Horses can sometimes develop lesions on their skin, usually around their lips and nose. These types of warts are known as papillomas. Horses can also contract ear papillomas, which are plaque-like patches of skin that occur in your horses’ inner ears.
When left untreated, these conditions in your horse can become increasingly inflamed, which may also cause the skin to grow harder and thicker, leading to health issues. In some cases, horses may become aggressive due to irritability and pose problems around other animals. However, in most cases, the warts are more like a breakout that can run its course and disappear on its own.
Here’s a breakdown of papillomas in horses, so you know what to look for and how you can work to prevent it.
WHAT ARE PAPILLOMAS?
Typical skin papillomas on horses appear as small gray bumps around your horse’s muzzle, eyelids, chin and genital areas. Viral warts that pop up on your horse can almost look like cauliflower. While there are often no symptoms other than the bumps, they can appear suddenly.
Papilloma warts are highly contagious to other young horses but usually resolve on their own in three to six months, requiring no treatment. It’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t allow you horses to share water buckets or food containers with horses you don’t know. It’s also a good idea to disinfect stalls (at shows, for example), with products that contain iodine, a diluted bleach solution, or chlorhexidine. Eventually horses become immune to the papilloma virus.
Ear papillomas, also called aural plaques, are flaky, crusty pieces of skin in your horse’s ears. These skin patches are spread by flies who carry the papilloma virus. Although they are generally harmless, if the plaques crack or bleed, they can be painful and might result in your horse not wanting to have his ears touched, or resisting being bridled. In those cases, using ear covers to protect your horse from insect bites, or applying a soothing cream, such as zinc oxide, can help. Don’t try to pick them off as this can aggravate the lesions and make them more painful.
Ear papillomas are usually found in locations that have high amounts of black flies or mosquitos since those insects transmit the papillomavirus. A horse at almost any age can develop papillomas when infected, but most horses that are younger than two don’t show any symptoms. Some horses might also be immune.
In aggressive cases of ear papillomas, they might expand from the ear and spread across the head. If this happens, you should seek veterinary treatment immediately.
SmartPak’s Ask the Vet video series featuring SmartPaker Sarah and Dr. Lydia Gray, SmartPak’s Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian. In this video they talk about equine papillomas.
HOW ARE PAPILLOMAS IN HORSES DIAGNOSED?
If you suspect your horse has ear papillomas, you might want to have your vet perform a physical exam because skin lesions can be similar to other skin problems, such as tumors. Sometimes a vet may want to take a sample of the skin to look more closely at it, diagnose papillomas, and rule out other parasites and mites.
Horses that just have warts papillomas don’t necessarily need a diagnosis from a vet. Usually, those types of skin conditions need just to run their course. However, if you become concerned there may be an infection present or your horse displays discomfort, consulting a veterinarian is a good option.
WHAT TREATMENT OPTIONS ARE THERE FOR PAPILLOMAS IN HORSES?
Warts don’t need treatment, but if you notice your horse’s skin looking sore or inflamed, you can apply over-the-counter antiseptics or lotions for the cracked skin to help provide comfort and keep the skin area clean and free of further infection.
There is no treatment for viruses. However, if your horse has ear papillomas, your vet might suggest a steroid-based cream to help with inflammation and itching. There is a prescription cream that can be used on aural plaques that are bothering your horse, but it is painful to apply, so your horse may need to be sedated so that you can apply it directly on the impacted sites if the area is raw and sensitive. It may take a few months before the ear papillomas clear up.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT PAPILLOMAS IN HORSES?
As mentioned earlier, the best way to prevent your horse from contracting the papillomas virus is to avoid horses that have been infected and practice good barn hygiene. If a horse in your herd or barn contracts the virus, you can try to quarantine it from the rest of the herd and feed it using separate buckets, but in smaller barns, that can be difficult and as papillomas typically clear up on their own, may not be necessary. If there has been an outbreak, make sure to take extra care to disinfect all areas and scrub down walls with soap and water.
Continue to work to keep your horses healthy and cared for, and you will see outbreaks of papillomas leave as quickly as they came.
Periodically, I invite other bloggers to publish an article on Equine Ink. This article is written by Melissa Waltz, who grew up on a family farm with 4 dogs, sheep, a few hens, gooses, and two Appaloosas (named Ronny & Barty), and one American Miniature Horses (Moosa). Before opting for a full-time vet-tech career, she interned at Fort Worth Botanical Gardens in Fort Worth, Texas, and has first-hand experience working with farm animals including horses and managing the animal relations within the farm.