puppies wrestling

Unsightly but Rarely Dangerous

Question:
Do you have an opinion on what to do about papillomas in our dog Ella’s mouth and how/whether to treat with azithromycin? The dog Ella plays with and Ella both have them. The other dog’s owner wants to treat with the antibiotic for them to be able to play together again.

Dr. Nichol:
Oral papillomas are a blight on the good looks of young dogs unlucky enough to be infected with this contagious virus. The mess of bumps and cauliflower-like masses on their gums, lips, hard palates and throats bleed easily and may harbor smoldering bacteria. Drooling and bad breath add to the embarrassment. These canine adolescents suffer on the dating scene. Their parents wring their hands.

The good news is that in nearly every case these oral warts go away on their own. The responsible virus targets youngsters almost exclusively because their immune systems lack the maturity to mount a robust defense. When some of the protruding masses get damaged by rough play the kid’s body can wake up and recognize the virus as foreign and develop its own internal vaccine. Oral warts are ugly, in some cases growing big enough to temporarily interfere with eating and swallowing. They can disappear over the course of just a few days.

Azithromycin is a relatively new treatment for oral papillomas that is usually reserved for stubborn cases. This antibiotic is not well-established for this purpose and may carry some risks. A topical medication called imiquimod, as well as electrosurgery and freezing (cryosurgery) have also been used but these pupsters would probably eliminate their warts spontaneously anyway. Watchful waiting works quite nicely for most cases. On the other hand, oral masses that persist longer than 1-2 months should be examined by a veterinarian and biopsied.

This oral papilloma virus, while seldom dangerous, is highly contagious but only between dogs. You can kiss a puppy with warts without getting warts. If Ella were not already infected she could avoid contact with her friend until it resolved in that dog. But with both of them sporting vegetative oral carbuncles they can enjoy each other’s company without invective from their political adversaries.

Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on behavioral or physical concerns on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.