What are Warts?
Warts in horses are caused by a horse specific papilloma virus; it is not something that can be transferred to humans. They can appear at any life stage of your horse, but are most commonly seen at a younger age. They can appear anywhere on your horse’s body with the typical regions being their muzzle, lips, ears, and genital region. Their appearance is what you would expect it to look like, which are little growth like lesions attached to your horse on little stalks. In most situations, the warts are not a detriment to your horse’s health and the condition spontaneously resolves on its own. However, in some situations it can cause a health related concern. For example, if a wart is near your horse’s eye and is causing sight problems, surgical removal should be considered. You can surgically remove all of them if you choose, but it is not necessary. Most horses do not seem to be bothered by the warts and function normally with or without them present.
Small lesion-like warts can appear on your horse at any age and at any location. This condition is not a medical emergency but it would be a good idea to have it evaluated by a professional. This will determine if it is something requiring further diagnostics for appropriate analysis or if it is something of little concern.
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Symptoms of Warts in Horses
Symptoms of warts are straightforward but can vary from one to another.
- Small nodules
- Most commonly found on lips and muzzle
- May also be seen on legs, vulva, penis, nostrils, ears, and eyes
- Can change color
- May have a bumpy texture, and be protruding out a bit
Warts can vary in size and appearance, even though on the same horse and in the same area. The warts can be gray/white in color and cauliflower-like in appearance including short stalks attaching themselves to the skin. They can be as small as 1 millimeter up to several centimeters. Typically, they do not cause an issue for the horse, but on some occasions, the growth can be in a poor location, such as the eyelid, and as it grows, it may begin to interfere with his eyesight.
Causes of Warts in Horses
In most cases, equine warts are naturally occurring and are initiated by basal cell hyperplasia. There is no viral antigen production in majority of patients. They are typically caused by a papilloma virus, but there have not been any reported cases of transfer to humans. Transmission can occur via:
- Sharing of tack
- Insects can transmit the virus
- Contact with the lesion
Diagnosis of Warts in Horses
Diagnosis of warts is fairly obvious by physical findings alone. This, paired with his history and age, give a fairly definitive diagnosis without further testing. Some veterinarians or owners may want to do a biopsy in order to get a 100% definitive diagnosis. A biopsy can also provide information on what stage the lesion is in, whether it be growth, development, or regression.
Your veterinarian may recommend routine blood work just as a precaution. There can be other things going on with your horse’s system that just are not presenting themselves yet. The blood work will consist of a chemistry panel and complete blood count to verify how the internal organs are functioning and if he is experiencing any type of blood related illness.
Treatment of Warts in Horses
Most warts spontaneously resolve on their within a few months without any apparent reason. However, if the lesions persist more than 6 months, the veterinarian may want to pursue immune deficiency related illnesses as the cause. There are some treatments out there you can choose to use on the lesions, but since they resolve on their own, the actual efficacy of the available treatments is questionable.
If you need or want to remove the warts, cryosurgery and chemical cautery are both acceptable methods. You can opt to remove some lesions, but not others, however there is no guarantee that removing one will cause regression of the others.
Recovery of Warts in Horses
Most growths that appear on your horse tend to be more of an aesthetic issue than a detriment to his health. In some instances, the wart could be near an eye or lip and as it grows could become a problem in regards to his sight or his eating. If this occurs, surgical removal would be a viable option. In cases of surgical removal, horses recover very well. There is no guarantee the wart will not return, but it will remove the issue at hand and allow your horse to return to his normal function.
Some cases can be more severe, such as an ear full of warts, but this is not typical. In this situation, further diagnostics will be needed to find the underlying cause, such as an immune related disease. In this case, the warts themselves are not the primary concern, but finding a solution to the underlying illness is.
Warts Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 5 year old gelding that was pastured this summer for 1 month near cattle. He developed over the past 3 months a very difficult strain of scratches that were diagnosed as MRSA and at the same time began to develop warts on his face (both sides) his neck and upper front legs. Started out as just one at first of August. Now there are approx 8 on face 6 on neck and approx 3 on upper legs. Have not covered every inch yet so numbers are approx, not sure what is going on. Scratches still have not totally cleared up yet
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