Warts (Papillomatosis) in Cats

Key Takeaways

Papillomatosis is the development of oral or cutaneous papillomas (also called warts) due to infection by a papillomavirus. 

• Papillomatosis is very rare in cats

• It is transmitted by direct contact with an infected cat or object

• Papillomas appear as small, scaly bumps on the skin or within the oral cavity

• Cats with the symptoms of papillomatosis require prompt veterinary attention as left untreated, papillomas can develop into cancers

• Diagnostic tools include physical examination, fine needle aspiration, and biopsy

• Papillomas usually resolve themselves in 1 to 2 months

• If they do not resolve on their own, surgical removal is required

• The prognosis is good if papillomatosis resolves on its own or is treated early

• In cases where cancer develops, the prognosis is more guarded

A Closer Look: What is Papillomatosis in Cats?

Papillomatosis is caused by a papillomavirus. Papilloma viruses are a group of DNA viruses that disrupt normal cell division. Instead of dividing normally to create smooth tissue, the cells divide more frequently and in abnormal patterns, creating bumps. Usually, the cat’s immune system stops the virus from replicating, and cats carry the papillomavirus without the bumps developing. In rare cases, the immune system fails to react appropriately and warts or skin plaques develop. 

Cats with small clusters of bumps in their mouths or individual flat, scaly bumps on their skin require prompt veterinary attention.

Risk Factors

The severity of papillomatosis depends on the location of the papilloma and how long it is left untreated. 

In the case of cutaneous papilloma, individual bumps that are scaly appear on the head, neck or limbs. These bumps typically do not bother cats. In some cases, the papillomas are flat and plaque-like. 

In the case of oral papilloma, tiny bumps appear in clusters in the mouth on the gums, tongue, throat, or roof of the mouth. Cats with large oral papillomas may have difficulty chewing or swallowing, and may drool excessively

The ability of the papillomavirus to disrupt cell division also means that left unchecked, it can develop into a cancer, typically a squamous cell carcinoma

Papillomatosis is rare in cats, although infection with papillomavirus is common. Typically, a cat’s immune system keeps the virus from progressing to the stage where it becomes symptomatic, and therefore papillomatosis never develops. In some cases, particularly in young cats or cats with compromised immune systems, such as those with FIV or FeLV, the virus replicates sufficiently to cause the characteristic bumps known commonly as warts. Outdoor cats and cats kept in dense populations are more at risk of contracting viruses, including papillomaviruses.

Possible Causes

Cats contract the papillomavirus through direct contact with infected cats or objects that infected cats have touched. Transmission requires open or fragile skin. Cats cannot contract the papillomavirus from other species or from humans.

Main Symptoms

The main symptom of papillomatosis is an individual bump on the skin, or a cluster of bumps in the mouth. These bumps tend to have a “frond-like” or “cauliflower-like” appearance to the surface.

Testing and Diagnosis

Cats with individual bumps on their skin or clusters of bumps in their mouths require prompt veterinary care to distinguish these symptoms from those of other, more harmful conditions, including cancer. Diagnostic tools include:

• Physical examination

• Fine needle aspiration

• Biopsy

Papillomatosis in cats is frequently associated with immunosuppressive conditions such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Blood tests for these infections are recommended as part of the diagnostic process.

Steps to Recovery

Typically, papillomatosis resolves on its own in a month or two. Sometimes, the papilloma is crushed on purpose to trigger an immune response to expedite recovery. 

Close observation of the papilloma is required until papillomatosis resolves. In cases where the papillomatosis does not resolve itself in 3 months, surgery to remove the wart is recommended in order to prevent progression to cancer. 

Cats should be prevented from scratching, biting, or licking papillomas to avoid rupture and subsequent infection.

In cases where papillomatosis resolves on its own, it typically takes 1 to 2 months for recovery. In these cases, the prognosis is excellent. If surgery is required, the prognosis is good. If left untreated and cancer develops, the prognosis is guarded.

Prevention

Prevention requires avoidance of cats or objects that carry the papillomavirus. Cats kept indoors and away from other cats are at less risk.

Is Papillomatosis Common in Cats?

Papillomatosis is rare in cats, even though cats are commonly infected with papillomavirus.

Typical Treatment

• Benign neglect

• FIV/FeLV testing

• Surgery

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