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Dog Warts: What You Need To Know About The Canine Papillomavirus

Dog Warts: What You Need To Know About The Canine Papillomavirus

Dog warts are a fairly common issue for pet parents but can be alarming for those worried about skin cancer or similar health issues. Even worse, the internet is flooded with bad harmful advice about how to get rid of warts on our dogs.

So let’s start by saying: ignore anything to do with apple cider vinegar and home remedies for dog warts in general! Dogs have sensitive skin that needs careful treatment with gentle canine-specific shampoos. Using the wrong home treatment can hurt your dog with chemical burns or disrupt the natural skin PH and microbiome, causing secondary infections.

But if you’ve noticed warts or growths forming on your dog, usually the mouth, nose, or paws, then you need to know what canine warts are and what to do about them safely.

What are dog warts?

True dog warts are growths erupting from the upper layer of a dog’s skin (the cutaneous epithelium). The canine papilloma virus causes warts that can erupt anywhere on a dog’s body, but different strains of the virus seem to prefer different body parts, such as the eyes, mouth, nose, or paws.

According to Canine Papillomavirus — a Centenary Review, these warts are essentially the same as the HPV virus that causes human warts, only its species specific to dogs.

They are most common in young dogs who don’t have a fully developed immune their immune system or in older dogs whose immune system is starting to weaken. It can also be a problem for dogs who have their immune system medically suppressed, as in cancer patients.

Certain dog breeds seem more prone to the virus, including Pugs, Spaniels, Schnauzers, Shar-Peis, and certain Terriers.

What causes warts in dogs?

True warts (called papillomas) in dogs are caused by the papilloma virus. There are several strains, and they tend to affect different body parts. For example, the oral papillomavirus affects young dogs most frequently and causes warts around and in their mouth.

Meanwhile, old dog warts tend to be in other parts of the skin.

The virus that causes these warts is contagious among dogs. As there are many strains, a dog can become immune to one strain if they catch it but not to others. Don’t worry; humans can’t catch canine papillomas; we have our own versions of this virus.

When a dog is infected, it can leave the virus behind in any area they pass through. The virus can survive for weeks so that any passing dog can pick it up, usually through a lesion in their skin. Dogs pick the wart virus through contact with bedding, food bowls, or similar items.

It can also be transmitted through insects, so read our article on keeping gnats and flies off dogs.

An adult dog with a strong immune system will typically fight off the virus and never develop any warts. But any dog whose immune system is compromised or not fully developed is vulnerable to developing growths. Although, in most cases, they will disappear on their own over a period of weeks or months.

Diagnosing dog warts

If your dog has warts, it’s important to visit the vet for a check-up. Warts on dogs usually look grow outward from the skin and have a cauliflower texture at the top. However, some can grow into the skin and simply make a hard round patch. These look like corn or plantar warts that humans get on their feet and can be painful or uncomfortable.

But dog papillomas can look identical or similar to several other skin tumors and growths, including,

  • Adenomas (common in older dogs),
  • Skin tags,
  • Mast cell tumors,
  • Melanomas.

Many of these skin growths and tumors are harmless, but some are cancerous. Even normal papillomas can sometimes become cancerous, so your vet should always examine them. For this reason, don’t ignore your dog’s wart or try to treat them yourself in case you misdiagnose the cause.

Types of dog warts

Animal PV has several strains. To get an idea of what PV warts typically look like on dogs, we’ve collected some dog wart pictures.

Essentially, there are three types of papilloma virus that can affect your dog. 

  1. Canine mucous membrane papillomatosis

The PV virus that typically affects young dogs usually affects their mucus membranes. These are often multiple warts all over areas like the mouth, throat, lips, and even the eye.  

Here is an example of an oral papilloma (wart in dog mouth) that has grown excessively large and will have to be removed for the dog to eat normally.

wart in a dog's mouth (oral papilloma)

Warts can also infect the conjunctiva on a dog’s eye (eye papilloma):

a wart or papilloma on the conjunctiva of a dog's eye

Skin warts

Skin warts are more common on older dogs and you may usually only see one or two. These are common in older dogs like the Kerry Blue Terrier and Cocker Spaniel. You can find them anywhere on a dog’s body.

