Doggy Herpes: Even Good Girls Get It

I have something kind of super embarrassing to share with you. If it were up to me, I would totally keep this a deep, dark secret. But what I’m about to tell you was a learning experience for my human mommy. She’s lived a long time. In fact, she’s 378 years old in dog years (hey, if I have to be completely embarrassed, she does too). She’s had a lot of dogs, but she’d never been through this with one of her dogs. So she thought this terribly embarrassing thing I’m about to tell you might be new to you, too, and that I should let you know about it. “Sharing is caring, Miss Lee,” she said. Sure, easy for her to say. Anyway . . . deep breath . . . here goes.

Several months ago, Mommy noticed this teeny tiny growth on my lip. We happened to be going to the LSU vet school in Baton Rouge a few days later, so Mommy asked the lady who does my hip and elbow dysplasia therapy if she thought we should see our local vet. (Mommy knew good and well what the answer would be, but sometimes humans just have to hear it from another human.) Miss Jennifer said she thought it would be a good idea. She said it probably wasn’t anything; but if it was something (and when human ears hear “something” their brains immediately think “cancer”), the vet would want to remove it when it was still small and before it had a chance to go into the bone. The minute we returned to New Orleans, Mommy made an appointment to see our vet the next day.

The next morning on our daily walk, Mommy and I passed by our neighborhood groomer, Hair of the Dog. We stopped to visit with Miss Morgan and Mommy told her about my little growth and our planned visit to the vet. And that’s when Miss Morgan said this: “It could be herpes.” WHAT!?! She said that one of her clients had just canceled a grooming appointment because his dog had herpes and that it was going around some of the doggy day care facilities. WHAT!?! Mommy found herself in a bit of a state of shock and braced for what the vet would diagnose later that afternoon: nothing (I mean probably not; how often is anything ever nothing?); cancer (every dog parent’s worst nightmare); or herpes (totally new to her and completely mortifying).

Later that afternoon, the vet took one look at my lip and said, “She has a little viral papilloma.” After Mommy’s brain processed not cancer, she looked at Dr. Kevin and timidly asked, “Is that herpes?” I’m pretty sure he felt that question coming. “Well, people sometimes call it that,” he said, “but not exactly.” So he carefully explained viral papilloma and gave Mommy a printout from a article. (Click here for the full article. I highly encourage you to read it.) Here are a few highlights:

  • The virus can only be spread among dogs. It is not contagious to humans or to other pets.
  • The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the papillomas on an infected dog or with the virus in the pet’s environment (toys, bedding, food and water bowls, etc.).
  • The incubation period is generally one to two months.
  • Viral papillomas generally go away on their own after one to two months.
  • Recovered dogs cannot be infected with the same strain of virus, but there are several viral strains.

The three picture above show the progression of my viral papilloma. (The final photo was taken about four weeks after the first photo, when my outbreak was at its height. Please pardon the quality of the photos. They were not taken with a blog post in mind.) My papilloma’s appearance was classic:

Viral papillomas are classically fimbriated, meaning they are round but often have a rough, almost jagged surface reminiscent of a sea anemone or a cauliflower. They occur usually on the lips and muzzle of a young dog (usually less than 2 years of age). Less commonly, papillomas can occur on the eyelids and even the surface of the eye or between the toes. Usually they occur in groups rather than as solitary growths so if one growth is noted, check inside the mouth and lips for more.

My case was unusual in that I only had one papilloma (for which my human mommy will be eternally grateful) and my infection happened when I was significantly past two years of age (I am now eight years old). We really have no idea where I came into contact with the virus. I hadn’t been boarded or visited doggy day care in the one to two months before it appeared. But I do like to drink from the community water bowls that we encounter on our daily walks, and I can be quite a kisser when I see another dog on the sidewalk.

It’s interesting that my little sister, Tallulah, never came down with the virus. Mommy decided that it would be impossible to keep us separate while I was infectious. Plus, if Tallulah did catch viral papilloma from me, it’s not really dangerous and she would develop an immunity . . . kind of like exposing all the children in one family to chickenpox. We were considerate of other families’ dogs. While I was contagious, I didn’t drink out of public water bowls and I did not make contact with other dogs when I saw them on my walks. Just for the record, that part was really hard for me.

