Clinical Connections  –  Summer 2020

High-field Magnetic Resonance Equine Imaging
Dr Rhiannon Morgan, Lecturer in Equine Diagnostic Imaging.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is considered the best diagnostic imaging technique to visualise the brain and produces the most detailed pictures of the brain structure. In addition, it provides superior images of musculoskeletal soft tissue structures. The RVC has one of the only 1.5 Tesla high-field MRI scanners in the UK, available to image equine patients (Figure 1). This high-field MRI scanner is located in the RVC Small Animal Hospital but it is also used to scan equine referral patients for neurological and orthopaedic problems. We are often asked to assess cases with neurological signs such as abnormal mentation, blindness, seizure activity and/ or cranial nerve deficits. Once the horse has undergone a thorough neurological examination and localisation to the brain and/or cranial nerves has been made, the horse may undergo an MRI scan. This is carried out under general anaesthesia (GA), which is easily possible due to an equine induction room located directly adjacent to the MRI scanner. Planning the scan and positioning the horse’s head and shoulders in exactly the right place is the most crucial part of the procedure. It requires a team of trained and experienced radiographers and specialist radiologists. Originally designed for humans, this scanner has a bore size of approximately half a metre in diameter. The isocentre of the magnet, which is where we aim to place to region of interest, is over 1 metre into the bore.

Bilateral Blindness Equine Case

A 22-year-old Irish Sport Horse was referred to the RVC for bilateral blindness. It had a bilaterally absent menace response and bilaterally reduced pupillary light reflexes (PLR). Based on the normal appearance of the retinas, the blindness was localised to either the optic nerves, chiasm or bilateral optic tracts. By the time the horse presented to the hospital, the menace response and PLR were normal. The horse underwent an MRI brain scan, which identified diffuse, marked thickening and moderate contrast enhancement of the pachymeninges (Figure 2) overlying the cerebrum. Along with other changes, this indicated a marked pachymeningitis. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis, which is often collected before recovery from GA from the atlantooccipital space, supported a diagnosis of idiopathic hypertrophic pachymeningitis. The marked enlargement of the meninges was hypothesised to result in the loss of vision and PLR through compression of the optic nerves located in the unforgiving optic canals. 

Strengthing diagnostics with combined imaging modalities MRI provides superior soft tissue contrast compared to other imaging modalities, produces images in several different planes (sagittal, frontal, transverse) and allows characterisation of tissue and lesions. Whereas computed tomography (CT) continues to be the modality of choice for bone detail, often, the combination of both modalities provides the greatest amount of diagnostic information. This occurred in a three-year-old Thoroughbred mare that had marked neurological signs and suspicion of a skull fracture. The mare was obtunded and demonstrated multiple cranial nerve deficits. On standing CT examination, a small subtle depression fracture of the calvarium was detected, with concurrent intra-axial midline shift indicating a traumatic brain injury (TBI). High-field MR images demonstrated the true marked severity of the brain injury, which was much more extensive than expected when analysing the CT images (Figure 3). Both modalities were able to provide vital information which allowed a complete injury assessment. High field MRI is frequently used to investigate horses suffering from seizure activity. MRI is a crucial step in excluding a number of causes such as neoplasia, toxicity, metabolic, infectious or inflammatory triggers.

High-field Magnetic Resonance Equine Imaging Dr Rhiannon Morgan, Lecturer in Equine Diagnostic Imaging.
For equine referrals, please call 01707 666297 Email:

Case Report References: Mcgilvray, T., Berner, D., Beltran, E., Attipa, C. and Dunkel, B. (2019). Transient bilateral blindness associated with presumptive idiopathic pachymeningitis in a 22-year-old Irish Sport Horse. Equine Veterinary Education

Top of page