“DOES MY DOG HAVE WARTS?”
Certain viruses are able to cause the growth of small round skin tumors that are commonly referred to as warts. Everyone who has every seen a drawing of a fairy tale witch knows what warts look like so when the family dog develops small round skin growths, many people assume these are harmless warts. In reality, there are many types of small round skin growths and it is important for them to be examined as some such growths may not actually be innocuous viral warts. Most growths must be removed and biopsied before they can be identified, though in some cases the viral papilloma has an obvious appearance and can be identified visually.
Dogs actually can get viral warts, but not from the same viruses that cause human warts. Dogs do not get warts from people, and people can’t get warts from dogs.
In dogs, we do not call these growths “warts;” we use the more formal term “viral papilloma.” These are benign skin tumors caused by the canine oral papillomavirus.
WHAT DO THESE PAPILLOMAS LOOK LIKE?
Photo provided by
Animal Dermatology Specialty Clinic
Viral papillomas are round but often have a rough, almost jagged surface reminiscent of a sea anemone or a cauliflower. They occur usually on the lips and muzzle of a young dog (usually less than 2 years of age). Less commonly, papillomas can occur on the eyelids and even the surface of the eye or between the toes. Usually they occur in groups rather than as solitary growths.
HOW IS THIS VIRUS TRANSMITTED?
The infection is transmitted via contact with the papillomas on an infected dog. The incubation period is 1-2 months. This virus can only be spread among dogs. It is not contagious to other pets or to humans. To become infected, the dog generally needs an immature immune system, thus this infection is primarily one of young dogs and puppies. Beyond this, transmission details are sketchy. It is not known whether the infected dog must actually show visible lesions to be contagious, nor how long after regression of lesions contagion is still of concern.
ARE VIRAL PAPILLOMAS DANGEROUS?
Not really. They should go away on their own as the dog’s immune system matures and generates a response against the papillomavirus. There have been two cases published where viral papillomas progressed to malignancy but this is extremely rare and by no means the usual course of the infection. Typically, it takes 1-5 months for papillomas to regress with oral growths tending to regress sooner than ocular growths. Occasionally some papillomas will stay permanently.
Sometimes oral papillomas can become infected with bacteria of the mouth. Antibiotics will be needed in such cases to control the pain, swelling, and bad breath.
In most cases, treatment is unnecessary; one simply allows the papillomas to go away on their own. Occasionally an unfortunate dog will have a huge number of tumors, so many that consuming food becomes a problem. Tumors can be surgically removed or frozen off cryogenically. Sometimes crushing several growths seems to stimulate the host’s immune system to assist in the tumor regression process. In humans, anti-viral doses of interferon have been used to treat severe cases of warts and this treatment is also available for severely infected dogs. Sometimes some of the warts can be removed and made into a “vaccine” which is felt to stimulate the immune system in removing the tumors, though such vaccines do not seem to be as effective as one might want. Obviously such treatments should be performed by a veterinarian; do not attempt freezing, cutting or crushing of growths on your own.
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