Canine Papilloma Virus: Cause, Treatment & Cost Of Dog Warts

by Richard Walther, DVM
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Oral Papilloma Virus in Dogs
Learn the causes, symptoms, and treatment for canine oral papillomas (warts), with photos of dog papilloma stages you can reference before taking your pet to the vet.

You might be familiar with the human papillomavirus (HPV), but can dogs get warts, too? The short answer is yes; dogs can get warts from canine papillomavirus (CPV1), a highly transmissible disease that’s easily spread across dog parks and daycares. But what health concerns does this condition pose on pets?

Read on to learn more about what causes oral papillomas in dogs, how to get rid of dog warts, treatment costs, prevention strategies, and more.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: Although canine oral papillomas are quite common, there’s a risk that an undiagnosed lump on a dog’s lip could be something more serious. Those enrolled in pet insurance can quickly gain peace of mind by taking their dog to the vet, so they can get the answers they need while knowing any new condition will be financially covered.

What is a papilloma?

A papilloma is a small, benign skin tumor, commonly known as a viral wart. They can occur anywhere on the body — including bumps on the eyelid and between the toes — but canine oral papillomas specifically refer to warts on a dog’s lip, tongue, gums, and other areas around the muzzle.

What does a papilloma look like on a dog?

Canine oral papillomas occur on the mucous membrane of the mouth and typically appear as whitish, grayish, or flesh-colored skin growth. Sometimes, a papilloma looks like a smooth pimple on a dog’s lip but most of the time, they have a textured cauliflower appearance.

The virus typically causes clusters of hundreds or even thousands of warts to appear at once, although there are cases where only a single papilloma is present. These abnormal growths can get rather large, ranging from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in size.

Despite their unsightly appearance, the benign tumors are generally harmless — but remember that some lumps on dogs’ skin may be indicative of cancerous growth, so it’s always important to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Marvista Vet viral papilloma (Image source: Marvista Vet)

What causes viral papillomas in dogs?

Mouth warts on dogs are caused by the oral papilloma virus, otherwise known as oral papillomatosis or canine papillomavirus type 1 (CPV1). This highly transmissible disease causes dogs to acquire warts on their oral mucous membranes. While all dogs can get oral papillomas, it’s most common in puppies and seniors due to their weakened immune systems.

The oral papilloma virus is present within the wart itself, so the transmission can occur through direct contact and indirect contact with items an infected dog has touched (such as a food or water bowl, toy, or bedding).

Therefore, the risk of CPV1 transmission is significantly higher at dog daycare and breeding facilities where common items are shared. Canine papillomas have an incubation period of one to six months, so if your dog has a mouth wart, it may be difficult to establish when or how they became infected.

dog wart transmission

Symptoms of oral papilloma virus in dogs

The primary symptom of canine papilloma virus is the appearance of warts around the mouth. Fortunately, dog warts are benign, meaning they do not pose dangerous health risks and will not cause any discomfort unless they become infected.

oral papilloma virus (Image source: Woodbrook Animal Clinic)

Most dogs are asymptomatic unless the sores interfere with swallowing or chewing, or the lesions become infected. Infected papillomas can cause swelling, bleeding, bad breath, and pain. Behavioral changes might be noticed if the sores are painful enough to inhibit eating.

In healthy dogs, the majority of mouth warts spontaneously regress and go away on their own within two to three months; surgical excision is rarely necessary. Once a dog has contracted CPV1, they will develop an immunity and it’s unlikely they will ever develop oral papillomas again.

Dog papilloma stages of development

Pet parents can monitor the development of viral warts through each stage of papilloma growth on dogs.

  • Stage 1: A small, smooth lesion appears around the mouth and continues to grow or multiply.

  • Stage 2: The surface of the papilloma becomes texturized with growth.

  • Stage 3: If an oral papilloma is located inside the mouth and continues to actively grow, dogs might experience discomfort leading to a refusal to eat.

dog mouth warts (Image source: Animal Medical Hospital)

Diagnosing canine papilloma virus

Usually, veterinarians can visually diagnose dogs with canine papilloma virus, as the cauliflower-type warts are easily recognizable. Still, it’s recommended to have all growths or lumps on or under your pet’s skin evaluated by a vet. Though some lesions may appear benign, there’s always a risk they could be harmful forms of cancer. Based on the lesion’s appearance, your vet might recommend a biopsy of the skin growth.

