What is Papillomas ?

Papillomas, or warts, are lesions or tumors that form on the skin of your bird which can take months to develop, may remain for years and then just resolve on their own.  They are commonly found on the feet and legs or beak and head and have been diagnosed frequently in finches, waterfowl, cranes, herons, and flamingoes as well as African grey parrots and canaries.   There are also reported cases of suspicious lesions occurring on various types of psittacine birds as well.

A papilloma is defined as a small, solid tumor (or lesion) having a clear-cut margin or border that is higher than the surrounding tissue of the skin.  This lesion or tumor could have a peduncle (stalk) or appear more like a wart with various shapes.

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Symptoms of Papillomas in Birds

Papillomas in birds can be external as well as internal, and while the external ones can be easily noted, the internal ones are not as likely to become apparent.  Here are the symptoms you might expect to see:

  • Lesions or warts noted on the skin of various parts of the body of your bird and are external (most likely locations will be on legs, feet, head and beak)
  • Papilloma prolapsed from cloacal - internal
  • Internal papillomas will not be detectable by simple observation (those located in the gastrointestinal system which are caused by several herpesviruses and present predominantly in the Psittacine family)


There are a couple of types of papillomas in birds, both benign and malignant:

  • Papillomas of the skin, also known as “warts” - Usually benign and viral in nature, may disappear spontaneously or may need surgical intervention if they are large, irritated and bothersome
  • Squamous papillomas - Similar to warts or tumors noted above but are not viral in nature (tumor or wart is malignant)

Causes of Papillomas in Birds

As noted above, papillomas (also known as warts) are generally caused by a virus called the papillomavirus of which its family has many members.   There are a number of quite specific viruses within this family which have been linked to papilloma development and these viruses are generally species specific in their inhabitation.  These viruses can live outside the host’s body for quite some time and, accordingly, are just waiting to infect your bird, being able to get into the skin of your bird via abrasions and cuts, through skin which has been softened by moisture and from insect bites (ticks, fleas, mosquitoes).They are not known to infect humans or unrelated species as they are considered very “host-specific”.  

Since the cause is viral, it is important to stress that the virus is contagious to other birds within the afflicted species.  Papillomas are generally not a fatal disease to birds unless the bird has been infected with the Psittacine herpesvirus (PHV) which has been reported in the psittacine family and causes a deadly disease called papillomatosis.  The virus which causes papillomatosis in the Psittacine family is similar to the papillomavirus that causes the less invasive and less dangerous papillomas in other bird species.

Diagnosis of Papillomas in Birds

If the lesions that you are noting on the skin of your bird are truly papillomas or warts, there is generally no diagnosis required.  They will frequently resolve on their own as the host develops an immunity to the offending virus.  If diagnosis is required or desired, your veterinary professional will need to do a physical examination, obtain a history from you and he can have the lesions tested by sending samples (called a biopsy) of the lesions to the laboratory for microscopic review.  This type of analysis will likely only be necessary if the lesion or papilloma is large enough to become a problem for the bird when it eats, moves or stands.

Treatment of Papillomas in Birds

As noted above, treatment is generally not needed unless the papilloma is large enough or become irritated and bleeds.  When treatment is needed, here are some things which could be recommended by your vet:

  • General excision of the papilloma through the means of chemical cauterization or surgical removal works adequately  
  • Isolation of the afflicted bird and any other birds who may also have been exposed will likely be recommended by your vet
  • Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the enclosure, food and water bowls, non-porous toys, to decrease the opportunity for the virus to spread 
  • For those items which are porous and can’t be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected (like wood, rope, natural fibers), it will be necessary to discard them to prevent continued re-infection of your birds 
  • You should also monitor the fecal output on a daily basis in an attempt to make sure appropriate food consumption and digestion are taking place 
  • Monitor the weight of the afflicted birds on a daily basis

Recovery of Papillomas in Birds

Most birds recover from papillomas as long as they aren’t internal ones caused by the Psittacine herpesvirus which can be much more dangerous to those birds in that family. Here are some suggestions and recommendations for what to do at home:

  • Make every attempt to keep your pet bird from biting, scratching or licking to allow the inflammation to quiet down 
  • Keep any ulcerative, inflamed, irritated or raw and bleeding papilloma clean to decrease the opportunity for bacterial or other types of infection
  • In terms of prevention, keep your pet bird separated from other birds, thus inhibiting the spread of any virus being carried by other birds who may not be sick
  • If you decide to increase your aviary, take the extra precaution to quarantine the new bird for a period of at least 90 days
  • Be sure to have your veterinary professional examine the new bird at the beginning and again at the end of the quarantine period to assure it is healthy enough to introduce to your other birds 
  • When you take one of your birds out of your aviary, be sure to quarantine it when it returns before re-introducing it to your remaining aviary population

Enjoy your birds, but be aware of the diseases like papillomas in birds which can befall them.