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Average Cost of an MRI Scan for a Dog or Cat 2019

If your pet suffers from seizures, an unusual walking pattern, back problems or paralysis your vet may recommend an MRI of the brain or spine to diagnose conditions such as tumors, inflammation and herniated discs. To give you an idea of how much you'll pay for an MRI for your dog or cat, we've researched prices from a dozen MRI centres around the UK. We also explain when an MRI might be covered by pet insurance, if you have it.

Average Cost of an MRI Scan for a Dog or Cat in the UK

The average starting cost for a dog or cat MRI is around £1,860, but costs can vary widely depending on many factors like if the scan is an out-of-hours emergency, whether the scan is performed at a for-profit or not-for-profit, the weight of your pet, the number of body parts being scanned, etc. For example, an out-of-hours emergency MRI can easily cost 60% more than an MRI performed during regular business hours.

If you're particularly price conscious, it pays to shop around. According to the data in our study, the most expensive MRI providers cost 2.25X as much as the least expensive, which could save you £1,000 or more on a scan for your dog or cat.

How Much is a Dog or Cat MRI?Non-EmergencyEmergency, Out-of-Hours
Low£1,200£2,700
High£2,700£3,500
Average£1,860£3,025
chart showing average costs for dog MRIs including emergency, out of hours
MRIs for dogs and cats cost thousands of pounds

Not-for-profit university hospitals are often the cheapest option, if one is located near you. However with certain brands of pet insurance (e.g., Tesco, Argos, etc.) it may not be cost effective for you to seek out a university hospital. As most university hospitals are not in the RSA Referral Vet Network, using them may require you to pay an extra £200 of the vet fee if you're with this type of insurer. (Note: not all RSA-underwritten insurance providers impose this extra £200 for going out-of-network for a referral, for example M&S and John Lewis.)

Why are MRIs for Pets so Expensive?

MRIs for dogs and cars are expensive for a few reasons. First, MRI machines can cost £1 million or more. Then a special room must be constructed for the MRI, with technology such as RF Shielding to keep disruptive signals out of the scanning room and Passive Magnetic Shielding to diminish the reach of the magnetic field beyond the MRI scanning room.

Once up and running, specialist technicians are needed to operate the MRI. As a result, MRI centres need to charge a significant amount of money to provide scans in order to recoup the costs of buying, setting up and operating an MRI machine.

In addition, dogs and cats need to be anesthetized during an MRI making an MRI for your pet potentially more expensive than for a human. To get a clean MRI picture the patient must lay perfectly still during the scan, which lasts anywhere from 10 minutes up to 1.5 hours. No pet would lay still during an MRI amid the banging noises that occur as large bursts of electricity hit the coils—no matter how good their "stay" is. As a result, the total cost of an MRI for a dog or cat includes anesthesia, which alone can top £200.

Does Pet Insurance Cover MRI Scans?

MRI coverage by a pet insurance policy will depend on the reason for the MRI (does your pet need the MRI due to an accident or an illness?), the type of pet insurance plan (accident only or accident & illness) and the coverage limits of your plan. And keep in mind you'll pay the excess, if you haven't already done so for the condition that year.

Reason for MRI and type of insurance plan: An accident only plan may cover an MRI when the underlying injury was caused by an accident. For instance, if your dog suffers from back problems after being hit by a car, and accident only plan would typically cover an MRI if advised by your vet. However, an MRI to diagnose a tumor (an "illness" in insurance lingo) would only by covered by an accident & illness plan (i.e., time limited, maximum benefit and lifetime cover).

Plan limits: Whether or not an MRI is covered in part or in full by pet insurance (excluding the excess) will also depend on your plan limits. For example, on a policy with a £1,000 per condition or annual limit, only £1,000 of the MRI cost would be covered (assuming you've made no other claims for the condition), leaving you to pay the remaining £800 or so and pay for any follow up treatments which may cost thousands of pounds more if surgery is required. To protect against situations like this, it's useful to have at least £4,000 of vet health insurance, if not more, depending on your budget.

