Causes, treatments and prevention of the lesions

Before turning into a worry wart over an outbreak of warts in their herd, producers can find some comfort in knowing the causes, treatments and prevention of the pesky infection. 

What causes warts?

Warts on cattle are caused by a strain of the bovine papillomavirus. The virus produces hairless lesions, typically on the animal’s head, neck and shoulders. The virus sheds from the wart, therefore anything the wart touches comes in contact with the virus. “It is extremely contagious from animal to animal and even through surfaces, anything the animal touches,” Heidi Ward, DVM, Ph.D., veterinarian and assistant professor associated with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, explained.

Though the virus is highly contagious, typically only younger animals are susceptible. “Generally speaking, warts are pretty self-limiting, meaning we usually see them in cattle under two years of age,” Rosslyn Biggs, DVM, assistant clinical professor, director of continuing education and beef cattle extension specialist at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, stated. “As an individual matures, they gain some immunity and we don’t usually see warts in older animals.”

Prevention Methods

There are vaccines available to prevent cattle from contracting the papillomavirus responsible for warts in cattle. However, in order for a vaccine to be the most effective, it needs to be custom created to prevent the particular strain of virus affecting the herd. A custom vaccine helps to protect uninfected animals from getting the virus from infected animals in the herd.

 To make the vaccine a veterinarian removes warts from infected animals in the herd, then those warts are used by a manufacturer to develop a vaccine which combats the specific papillomavirus strain. This is not a cost-effective solution for the majority of producers. 

There are prevention measures that are easier on producers’ pocket books. Isolating new animals before turning them in with the rest of the herd allows producers to catch the virus before the rest of the herd is exposed. “The basics of biosecurity really hold true. If we can limit exposure, then that helps in reducing introducing the virus if it doesn’t exist in the herd already,” Biggs explained. 

Disinfecting equipment and tack will help stop the spread between animals. Show cattle worked in a barn with the same combs, brushes and halters can quickly spread the virus. 

Warts on show cattle will keep them from being able to compete at shows. Due the contagious nature of warts, animals with active lesions are denied entry to cattle shows. 

Treatments for Infected Cattle

Removing warts on infected animals by cauterization or cutting them off will help eliminate the spread of the disease from an infected animal to an uninfected animal. Veterinarians advise treating the wound properly and monitoring it for infection. 

Crushing the warts may stimulate the animal’s immune system to address the virus. Typically, warts will go away on their own. After several months the warts should shrink and drop off. However, producers should keep an eye on the warts if they become large. In addition, consult with a veterinarian if there are any issues that occur. 

Warts May be a Warning Sign

Though warts are unsightly, rarely do they cause cattle any serious health problems. The warts are primarily a cosmetic blemish.

However, veterinarians advise if an animal has warts, it could indicate the animal does not have a strong immune system. “Because a normal immune system takes care of it right away,” Ward said. “And it means they are a little more amped up from stress and their immune systems are not ideal.”


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