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Papillomas in Dogs: Causes and Treatments

Written by Anna Hollisey


smiling dog wearing the cone of shame

A papilloma tumor is not uncommon in dogs. It is caused by the papilloma virus, carried by humans and animals, and tends to affect young dogs or those whose immune systems are compromised. They’re more commonly known as warts and whilst they can be uncomfortable, they’re not usually too serious. 

What is a Papilloma?

A papilloma is the term for a small tumor which looks like a wart. It’s caused by a virus which enters the body, increases cell division and promotes abnormal cell growth

The papillomavirus comes in many forms, some of which affect people (such as foot warts). In dogs it will often regress of its own accord, but sometimes it forms a tumor which needs surgical removal. 

Oral papillomas appear inside the mouth and throat. They can cause enormous discomfort for dogs, and your vet can provide pain relief. Oral papillomas are benign and usually vanish after around 8—12 weeks, after which your dog should have good immunity against them. 

What Causes Papilloma in Dogs?

The virus is carried silently by many humans and animals. It also thrives in a warm environment for quite a long time. 

However, this virus which produces papilloma on your dog’s skin is not infectious to humans

This virus is very stealthy. It doesn’t need a continual host – it can exist on your dog’s bedding, bowls, or toys. There, it waits for the chance to enter your dog’s body.

It enters the dog’s body through a tick bite, an open wound, or moist skin (such as around the eyes or nose). Some dogs are more susceptible – for example, those with compromised immunity, such as very young puppies.

How Are Papillomas Treated?

Although papillomas usually look like warts, they can sometimes feel quite hard and crusty; other times, they’ll be growing inwards and you can feel a lump beneath the surface. 

It’s time for a visit to the vet (to rule out other types of lesions). Your vet can diagnose papilloma by inserting a fine needle into the tumor and testing it, or by performing a biopsy. 

In some cases, especially if your dog is generally healthy, the papilloma will be battled by the dog’s immune system, and it will regress. 

Your vet may recommend a topical treatment which helps to prompt the immune system to attack the papilloma. 

If the papilloma is not successfully defeated, your vet will recommend surgical removal. This is generally a good option, because the tumor – if properly removed – doesn’t usually return. 

Caring For Your Dog Afterwards

After surgery, your dog will likely find the wound irresistible. It’s important – and difficult – to prevent them from licking and biting the wound, so that it doesn’t reopen. 

To enable the wound to heal properly, if your dog is extremely persistent, you may be forced to consider using an E-collar or cone. (You could try an inflatable collar, which some dogs seem to prefer!) If it’s possible to cover the wound during the night, when your dog will be unsupervised, then that can help too. 

Further Reading

A benign tumor on the paw is called a Keratoma, and it can cause your dog to walk with a limp. Read about Keratomas in dogs here/learn/dog-health/what-is-keratoma-guide-to-treating-dog-corns. Here’s the lowdown on dog skin tags and how to deal with them/learn/dog-health/skin-tags-on-dogs-what-are-they-and-what-do-they-mean