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What Causes Warts on Cows?

By Jennifer Mackin
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The bovine papillomavirus (BPV) has six different strains that can cause warts on cows. The strains are characterized into six groups, BPV 1 through BPV 6. Warts on cows are caused by a virus strain, so they are infectious. This virus can be transmitted only to other cows — people cannot be infected.

Warts can occur on any part of the cow’s body. The location of the warts can help determine which type of wart the cow has contracted. BPV 1, BPV 5 and BPV 6 strains can cause warts on the cow’s reproductive organs or teats, and BPV 2 and BPV 3 warts are located on the head and neck. The BPV 4 strain can cause warts to grow in gastrointestinal tract.

Open wounds can allow the papillomavirus to enter the cow’s body if it comes into contact with another infected cow or contaminated farming equipment. Certain insects also carry the virus and can infect the cow if it’s bitten. The incubation period can last from one month to one year. Warts on cows are mostly found on those that are two years old or younger. Older cows build a natural immunity to the virus.

The appearances of the warts vary from strain to strain. Some warts are flat. Others resemble a cauliflower cluster that protrudes from the skin, and others are long, white lesions. If one cow has warts, then the entire herd most likely will have them. All cows are susceptible to the virus.

For the most part, warts on cows rarely cause actual physical problems. In rare cases, warts can spread to the reproductive organs of the cow and cause pain, keeping breeding cattle from reproducing. Dairy cows can grow warts on their teats. Milking can become painful, which can affect milk production. Unless the warts affect productivity, the warts usually are left untreated.

Purebred or show cattle dealers can suffer the most when warts infect their cattle. The presence of the warts makes it almost impossible for the dealers to get disease-free health papers on the herd, making future sales difficult until the warts are gone. A lot of cattle dealers will treat warts on cows by surgically removing them.

Commercial vaccination is an option, but if the herd has ever had an outbreak of any type of wart, then the probability that the vaccination will work is significantly decreased. If warts have not been an issue within the herd, vaccinations can help prevent warts from happening. The vaccinations usually are given in two injections three to five weeks apart.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary causes of warts in cows?

Warts in cows are primarily caused by the bovine papillomavirus (BPV). This virus has several types, each capable of causing warts in different areas of a cow's body. Transmission occurs through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated surfaces, making young, immunologically naive cattle particularly susceptible.

Can warts on cows spread to other animals or humans?

While bovine papillomavirus is species-specific, meaning it typically affects only cattle, there are rare instances where it can cause warts in other animals. However, it is not considered zoonotic, so it does not pose a risk of transmission to humans.

How do warts affect the health and well-being of cows?

Warts primarily cause aesthetic issues and are generally benign. However, large or strategically located warts can interfere with a cow's functions, such as eating, seeing, or walking, if they develop near the mouth, eyes, or on the feet. In such cases, they can affect the overall well-being of the animal.

What is the typical duration of a wart outbreak in cattle?

Wart outbreaks in cattle can vary in duration. Typically, warts resolve on their own within 6 to 12 months as the animal's immune system responds. However, in some cases, warts can persist for longer periods, especially if the animal's immune response is compromised or if they are continuously exposed to the virus.

Are there effective treatments for warts on cows?

Many warts on cows will regress without treatment as the animal's immune system combats the virus. For persistent or problematic warts, treatments include surgical removal, cryotherapy, or immunotherapy. Consultation with a veterinarian is recommended to determine the most appropriate treatment for the specific case.

Can vaccination prevent warts in cattle?

Vaccination can be an effective preventive measure against bovine papillomavirus. Commercial vaccines are available and are most effective when administered to young animals before they are exposed to the virus. According to studies, vaccination can significantly reduce the incidence of warts in herds, contributing to better overall herd health.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Nov 08, 2013

@SarahGen-- I heard that if a wart on a cow is squeezed or crushed, the cow's immune system responds to it and fights the virus. But I don't know if this is safe to do and it might cause pain. So check with a vet before doing something like this. The reason I mention it is because I have heard the same tip from multiple people. They all claimed that it works.

By ZipLine — On Nov 08, 2013

@SarahGen-- If the teats are not affected, warts can be left alone. It might take a while but the wart will eventually go away. Don't be surprised if it grows bigger.

I think that treatment is a good idea for warts is if the rest of the herd isn't affected or if you're sending a cow to a herd that has warts. Vaccination is a good idea in these cases.

Treatment might be necessary if the teats are affected and if the wart causes pain for the animal like the article said.

By SarahGen — On Nov 07, 2013

I noticed today that one of my cows has a wart above her eye. She doesn't seem to be bothered by it and I haven't seen warts anywhere else on her. Do I need to do anything for this or should I just leave it alone?

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