The Canine Papilloma Virus: What It Is and How You Can Help Us Minimize It at the Daycare


The Canine Papilloma Virus, also known anecdotally as “puppy warts” or “doggy chickenpox”, is a benign virus that presents as raised, mushroom-like warts appearing in and around a dog’s mouth. Warts can be found on an infected dog’s lips, gums, tongue, pallet and throat. Typically, the warts are benign and will fall off on their own in 1 to 4 weeks. In rare but severe instances, the warts may cause trouble swallowing, in which case they would need to be removed surgically by a veterinarian. In extremely rare instances, the warts may turn cancerous; this is exceedingly uncommon.

The canine papilloma virus is also referred to in nonscientific circles as “puppy warts” because it typically affects dogs under the age of two because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.  The virus can also affect older dogs that are immunocompromised. The virus does not usually present in dogs with robust and mature immune systems.

The virus’s second anecdotal name, “doggy chickenpox”, came into existence because the virus is extremely contagious, can be transmitted through very limited contact, and, as mentioned previously, usually affects younger dogs. One should also be aware that the virus can lay dormant, and therefore undetectable, so a dog could potentially be a carrier of the virus and therefore be transmitting it to other dogs unbeknownst to you or anyone else.

The virus is spread by the sharing of dog toys, dog bowls, or even small amounts of mouth to mouth contact between dogs. If your dog is under age 2 and he/she goes to daycare or the dog park, greets other dogs on the street or out walking with you (especially if you have a dog that likes to say “hi” by licking the face and mouth of another dog) or is boarded or kenneled with other dogs, you should be doing a routine check of their mouth. Unfortunately, though the virus is benign, a dog presenting with warts cannot attend daycare, and should not interact with other dogs until the warts have fully cleared.

Treatment Options

Until recently, the general consensus was that there was not much you could do about puppy warts and that you would need to let them run their course.  This is a difficult proposition for the owner of a puppy who, at such a critical state in development, needs social interaction with other dogs, not to mention the additional exercise and energy expenditure afforded by daycare.  Luckily, there are now some new and promising treatment options that have shown efficacy:

  1. Colloidal silverColloidal silver can be purchased over-the-counter or online and has potential immune boosting effects that help an infected dog fight the virus more quickly (it is also being used proactively as a preventative and we recommend that all owners of dogs under age two use it if their dog attends daycare or frequents dog parks regularly).
  2. Imiquimod: Imiquimod is a topical medication that, like colloidal silver, may help boost immune-mediated inflammation and thus facilitate destruction of the virus by the body.  Skin irritation is frequently noted adjacent to the growth when used, however, this is generally regarded as a sign that the grown is regressing and the medication is working.
  3. Azithromycin: The treatment results for Azithromycin, an antibiotic, have been mixed.  Some studies have shown immediate improvement with no recurrence in dogs who have been prescribed it, while for others, it seems to have no effect at all.  Given the safety of this antibiotic, and its ease of obtainability, many owners opt to try it.

For further information on the Canine Papilloma Virus please see here: http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/oral-papilloma-virus-dogs

For photos to see how the virus presents and so you know what to look for, please see here: http://www.vet.bc.ca/oral-papillomas.pml

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