Canine viral papillomatosis sounds like a very concerning illness; however, it is the technical description of warts. 

What are warts?

Warts are a benign type of tumour of the skin. They can be singular or multiple and can occur anywhere on a dog’s body. Warts are generally caused by viruses. There are numerous types of virus which each cause a slightly different presentation of warts in different areas of the body. Warts are very common in dogs and for the most part are not serious or problematic. 

How do dogs get warts?

Warts, or canine papillomas, are caused by certain types of virus. Dogs contract the virus when they come into contact with another infected dog. Canine papilloma viruses can survive for extended periods in the environment and can therefore be spread on objects such as bedding or toys.

Young dogs with immature immune systems or dogs with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to more significant infections where large numbers of warts develop. The virus usually gains entry to the dog’s skin through a wound or bite.  After coming into contact with an infected dog it takes one to two months for a wart to develop. While dog to dog transmission of the virus occurs, fortunately it cannot spread to humans or other animals. 

What do warts look like?

A typical canine wart looks like a small cauliflower head. It has a stalk leading to a rough textured growth.  Sometimes the lesions are hard scaly plaques; others can be hard inward growing masses. They are commonly found on the dog’s face, but can be found on the neck, feet or anywhere else on the body. 

Are viral papillomas dangerous?

No, generally canine warts regress and resolve without requiring treatment. This is because the dog’s immune system responds to the virus. Usually within three months the wart will be starting to regress and shrink.

What treatment is needed for my dog’s wart?

The first step if you find a new growth on your dog is to book an appointment with your vet. Your vet may suspect the growth is a wart based on its appearance; however, if it looks suspicious your vet might advise testing to check what type of growth it is. This could involve your vet taking a small sample using a needle and sending this off to the laboratory, or surgical removal and testing.

If the growth is a suspected wart then monitoring for a period of time to check it is regressing may be all that is needed. Keep an eye on the wart and monitor closely for any problems or changes. If the wart seems to grow or look significantly different it would be prudent to seek advice from your vet. 

Are canine warts troublesome or painful?

On the whole warts do not cause problems for dogs. However, if they occur in large numbers, as sometimes happens in young dogs (for example in the mouth) they can be problematic. In the case of a dog with large numbers of warts in the mouth or other area of the body treatment may be required.

Treatment can include antiviral medications; however, medication is usually only used in severe cases of oral papillomas. The most typical scenario is a dog with a singular or very small number of warts. Occasionally warts may bleed or become infected, in which case treatment may be needed to resolve this.

If a wart persistently bleeds your vet may advise removal. On the whole a wart will not bother your dog or cause any pain. Rarely if it occurs in an easy to reach area such as a leg the dog may lick or bite at the area. It is important to discourage this to avoid problems such as irritation and infection. 

Can I prevent my dog getting warts?

There is no reliable way of ensuring your dog won’t come into contact with a canine papilloma virus. As these viruses are very common and can survive outside the dog in the environment for extended periods it is virtually impossible to prevent infection. If a dog has a large number of warts (such as large numbers of oral papilloma) it would be sensible to limit its close contact with other dogs until the warts have regressed. However, in general given warts are not serious and in the majority of cases resolve without needing treatment no special care is needed.