Warts, also known as papillomas or fibropapillomas, are not difficult to diagnose in domestic dogs. Usually, they are easy to see on a dog’s face, feet or footpads. While warts in the mouth can be a bit more difficult to detect, most owners and all veterinarians can take a quick peek inside a dog’s mouth to look for any evidence of warts. Many times, the dog’s owner will point out skin lumps and bumps to the veterinarian during routine annual check-ups. Otherwise, the veterinarian will find the warts during the initial evaluation, which includes a thorough physical examination with a once-over touching the dog’s body and skin.
Canine warts are usually identifiable just by their appearance, except that they can be a bit more difficult to detect on bushy, long-haired, thick-coated breeds. Warts typically show up around the eyes and on the lips, gums and roof of the mouth, but they also commonly occur on a dog’s lower legs and feet, including between the toes and on the footpads. Warts on dogs look very much the same as warts on people. They can occur alone or in clusters and often have a cauliflower-like appearance, although sometimes they are smooth.
Advanced diagnostic techniques are rarely necessary to confirm the presence of warts. Biopsy samples of suspicious masses can easily be taken and submitted to a pathology laboratory for detailed immunohistochemical examination, to identify the particular papilloma virus that caused the condition. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing can also be used to diagnose cutaneous papillomas. Electron microscopy is considered to be the gold standard for diagnosing canine warts. However, it is used primarily for research and publication purposes rather than for clinical diagnosis of warts in companion dogs.
Many warts spontaneously disappear within 2 to 12 months. As a result, sometimes “benign neglect” is the treatment of choice for canine warts, depending upon where they are located. Basically, this means doing nothing and waiting to see if they will go away on their own. However, dog owners should be aware that the canine papilloma viruses that cause warts are infectious and extremely contagious between and among dogs, which makes canine warts a bit more than a simple nuisance.