Additionally, some pet insurance providers impose inner limits on MRIs, which may be less than your entire vet fee limit for a condition or the year. PDSA and Debenhams are two pet insurance companies that impose lower limits on MRIs. As you can see in the table below, on all PDSA and Debenhams plans the maximum payout for an MRI is significantly less than the £1,860 average cost of an MRI. As a result, a dog or cat owner with either of these insurers would need to pay the remainder of the bill beyond what was covered by insurance.

Insurance ProviderPlan Names and MRI Inner Limits
PDSAClassicAdvanceAdvance PlusUltimateUltimate Plus
£1,000£1,500£1,500£1,500£1,500
DebenhamsAccident OnlyEssentialBasicExtraElite
£1,000£1,000£1,000£1,250£1,500

Can I make a direct insurance claim for an MRI?

Many MRI providers will accept a direct payment from your pet insurance, so that you don't need to pay thousands of pounds at the time of your appointment and claim the money back from your insurance later. If you want the insurance company to pay the vet directly, however, you'll need to have the claim pre-authorised by your insurance and agreed upon by the vet prior to the MRI scan.

The approval process can take several days so initiate any pre-authorization as soon as you're able. You may be charged a £20 to £45 administration fee by your vet to compensate them for their time in setting up a direct payment, so be sure to ask about that ahead of time, too.

Those choosing a new vet should ask if the surgery will accept payment directly from the pet insurance company, which can be a huge help for large vet charges such as MRIs or surgery (e.g., hip dysplasia or neuter/spay).

RSA Referral Vet Network

Some pet insurance providers (e.g., Tesco and Argos) that are underwritten by Royal Sun Alliance (RSA) may charge you an extra £200 if you use a referral vet who is not part of their "RSA Referral Vet Network". For example, if you're insured with Tesco and your dog gets an MRI from a center that isn't part of the network, you'll pay £200 in addition to any excess you owe. Most university hospitals are not within the Referral Vet Network.

Low Cost MRI for a Dog or Cat

If you think you can't afford an MRI for your dog or cat because you don't have the funds or a suitable health insurance plan in place, you might want to first look into the university hospitals. As not-for-profit charities, they tend to charge quite a bit less than commercial MRI centres. In fact, starting prices can be up to 55% lower at a university small animal hospital than a for-profit referral centre. You can find out more information in our article on MRI locations in the UK.

Another option to help pet owners pay for an MRI is an interest free payment plan, a feature offered by some MRI providers. With an interest free payment plan, you'd typically pay a deposit and then monthly payments to spread out the cost of the vet bill over a longer period of time. For example, a £2,000 MRI could be paid with a £300 deposit and subsequent £142 monthly payments for the next 12 months. This is preferable to borrowing money using a credit card, as credit card interest rates are around 18% for those with good credit up to 36% or more for those with weak credit ratings.

When is an MRI Needed for a Dog or Cat?

An MRI is useful for diagnosing problems with the brain and spinal cord, knees and nerves—areas where an X-ray is less effective. While X-rays are good at creating accurate pictures of hard, dense structures like bone (e.g., diagnosing a broken bone), MRIs use magnetic fields and radio waves to give very detailed pictures of the soft tissue inside of the body. For example, an MRI can be useful for diagnosing back problems by looking for a ruptured spinal disc.

If your pet suffers from a problem like seizures, paralysis or back problems then your vet might suggest an MRI to help properly diagnose the condition, as traditional X-rays cannot show detail of soft tissue. Once properly diagnosed, your vet will have an easier time creating a treatment plan to help cure your pet or at least alleviate their symptoms.

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The guidance on this site is based on our own analysis and is meant to help you identify options and narrow down your choices. We do not advise or tell you which product to buy; undertake your own due diligence before entering into any agreement. Read our full disclosure here.