A typical skin wart on an older dog

Skin inverted Papilloma

This kind of wart grows inward into the skin rather than outward, and you will usually see it on the belly of young dogs.

Wart on dog’s paws

Another common place you may find warts on dogs is their paws. This is pedal papillomavirus.

a papilloma or wart on a dog's paw

Warts on a dog’s paw usually occur on the back or bottom of the paw. Warts on the front paws are called “palmer’s warts,” and if they are on the back paw, they are called “plantar warts.”  

In some dogs, like Greyhounds, a “corn” can form in the center of the paw pad or between the toes. It’s usually a round, white area right in the middle and is very painful when touched. These types of corns or warts don’t seem to be caused by a virus and may have more to do with friction or pressure on the paw pad.

Dog warts treatment

The majority of warts will simply go away on their own as your dog gets older, their immune system learns to fight the virus. Vitamin E for dog warts is probably the safest home remedy, and applying vitamin E gel for 2 to 3 weeks has shown great results in one study.

When to remove warts on dogs

Dogs will need to have warts removed when:

  • A veterinarian asks for a pathology report and suspects the wart is cancerous
  • The wart is in such a place that it causes aggravation, such as lameness when it’s on the paws or irritation/obstruction in the throat, mouth, or inner eye. Or if it’s making grooming difficult, like in this video:
  • The wart is regularly scratched open and bleeding or has become infected.
  • The wart has been present for over six months and shows no signs of going away.
  • If the dog undergoing immunosuppressive treatment or otherwise has a compromised immune system and cannot fight the virus itself.

Dr. Greg McDonald from McDonald Animal Hospital in Santa Barbara explains the basics of removing dog warts. First, he cautions that the wart is more likely to be adenomas or benign skin cancers if you have a poodle or Poodle crossbreed dog (especially an older one).

He prefers to remove adenomas because they can bleed if the dog scratches at them. He recommends that pet parents do not try to remove their dog’s warts themselves

  • Small warts can be cryogenically frozen off with a product called Verruca Freeze. The wart is isolated with a cone and frozen; the wart will typically drop off. It’s best to remove warts while they are small. Your vet may also use a laser.
  • If warts have become too large or numerous, your vet may remove them surgically.

Vets can also try a variety of medications to get rid of the warts. Most of these, like vaccines, are designed to boost the immune system to allow the dog to fight . But if your dog is on any drug that suppresses the immune system, they may reduce the dosage or change the medication to allow the dog a chance to fight off the virus.

How to get rid of dog warts at home

Avoid home remedies for dog warts. The internet is full of potentially dangerous advice like apple cider vinegar or even garlic, which is toxic to dogs. Since most dog warts simply go away on their own, applying vitamin E gel will usually speed up the process naturally and safely.

Always see a vet about growths on your dog’s skin to ensure they are not potentially cancerous. Treating them at home can lead to incorrectly diagnosing your dog and ending up with a much more serious issue on your hands.

Can I use apple cider vinegar for dog warts?

Do not use home remedies for dog warts like apple cider vinegar. The high acidity can cause a chemical burn that would be extremely painful for your dog. Ignore any internet advice that tells you this is a good solution. Even diluted, there is no reason to believe that ACV is a good or effective option.

What is the cost of treating your dog’s warts?

Unfortunately, the average cost of dog wart removal can range between $300 and $1000. Still, you must see a veterinarian who can anesthetize the area, particularly if it needs to be surgically removed.

Final Thoughts

Most of the time, warts on dogs will go away on their own after a few weeks or months, depending on the type of virus and your dog’s immune system. Always have any growths on your dog’s skin checked out by a veterinarian to make sure it is benign and to determine if it needs to be removed.

Avoid home treatments for these kind of skin issues. Unfortunately, misinformation on the internet is rife, and while most home remedies are simply ineffective, some are actively dangerous and can harm your dog.

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.