Worrisome Warts

Q: I have a yearling that has warts in her ear. They have grown so much that the mass almost fills her whole ear. She will not let us touch it, which is a problem for her halter training. Will the warts eventually go away, or should we have them removed?        Steve

A: Warts are caused by the Papilloma virus and commonly appear on the face and ears of horses. They are primarily a cosmetic blemish and do not typically cause a health problem. The Papilloma virus is very contagious, so precautions to prevent transmission are important. Young horses are more prone to getting warts because their immune systems are immature. The normal course of disease is about six to nine months, during which time most cases resolve spontaneously. Good health management with parasite control and nutrition seems to lessen complications.

There is some evidence that surgical removal or debulking might stimulate the immune system to clear up the warts more quickly. Warts can also be frozen (be careful in areas prone to white scarring) or debrided with a laser. Removal or debulking might help with the apparent tenderness or discomfort in your yearling.

If your horse is on the halter circuit, it will pose a risk to others if she is taken to shows. Also, care should be taken to soak brushes, clippers, halters, etc. in a solution made with water and a disinfectant such as Lysol.

Horses that rub or irritate warts can be prone to secondary complications. Open wounds and sores are at risk for bacterial infection. Flies are attracted to the exudate, increasing the risk of maggot strike and "summer sores" or Habronema parasitic infestation. The cauliflower type lesions are more at risk. Again, good management practices with hygiene, parasite and insect control, and proper nutrition should help shorten the course of disease.

About the Author

Jim F. McDonald, DVM

Jim F. McDonald, DVM, practices in Camp Verde, Ariz.

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