Warts are a common condition seen in cattle, which for the most part is a nuisance. But in sever cases warts may cause other problems, like secondary bacterial infections, which may lead to unthriftiness. Many say warts are due to compromised immune systems or poor nutrition, that may be so, but most cases I see are in fat, slick show animals. I see these animals because they cannot be shown or sold if warts are visible. In some of these cases, depending on the severity, we can surgically remove or freeze the warts. This allows the animals to recover from the problem at a faster rate, allowing a quicker return to the show or sale ring.
Warts are caused by a papilloma virus. This virus is found everywhere and may be transmitted by scratching or running on fences, using dirty needles, or contaminated dehorners or castration equipment if the equipment is not properly sanitized. When working cattle if any animals in the herd have warts try to work them last to help stop the spread of the virus. Bleeding warts will be a good mode of disease transmission.
Warts can occur anywhere on the body, most often seen on the head and neck but can occur on the teats and scrotum. There are also genital warts, which can cause reproductive problems. The warts may very from pea size to as big as a baseball in some instances. I have seen an entire animal covered with the disease.
The diagnosis of warts is usually done by visual observation but biopsy can be done to positively diagnose the disease but is not a routine practice. I don’t believe we have a good prevention except keeping infected animals isolated and using good antiseptic technique during dehorning, vaccinations, tagging and castration. Remember infected cattle should be worked last. There is a commercial vaccine available that we have had fair success with when used on infected animals. It has some success but not 100 percent. I think unless the animal is going to be shown or sold we tend to ignore the problem, unless one thinks the warts are going to cause a problem. The warts will resolve with time.
Dr. Rusty Waide, DVM, has been the owner of Buffalo Veterinary Clinic for 21 years.