Background. Literature on magnetic resonance imaging (MR) evaluation of inflammatory joint effusions is sparse. Objective. To describe an animal model for studying infectious and non-infectious joint effusions with magnetic resonance imaging. Materials and methods. Ten rabbit knees with septic arthritis and four with talc synovitis were imaged with MR. Contralateral knees injected with saline served as controls. Fat saturation T2-weighted and gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted images were assessed for joint effusion, and periarticular and adjacent intraosseous increased signal or enhancement. Each knee was cultured and underwent pathologic examination. Results. Both Staphylococcus aureus and talc produced effusions in all knees. The degree of periarticular signal and enhancement was greater in infected knees than talc-injected knees. No abnormal enhancement was seen within bone. Pathologic examination showed a greater degree of inflammation and joint destruction in the infected knees, but no evidence of osteomyelitis. Conclusion. A greater degree of abnormal signal and enhancement seen on MR suggests a more vigorous inflammatory process, as seen with septic arthritis. In spite of advanced septic arthritis, no enhancement was evident within bone, suggesting that enhancement within bone is not an expected finding in isolated septic arthritis and should raise concern for osteomyelitis.