Oral Warts: What You Should Know About This Dog Park Health Risk

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Dogs can spread an oral papilloma infection to each other by sharing a Frisbee or water bowl.

Most dogs return from the dog park with their tongues wagging. But, some come home with something else: an oral papilloma infection. Within a few weeks, owners are distraught to find whitish, witch-like warts sprouting from their dogs’ lips, gums and tongues.

Ugh, What Are These Things?

These oral growths, which have the unfortunate appearance of a bumper crop of miniature cauliflowers, are caused by canine papillomavirus type 1, a contagious DNA virus that can be spread anywhere dogs interact, such as at dog parks and kennels.

It starts innocently enough: The virus is spread through direct contact with an infected dog or through indirect contact via a shared Frisbee, water bowl or other item. The virus slips through a break in the skin or enters the mucosal surfaces of the mouth, and in one to two months, warts can pop up on the lips, gums, tongue and roof of the mouth or in the throat. Occasionally, they may also spread to the eyelids, eye tissues and corneas.

Dogs under two years of age, who have immature immune systems, are most likely to catch the virus, but it can occasionally also affect other dogs with compromised immune systems.

Understandably, owners are hesitant to accept a slurpy kiss from the unsightly mouth of an infected dog. Fortunately, this virus prefers dogs, so it won’t spread to humans or cats in the household.

Because of the distinctive appearance of the oral warts, most veterinarians can diagnose them on sight, although some may recommend submitting a tissue sample to make sure there isn’t something else at play.

How Can You Get Rid of Them?

The good news is that the warts are benign and, in most cases, will subside without treatment within a few months, although some may take longer. Occasionally, the growths can bleed or become infected, leading to bad breath, and may require a course of antibiotics. In the meantime, owners should keep the infected dog away from other canines to prevent spreading the virus.

In more severe cases, the warts may interfere with chewing, swallowing or breathing, and surgery may be necessary. There are also oral, topical and injectable treatments that may help hasten subsidence. In rare cases, papillomas have been known to progress into cancerous squamous cell carcinomas.

Once dogs have had the virus, they usually have immunity, and won’t succumb to the virus again.

While oral papillomas tend to look worse than they usually are, you never want to assume that any growth on your dog is benign. If you notice anything unusual in your dog’s mouth, make sure he’s examined by your veterinarian.

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