By Darlene Stott
Published: 08/29/2017, edited: 08/10/2021
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Most of us are familiar with warts: small lumps of flesh that appear on the skin in most animals, ourselves included, and in our dogs as well. These benign lumps are usually painless, unless located in a spot where they are exposed to friction, like between toes or in a crease of skin, or in a sensitive area like around the eye, mouth, or genitals. Warts can become inflamed if they are injured during grooming, from a tight-fitting collar or harness, or due to friction, but otherwise, your dog does not notice them.
Warts are contagious, but fortunately not between species, so you do not need to worry about contracting warts from your dogs. Also referred to as papillomas, warts are caused by species-specific viruses. Dogs commonly get warts on the mouth, eyelids, feet, and genitalia. Your dog’s immune system is thought to play a large part in whether they get warts or not.
Causes and Prevention of Warts in Dogs
Canine papilloma virus is a double-stranded DNA virus that causes warts in dogs. Although usually harmless, manifesting as benign fleshy growths protruding from your dog's skin, warts can cause damage if they become infected, if rubbed, or are subjected to injury. It is believed that almost all dogs have been exposed to this very common virus, but not all dogs manifest warts. The papillomas or warts seem to only manifest in dogs whose immune systems are not functioning at their optimum.
Warts, therefore, are more common in dogs as they age, young dogs who have immature immune systems, dogs with medical conditions, especially allergies, or other immune compromising conditions. Dogs who need to take immunosuppressant drugs for medical conditions, such as steroids, may be particularly susceptible. The virus is spread between dogs by direct contact, usually with a break in the skin, such as from improperly cleaned grooming tools or when dogs have an oral form of the virus and they lick each other, or from surfaces infected with the virus such as feed dishes. Insect bites can also be responsible for transmission of the virus causing canine warts. Some dog breeds seem to be more genetically susceptible to manifesting warts when exposed to the virus, regardless of their immune system status.
Because vaccines engage your dog's immune system, over-vaccination can compromise the immune system and make your dog more susceptible to warts. You should discuss with your veterinarian what the minimum effective vaccine schedule for your dog is, to avoid immune system compromise, warts, and other immune system diseases.
If warts become a problem for your dog due to an excessive amount of them, or a sensitive location, they can be removed with topical medications or surgical removal.
To prevent warts in your dog:
Limit your furry companion's exposure to infected dogs. If you are aware another dog has canine warts, do not let your dog come into direct contact. Avoiding kennels and public dog parks may be necessary, especially if your dog has a compromised immune system. Dogs with active infections of oral papillomatosis should be quarantined to prevent spread.
Promote immune system functioning in your dog. There are several steps owners can take to keep their dog’s immune system healthy and functioning:
Feeding a species-appropriate diet of high-quality food with high protein, low carbohydrate content.
Getting plenty of exercise
Avoid over vaccinating
Prevent medical conditions requiring immune compromising medications
Provide immune-boosting supplements like fish oils
It is important to get skin growths checked out by a veterinarian to verify they are warts and not some other form of skin growth or disorder that could be a serious risk to your dog's health.
Effects of Prevention
It is probably just about impossible to completely avoid exposure to the virus, and most dogs with healthy immune systems are not affected. Fortunately, warts themselves are not usually a significant health concern, although efforts to minimize the risk of transmitting them to other dogs should be taken and can be disruptive to you and your dog's lifestyle. The manifestation of warts can be a sign that your dog’s immune system is not functioning well.
If warts manifest in your dog, addressing their immune system requirements by taking steps to provide immune system support can help prevent other serious diseases that can occur as a result of a compromised immune system. In this way, warts can be a valuable indicator that your dog needs their overall health addressed. It is important to get veterinary diagnosis for warts as they could be another type of skin disease with serious implications, such as a skin cancer.
Good General Health for Prevention
Canine warts are caused by a canine virus and are not a risk to humans and other animals. They are contagious between dogs, and steps to prevent spreading the virus causing warts to other dogs should be taken. Typically, warts are painless and benign and do not usually require treatment unless they are located in a sensitive area or become injured. They are, however, an indication that all may not be well with your dog's immune system, as most dogs with fully functioning immune systems do not develop warts when exposed to canine papilloma virus.
Care to determine the nature of the skin growth before dismissing it as a wart, and steps to improve your dog's immune system functioning should be taken. Diet, exercise and medication regimes are all important factors that should be addressed to ensure your dog's immune system is functioning at its best and to prevent warts from manifesting in your dog.