It can happen without warning: You’re happily admiring your dog’s winning smile and there it is—a wart! And then you spot another one, and another. What’s going on here?
Dog warts are called “canine papillomavirus.” These rough-textured growths (think cauliflower) are a virus that seems to crop up practically overnight and spread quickly. They’re usually found on the lips and in the mouth, but can also appear on the eyelids, throat, or between the toes.
How Dogs Contract Warts
Dogs acquire the papillomavirus when they come into contact with an infected dog. Young dogs (less than two years old) are particularly susceptible because their immune system isn’t mature enough to fight off the infection. After a dog has been exposed to the virus, it takes about one to two months for the warts to appear. Dog-to-dog transmission is common, but the virus can’t be acquired from (or spread to) other animals. You’re in no danger of catching warts from your dog, either—canine papillomavirus can’t infect humans.
Warts are unsightly, but they probably won’t bother your dog unless they occur in locations that interfere with his everyday activities. Repeated trauma can cause the warts to bleed and become infected. Warts located deep in the throat can make swallowing or breathing difficult, but fortunately this is a rare occurrence.
Treatment for canine warts usually isn’t necessary because they typically disappear on their own when the dog’s immune system matures sufficiently to build a defense against the virus. This process takes some time, however—up to five months or so. Although most warts will eventually go away, some of them may not.
While you’re waiting for the warts to regress, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them. Check them regularly for signs of irritation, bleeding, or interference with your pal’s daily activities. If you spot any problems, consult your veterinarian for treatment recommendations.
Depending on the location of your dog’s warts, your veterinarian may recommend removal by electrocautery (burning), cryotherapy (freezing) or sharp resection (cutting). In some cases, removal of one or more warts will cause the others to fade away.
Warts that impair swallowing or breathing may require treatment with a commercial vaccine or a vaccine formulated especially for your dog. If any of the warts are infected, your veterinarian will most likely prescribe antibiotics.
Karla S. Rugh, DVM, PhD, is a practicing veterinarian, consultant, and writer in Rocheport, Missouri. She has twice received the National Institutes of Health Research Service Award.