We know that dogs are susceptible to some of the same ailments that humans are—the common cold and Lyme Disease, just to name a few. But did you know that dogs can also get warts?
“Yes, dogs can get ‘warts,’” Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, explains. “These are not exactly the same type of warts that people get. This is caused by the papilloma virus and can be easily spread between dogs.”
Dog warts develop from the papilloma or fibropapillomas viruses. While the virus is contagious between dogs, the good news is these skin growths are usually no cause for immediate concern.
“These are benign, not cancerous masses that pop up on the skin,” Ochoa adds. In fact, most of the time, dog warts go away on their own without any medical assistance or treatment. Dogs can develop warts on their arms, feet, between toes, anus or genitals, or if they develop in or around the mouth, then they are considered oral papillomas.
Dog warts are usually more common in younger dogs as younger dogs are more susceptible, thanks to their still-developing immune systems.
“Young dogs are more susceptible to the papilloma virus because their immune system is not fully developed,” Dr. MacPete says. “As their immune system matures, they produce antibodies against the virus and the warts can eventually disappear.”
For more on dog warts, how to identify them and treat them, keep reading!
Dog warts usually do not come with any symptoms. In fact, the main key to distinguishing if an abnormal dog skin growth is actually a wart is assessing its appearance.
“Canine oral papillomas are usually asymptomatic,” Dr. MacPete explains.
“There are really no symptoms of warts,” Dr. Ochoa agrees. “They are just very small cauliflower growths on the skin. Usually they do no itch or cause any problems. Some dogs will have them on their arms or feet and when they become bored the dog will bite on the warts causing them to bleed.”
Aside from your dog scratching the warts and causing them to bleed, if the warts become infected, they may be painful. If your dog has oral papillomas, they might cause difficulty or pain while eating. If this is the case, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Veterinarians usually rely on the papilloma’s characteristic appearance in order to diagnose a wart, but it’s usually a good idea to check that the growth is benign.
“They are round and have an irregular surface, reminiscent of a cauliflower or sea anemone, and usually grow in clusters,” Dr. MacPete says. “Since oral papillomas can occasionally become malignant (cancerous) and other cancers can grow in the mouth, depending on your pet’s age, your veterinarian may suggest getting a biopsy of the lesion to establish a definitive diagnosis.”
According to Dr. Ochoa, performing the biopsy requires a fine needle aspirate to make sure the warts are not cancerous. A thin needle is inserted into the abnormal tissue where it collects a sample, which is then tested for cancer. It is generally a safe procedure without complications and lasts usually 10 minutes. The sample can either be examined under a microscope on site for a quick diagnosis or be sent away for biopsy at a lab.
Some warts need to be surgically removed, but for the most part, these little suckers will resolve on their own. However, Dr. MacPete warns that they might pop up in another area.
“Most cases of canine oral papillomas go away on their own within one to five months as the affected dog’s immune system matures and mounts a response to the virus,” Dr. MacPete. “If the warts are infected, painful or causing a dog to have trouble eating, your veterinarian may recommend the papillomas be surgically excised or treated with cryotherapy (freezing).”
Speaking of surgical removal of warts, Dr. Ochoa says her record was removing 27 warts from the same dog all at once!
In most cases, dog warts will resolve on their own, typically within one to five months. The dog’s immune system matures and learns how to respond to the virus. However, if warts resolve on their own, chances are they might come back in another area.
Some cases of dog warts might require surgical removal. Even still, the prognosis is good and dog owners should not worry, as most dog warts are benign.
Can pet owners prevent dog warts in the first place?
Dogs can only pass canine papilloma virus to other dogs. Humans, cats and other pets are safe from contracting the virus and developing warts.
“Canine papilloma virus is species-specific and therefore cannot be transmitted to humans or cats,” Dr. MacPete says. But if you have other dogs in the house, be wary, as papillomas are highly contagious between dogs. “Affected dogs can transmit the virus to other dogs through direct contact or when sharing toys, water or food bowls.”
Dr. Ochoa recommends keeping affected dogs away from others in order to prevent the spread of dog warts. “The best way to prevent warts is to keep your dog separated from other dogs,” she says. “Washing water bowls and food bowls to help decrease the spread of disease from one dog to another.”
Separation goes for when you’re in public, too. “Keeping your dog away from all other dogs is the best way to avoid [warts] altogether,” Ochoa adds. “This can be very difficult, as they can catch them from having nose-to-nose contact with an infected dog at the vet or pet store.”
But because dog warts are generally not a big deal, Dr. MacPete recommends not avoiding dog socializing opportunities just for the sake of avoiding dog warts.
“Dogs that go to dog parks, doggie day care, and puppy classes are more likely to get oral papillomas than a dog that never leaves the house,” Dr. MacPete adds. “That said, it is important people know that oral papillomas typically resolve on their own so this should not be a reason to skip doggie playdates. [After all], dogs need activity and most enjoy playing with other dogs.”
Has your dog ever developed dog warts? Let us know in the comment below!
Thumbnail: ©adogslifephoto | Thinkstock.
Stephanie Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared in Seventeen, Whole Dog Journal, Parents Magazine and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir. She lives in New York with her Pomsky, Koda, who is an emotional support animal training to be a certified therapy dog.