Small animal models of heart failure have added invaluable information to advance diagnosis, pathophysiology and treatment of patients with heart failure, a growing epidemic in the western world. During the last decade, advances in small animal magnetic resonance imaging have contributed to this accumulating body of knowledge. In the review we give an overview about imaging techniques, their application to heart failure models in rats and mice, with focusing on providing practical information which will aid readers to acknowledge the opportunities offered by small animal MRI. We aim to provide this information as a useful guidance for developing imaging strategies and experimental protocols. In addition, theoretical background with respect to physics of imaging and pathophysiology of disease will be discussed. Techniques like cine, spin labeling perfusion, determination of regional blood volume by usage of intravascular contrast agents, myocardial motion encoding by phase mapping, coronary angiography, spectroscopic imaging, assessment of viability by late enhancement techniques will be described with specific applications in mind, such as phenotyping of the creatine kinase knock out mouse and assessment of myocardial mechanics and perfusion during remodeling after myocardial infarction.