Have you ever seen a cauliflower wart-like growth on the skin of your dog? Yes, it is exactly what it looks like. If you didn’t know, dogs can get warts just like humans. Okay, don’t panic! The good news; it’s not that serious and it can be controlled or subdued. However, if you want to control the situation, you need to know everything about dog warts.
Now let’s get down to it, shall we?
It is caused by a Virus
The medical term for warts is Canine Papilloma Virus (CPV). The incubation period for the virus is up to 2 months and it can manifest as a flesh, cauliflower resemblance growth on the skin. In most cases, warts appear on the mouth, nose and around the eyes but sometimes they can progress to the legs, footpads and groin area. The Canine Papilloma Virus is contagious and it can easily spread between dogs, usually when they physically greet or lick each other. Also, the virus can be transmitted through insect bites, scrapes, open wounds, and inflammation.
However, Canine Papilloma Virus is only exclusive to dogs and it cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets. Moreover, warts are mostly benign and harmless to your dog, but there are a few rare exceptions where they can progress to cancer or interfere with your dog’s health.
Canine Papilloma Virus is contagious and often transmitted when dogs lick or greet each other.
Warts Are a Sign of a Low Immune System
Even though warts are caused by a virus, the canine papilloma virus tends to thrive on dogs with a weaker immune system. Think of it like this; the warts are just symptoms of a much bigger problem. Most dogs are assumed to have been exposed to the canine papilloma virus but the warts start to appear when the immune system is suppressed or immature.
Hence, instead of just focusing on warts, it is recommended to boost the immune system of your dog.
Warts Affect Three Types of Dogs
Speaking of weak immune systems, warts typically affect three types of dogs; young dogs, immunosuppressed dogs, and senior dogs. If you’ve noticed, puppies and senior older dogs are unfortunate to have a weaker immune system which makes them susceptible to the papilloma virus.
For puppies or young dogs, the most common type of warts is the oral papillomatosis which are distinguished as grayish, whitish or fleshy warts on the oral cavity or mucous membrane. That means you should watch out for warts around the tongue, lips, throat, palate and the eyes.
Old senior dogs, puppies, and immunosuppressed dogs are the most vulnerable to develop warts.
Warts can develop into serious problems if not controlled
As mentioned earlier, warts are usually painless and if you have an infected puppy, you can wait for the oral papillomatosis to regress after a few months once the immune system improves. However, there are rare but severe cases of papillomatosis whereby the warts grow exponentially inside the mouth and throat making it hard for a dog to breathe and swallow. This usually happens to dogs with congenital immunodeficiency; a disorder that makes it difficult for the body to counter-attack a virus with a strong immune response.
Additionally, some dogs bite and scratch the warts between the toes causing an infection. What else? It is possible but extremely rare for warts to progress to a type of skin cancer growth known as squamous cell carcinoma. If you notice warts have interfered with your dog’s ability to eat, drink, breathe and walk, you can visit a veterinarian. Similarly, you should consult the vet if there is an infection or if the warts keep growing or changing shape or color consistently.
Dr. Mike, a veterinarian, shows what a serious case of canine papilloma looks like.
You Don’t Need To Spend a Lot of Money to Diagnose
Because warts are identified through appearance, it is easy for the veterinarian to diagnose it just by looking at it. That means you won’t spend a lot of money trying to diagnose it. Regardless, the vet can do a thorough analysis to make sure the warts are not obstructing your dog’s eating or breathing ability. Also, to ascertain that the warts are not cancerous, the vet may examine a biopsy sample of the warts under a microscope. Afterward, the vet could schedule follow up appointments to monitor any improvement.
It’s very easy for a vet to diagnose warts through physical appearance. However, the vet can do a biopsy to make sure the warts are not malignant.
Warts Can Be Treated
In most cases, there is no necessity to treat warts since they can disappear after the immune system matures and finds a way to kill the virus. This is usually known as the “benign neglect“. In fact, it is not uncommon for the vet to pop the warts and release the papilloma virus into your dog’s bloodstream to accelerate the immune reaction.
For the “benign neglect” to work, it could take anywhere between 1 to 6 months before you start noticing that the warts are fading away. Otherwise, if warts keep on sprouting or changing shape to the extent they interfere with your dog’s wellbeing, it is better to consider treatment options. The warts can be surgically removed, froze off (cryogenically), burned off through electrosurgery or removed using a laser beam.
Alternatively, the vet can prescribe antibiotics to restrain infection. Some of the most common medications suggested by veterinarians include azithromycin, imiquimod, interferon or cimetidine. Pet owners with dogs that are on immunosuppression drugs are advised to discontinue the dosage, if possible, to strengthen the immune system.
Warts can be removed through surgery if they become a nuisance.
There are Precautions to Prevent Warts
Even though most veterinarians will tell you all dogs are presumed to have been exposed to warts, there are precautions to prevent the Canine Papilloma Virus (CPV) from overwhelming the immune system. No, it’s not vaccines. Actually, too many unnecessary vaccines will do the opposite and encourage the warts to appear. Apart from reducing excess vaccines, you can reduce the probability of your dog developing warts by feeding a balanced diet and providing a conducive environment.
But that’s not all, if your dog’s immune system is down or the skin has rashes or wounds, you can keep it off from places such as dog parks or dog daycares where there is a high possibility of exposure. Besides that, if your dog is unfortunate to develop warts, you can separate it from other dogs until the papilloma virus has been suppressed.
Most importantly, if you keep the immune system of your dog in check, it will unlikely develop warts.
If your dog is infected with Canine Papilloma Virus, you can isolate it until the warts disappear.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.