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Viral Papilloma in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Viral papillomas, often referred to as oral papillomatosis, are benign, non-cancerous tumors caused by a virus. They generally appear as wart-like or "cauliflower-like" growths around the lips, tongue, and mouth.

Canine viral papillomas are caused by canine oral papillomavirus. Viral papillomas are not related to the nonviral papillomas that are common in geriatric dogs.

Viral papillomas are seen in dogs, generally younger than two years of age. There is no breed or sex predilection. It is not uncommon for the affected individual to be without clinical signs. Depending upon the location of the papillomas, difficulty or discomfort while eating may be apparent.

What to Watch For

  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Oral bleeding

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic testing is generally not necessary in most cases, as the classic appearance of papillomas in a young dog are most often pathognomonic, which means they are very characteristic for a particular disorder. However, in a small percentage of cases, diagnostics are recommended.

  • A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis may be recommended in dogs that have become malnourished due to prolonged discomfort resulting in difficulty eating.

  • A surgical biopsy is necessary for complete confirmation, but it is not necessary in most cases.

    Treatment

    Treatment is rarely needed, as viral papillomas resolve on their own. In certain cases, especially when the location of the papilloma is causing discomfort, or when the owner requests expediting its removal, specific treatment can be instituted.

  • Standard surgical excision or cryosurgery, which is destruction of tissue by the application of extremely cold, eliminates the papilloma immediately.

  • Physically crushing the papilloma to stimulate an immune response to expedite its disappearance has been practiced with success.

  • Systemic chemotherapy has been attempted with varying degrees of success. It is generally reserved for those patients who have failed to regress after more than five months.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Maintenance of the environment and nutritional support are important factors in maintaining the health of the patients while awaiting remission of the papilloma. Recovered animals are generally immune and are unlikely to be reinfected with the virus.

    Patients who have never been affected should be kept away from animals with papillomas, due to the contagious nature of the disease.

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