)
- Spinal cord pain
- Knee issues
- Nerve damage
- Ear diseases (rarely the first option, but more reliable than CT scan)
- Seizures (in case of epilepsy, a lack of abnormality and elimination of other causes increases confidence in potential diagnosis)
As you can see, an MRI can be potentially handy for a variety of health issues and can sometimes be the last resort.
But what about the cost?
You might’ve heard that MRIs for cats are incredibly expensive and many cat owners are terrified upon hearing about the cost for the first time.
How Much Does an MRI Cost For Cats?
A cat MRI usually costs $2,000-$4,000 in the US which includes consultation and anesthesia.
Pricing data is often not publicly available, but that’s what many surveys, online forums, and experts reported.
As per PetMD, Ellen Malmanger, a veterinary neurologist, also mentioned a price range of “$2,000 to upwards of $3,500”.
The UK has similar pricing on the low and high end, but surprisingly, emergency visits usually tend to cost the same on average as a regular visit on the more expensive side.
According to this unofficial online survey, more than half the respondents in the UK believed a cat MRI to cost less than the ones on the lowest end.
For comparison, I’ve checked out real-world pricing of veterinarian MRIs in Germany and added the regular fees for anesthesia as well as consultations (regulated prices that can be looked up).
Anesthesia clocks in at around $100-$200, plus the consultation fee of $50-$100.
In Germany, the MRI itself costs $300-$350 which goes up to nearly $600 if you want the results in written form, with the MRI pictures online and on a USB stick.
When all is said and done, an MRI for a cat will probably cost $750-$900 in Germany.
Why Are MRIs for Cats so Expensive?
MRIs for cats are more expensive due to the low demand despite the same MRI machine and upkeep costs, the lack of insurance reimbursement, and anesthesia costs.
Blood tests and x-rays are pretty common in cats, but MRIs for cats are still not as commonly used.
Clinics for humans are performing a lot more of these MRIs every day.
One can only speculate the reasons for this vary from a lack of insurance reimbursement, unwillingness from cat owners to spend so much money, lack of perceived necessity in cats, and lack of veterinary knowledge.
Not nearly every clinic does MRIs and you might have to travel quite far to find one.
The cost of cat MRIs is also increased due to the fact that they always require anesthesia.
Is MRI Worth it for My Cat?
If your vet recommends the MRI for your cat, it’s definitely worth it, the only reason not to do it is financial.
The reason why an MRI might be worth it for your cat is that soft tissue structures are much more detailed and superior to diagnostics such as X-rays or CT scans.
If you’re unsure, feel free to consult a second vet and check your insurance’s diagnostic policy.
Your insurance covers MRIs for your cat? Then there’s no reason not to do it, except that the premiums might be higher and you probably have a deductible.
But what should you do if your insurance doesn’t cover MRIs for cats?
If a second vet strongly disagrees that an MRI is necessary, you can either go ahead regardless or get a third opinion from a specialized vet.
In case the second opinion agrees that it’s worth it and your insurance doesn’t cover it for your cat, you might be able to discuss payment plans with your vet.
An MRI can be invaluable in diagnosing some conditions and shelling out the money is definitely worth it if there’s even a slight chance of finding the cause and curing it.
However, keep in mind that the MRI is just the first step.
Whatever will be uncovered will probably require more consultations, anesthesia, and surgical intervention.
Does Pet Insurance Cover MRI Scans?
Yes, if a vet recommends the procedure, pet insurance will usually cover diagnostics like MRI scans, but not all insurance plans cover MRI scans.
Some insurances may explicitly exclude MRI scans while others only include them under certain circumstances.
These limitations include:
- Exclusion of pre-existing conditions
- Coverage for emergencies or accidents only
- Pre-approval required, otherwise no reimbursement
- Fixed limit for diagnostics
Read your cat’s insurance policy upfront and only get a policy where diagnostics are included.
A quick tip whether you have a policy or are about to get one: Just use the search & find function and type in “diagnostic”, “MRI”, and the like and you’ll quickly find it.
An insurance agent should also be able to help you, but make sure you read it yourselves before signing.
The premiums are not that much higher and a far bigger problem is the fact that many cheaper policies exclude breed-related conditions in the first place.
Whatever you do, it’s best to discuss the possibility of an MRI for your cat and how much you can expect to spend.
Insurance can reduce the cost but not every insurance covers every diagnostic so compare them and make sure you get the right policy for you, if you choose to get one.