Your parents probably warned you that kissing a stranger was like kissing everyone that person kissed. Well, they were right and the same advice applies to your dog.
Canine oral papilloma, also known as oral warts, are small benign tumors of the mouth caused by the papilloma virus. They are found on the lips, gums, mouth, and rarely can also be located on other mucous membranes.
Canine oral papillomas usually affect young dogs under the age of 2. Young dogs are more susceptible to the papilloma virus because their immune system is not fully developed. As their immune system matures, they produce antibodies against the virus and the warts can eventually disappear. Affected dogs can transmit the virus to other dogs through direct contact. This usually occurs when they greet each other, share toys, or eat or drink out of the same food or water bowl. Canine papilloma virus is species-specific and therefore cannot be transmitted to humans or cats.
Signs and Symptoms:
Papillomas typically develop on the lips, tongue, throat or gums. They are round and have an irregular surface, reminiscent of a cauliflower or sea anemone, and usually grow in clusters. Most dogs are asymptomatic unless the papillomas become infected. Infected oral papillomas can cause pain, swelling, and bad breath.
It is always a good idea to bring your dog to the veterinarian if you ever notice any lump or bump. Your veterinarian can usually diagnose canine oral papilloma by their characteristic appearance. Since oral papillomas can occasionally become malignant (cancerous) and other cancers can grow in the mouth, depending on your pet’s age your veterinarian may obtain a biopsy of the lesion to establish the diagnosis. Likewise, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s mouth to determine if the papillomas are infected and antibiotics are needed.
Since canine oral papillomas are usually asymptomatic, treatment is often not indicated unless they become infected or become symptomatic. Infected papillomas can be painful and require a course of antibiotics. Occasionally, a dog will have so many growths that eating becomes problematic. When this occurs, the papillomas can be surgically excised or treated with cryotherapy (freezing). Another treatment involves crushing the lesions to stimulate the host immune system to attack the lesions. In humans, interferon has been used in severe cases but this treatment is costly and has provided mixed results with dogs. Most cases of canine oral papillomas go away on their own within 1-5 months as the affected dog’s immune system matures and mounts a response to the virus.
So while it’s true that kissing can spread cooties, at least in the case of oral papillomas they typically resolve on their own. If you notice any strange looking growths in your dog’s mouth or lips, take your dog to your veterinarian to ensure they are canine oral papillomas and not something more serious.