How to treat dog warts on mouth

Many pet parents want to know how to get rid of dog warts ASAP, but in most cases, treatment for oral papillom virus is unnecessary because it usually goes away on its own. However, if your dog’s mouth warts start to bleed, increase in size, or cause discomfort, your vet might recommend a canine papilloma virus treatment, such as:

Antibiotics

Oral papillomas that become infected by the bacteria living in the mouth will require an antibiotic prescription. However, the medication will not make the appearance of dog warts go away, because antibiotics do not target the virus itself but rather the secondary infection.

Interferon-Alpha

Interferon-alpha is an off-label treatment used to combat severe cases of canine papilloma virus by stimulating an immune response. It’s given by mouth or injection two to three times per week, which can quickly become expensive while yielding inconsistent results.

Cryotherapy

If the condition worsens in severity or will not improve on its own, an alternative treatment known as cryotherapy may be recommended to remove dog papillomas by freezing off the tissue growth. Surgical excision may be another option, but it should be considered very carefully if intended for aesthetic purposes alone, as the invasive procedure can result in scarring and lead to secondary health complications.

Topical Cream

Though medical treatment is not necessary for mild cases of canine papilloma virus, a new topical cream can be used to address the aesthetic appearance of dog warts. The ointment is applied directly onto the affected area to boost the skin’s immune response to inflammation and assist in the destruction of the virus, thereby helping to get rid of papillomas more quickly.

Vaccination

A new vaccine for oral papillomatosis has also been recently developed. It’s designed to use the DNA of the virus to generate an immune response, thereby helping to stimulate the canine’s immune system to remove oral papillomas more efficiently.

Although it is still considered an experimental product, some vets may recommend its usage as a therapeutic vaccine for existing CPV infections, or as a preventative vaccination for puppies. However, there are indications that the vaccine may cause cancer at the injection site in rare cases.

The bottom line: Only a veterinarian can recommend the best treatment for canine papilloma virus for your unique pet based on their unique medical history and individual symptoms. Schedule an appointment with your primary care vet to discuss your options.

dog mouth wart removal before & after (Image source: North East Newmarket Veterinary Services)

Dog papilloma treatment costs

A definitive diagnosis of oral papilloma through biopsy and full histopathology can cost about $500, but the price may increase with the help of a veterinary specialist. Extensive surgical treatment can cost up to $2,500 but in most cases, surgery performed by a general practitioner costs between $300 and $1,000.

Pro Tip: When considering treatment for growths or lumps on dogs’ skin, many pet parents spend time stressing over potential veterinary costs. Pet insurance is valuable in such instances because it frees you from making an emotional decision based on affordability, rather than your veterinarian’s recommendation.

How long does it take for dog warts to go away?

In healthy dogs, the lesions caused by oral papilloma will recede within two or three months, and the patient will develop an immunity that will protect them from contracting the virus in the future. If your dog has warts, be sure to limit their contact with other dogs, as the virus is contagious between canines.

Is oral papilloma virus in dogs contagious to humans?

Many pet parents are concerned about whether dog warts are contagious to humans, but the answer is no. The oral papilloma virus in dogs is only transmissable among the canine species.


Key Takeaways

  • Oral papilloma warts are small benign tumors of the mouth caused by the canine papillomavirus type 1. They’re found in the oral cavity, gums, lips, and rarely on other mucous membranes.
  • The virus is transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog or via objects like bowls, toys, and bedding. The virus can’t be transmitted to humans or other animal species.
  • In most cases, treatment for oral papilloma is not necessary as the sores will go away on their own in a few weeks. However, if the lesions are still present after three months, a biopsy is recommended to confirm that they are truly viral papillomas. Severe cases with large papillomas can interfere with eating and would require surgical removal or freezing off (cryotherapy).
  • If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to speak to your vet — they are the best resource to ensure your dog’s health and well-being.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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