Beloved dogs and cats are part of the family, and finding out that our four-legged friends have cancer is never easy. After getting the news, the natural next step is exploring treatment options.

The earlier cancer is detected, the better. In her new book “Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology,” Dr. Alice Villalobos DVM, includes a table of detailed information to help pet owners identify early signs of cancer. These symptoms include abnormal swelling (especially enlarged lymph nodes); abnormal lumps in the mouth, mammary glands, testicles, vaccine sites, or abdomen; sores or ulcers that don’t heal in two weeks located on the nose, ear tips, and face; pale gums; small red spots or red discoloration of the skin; loss of appetite; and weight loss.

If you suspect your pet’s symptoms may be due to cancer, Dr. Richard Weller, DVM, DACVIM, a board-certified veterinary oncologist, says it’s important to take them to the veterinarian right away so a blood test or biopsy can be performed. He recommends getting a sense of how comfortable the veterinarian is when it comes to treating cancer. “Some private practitioners are pretty comfortable administering those kids of services while others aren’t,” Weller says. “If your practitioner isn’t comfortable in that role or you’d like a second opinion about the best way forward, my recommendation would be to seek the services of a board certified veterinarian oncologist.”

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for cancer in pets. This could involve either completely removing their pet’s tumor or removing a part of it in order to examine the tissue more closely. “Surgery is the primary treatment of choice in many cases,” Weller says. However, the location of the tumor is often a deciding factor in whether or not surgery is the most effective treatment option. Weller explains that in some cases, the tumors are in areas that would make the surgery risky. “That’s something that owners would want to discuss in considerable detail, either with the oncologist or the primary care veterinarian.” That discussion should focus on the risk versus the reward of performing surgery.

Chemotherapy and radiation

Although surgery is the primary treatment of choice for most pets that are diagnosed with cancer, it’s not the only option. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer in pets. These therapies are often used after surgery, or along with targeted therapies.

Advances in therapeutic technology and targeted therapies offer a variety of new ways to deliver treatment. Vivos’ IsoPet, for example, is a liquid that can easily be injected into the tumor.

“IsoPet would qualify as a therapeutic technology,” Weller explains, “but it also falls under radiation therapy. It’s very novel and considerably different than any other radiation therapy out there.” Weller notes that it appears IsoPet will mostly benefit animals who have solid tumors and is less effective if the animal has a blood cancer like leukemia. Discussing all of the options available with your vet will help you find the treatment best suited to your pet.

Palliative care

It’s also important to have an open conversation with the veterinarian about your expectations and what you feel comfortable with. For example, there are times when it’s clear that the pet can’t be cured. When this is the case, Weller says some pet owners prefer to keep the animal comfortable for as long as possible, and then euthanize their dog or cat.

“There’s a whole gamut of questions and forks in the road where the pet owner and the veterinarian need to be communicating with one another very clearly and very openly,” Weller emphasizes. That’s why it’s so important to find a provider who you trust and feel comfortable with.

When you get the news that your pet has cancer, remember there are a number of treatment options and ways to ease their pain. The key is to work with the right veterinarian to ensure that your pet is taken care of in a manner that you feel comfortable with.

Vivos’ IsoPet uses highly localized radiation to destroy cancerous tumors by placing a radioactive isotope directly inside the treatment area using the company’s proprietary hydrogel formulation. The injection delivers therapeutic radiation from within the tumor.