The purpose of this study was to describe the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) characteristics of suspected instability in dogs with vertebral fractures or subluxations. Eleven dogs that had MRI examinations of the spine prior to surgical stabilization of vertebral fractures and/or subluxations were included in the study. Nine dogs also had survey radiographs. Four dogs had cervical fracture or fracture-subluxation and presented with tetraplegia with intact nociception (n = 2) or nonambulatory tetraparesis (n = 2). Seven dogs had thoracolumbar fracture-subluxation or subluxation and presented with paraplegia with intact nociception (n = 5) or nonambulatory paraparesis (n = 2). A three-compartment model was applied to the interpretation of both the radiographic and MRI studies. Radiography identified compartmental disruption consistent with spinal instability in seven out of the nine cases radiographed. In MRI studies, rupture of the supportive soft tissue structures and/or fracture in at least two compartments could be visualized. Nine cases had spinal cord changes on MRI including signal intensity changes, swelling, compression, and intramedullary hemorrhage. Paravertebral muscle intensity changes were also visible at each trauma site. Magnetic resonance imaging provided helpful information on the location and extent of damage to supportive soft tissue structures and enabled assessment of spinal cord injury in this group of dogs with surgically confirmed vertebral fractures and subluxations.