One day, after about a month and a half, my viral papilloma disappeared . . . and I was back to my gorgeous Golden self. So now you know: This good girl had doggy herpes, which wasn’t actually herpes at all. It was viral papilloma. It wasn’t really dangerous; it didn’t last that long; and now I’ve developed an immunity. Wow. Sharing that with you wasn’t super embarrassing after all . . . but Mommy still owes me a treat. 🙂



44 Comments on “Doggy Herpes: Even Good Girls Get It”

  1. Astro says:

    Sorry you were embarrassed, but this is very good information to let
    us know. We are glad it was not something else.
    xo Astro

  2. KDKH says:

    Thank you for the educational session! I hope we don’t see one of these on our puppy, River! But if we do, we know more about what’s going on. Thanks for the PSA.

  3. Piglove says:

    aaww beautiful. It can happen to the best of us. And hey you were beautiful before, during and after to me. And embarrassing moments, I got one for you. I was kidnapped by aliens when I was a mere babe and they stole my family gems. Wells shuffles hooves, that’s what dad repeatedly tells me. So you see, it could be a lot worse. XOXO – Bacon

  4. Oh, Miss Harper Lee, the things your human mommy will print!
    But, please say thank you for this info because it is something we did not know in South Carolina!!
    BTW, nothing interferes with your gorgeousness.
    Stay cool and healthy.
    We love you.

    • I know. She has no shame. 🙂 And at my expense. It’s time for Tallulah to start stepping up to the plate on these embarrassing items. I mean, I have a reputation to protect. 😉

  5. paxami says:

    Thanks for sharing that story with your fur pals. It’s always good to be informed even if it sometimes makes us blush. Lady Caroline

    • Oh, Lady Caroline, with a name like that I have a feeling you would never ever find yourself in such a position, but I’m happy I could share the information with you . . . well, maybe happy is a little too strong of a word. Pleased?

  6. pibblelife says:

    Thank you for sharing this story with us Miss Harper Lee! It was super informative and you’re helping spread the knowledge of this virus so more humans and dogs can help prevent it from spreading to more dogs!

  7. Oh wow, Miss HL. That thing was pretty gnarly at its worst. Thank goodness it’s gone for good. Yikes. Mom never heard of this either, but she’s happy to be aware. Whew. You deserve a HANDFUL of treats for being such a good, brave girl!

    Love and licks,

    • “Gnarly” is the best world for it, Cupcake. Why do you think Mommy didn’t have any really good photos of that thing? She was constantly snapping me from my good side. And I’m with you. I do deserve a handful of treats for sharing this, and a new bed, and maybe a week without my little sister. 😉

  8. Holy freaking city! Wow, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing (I know that was hard for you) and good on your huMom for taking good care of you. Yes, loads of treats should be in order, for having to share, and for being such a golden gal! 😍

  9. Wow! I had no idea that a dog could get the papilloma virus. That is good to know because I would have freaked out and thought cancer too! You are very brave for telling us and I know it will help a lot of dog parents. ♥

    • It was news to my human mommy, too. The virus seems to be more prevalent in younger dogs, before their immunities have developed. I guess this old girl is just young at heart!

  10. I didn’t knows either! Nows, Miss Harper Lee, I knows you are a gentil Southern Lady, butts I thinks this was the right thingie to do ~ sharing with all of us! Plus, we don’t judge! Boy, I could tell you stories gurl! BOL!!!! What? Oh. Ma says those are to stay in Vegas…..
    Ruby ♥

  11. Ogee says:

    Thank you for sharing your story – difficult as it was. Good info for all. Careful who you kiss, doggies!

  12. Thanks for sharing Miss HL – as embarrassing as it was, and really there is no need we all know you are a good girl. You were still gorgeous even when you were infected. Super glad it was just a virus and that you’re now all better 🐾🐾

  13. Emmadog says:

    We learned something new! Mom doesn’t let us drink out of water bowls that are not just for us, but Madison is really into kissing with her little boyfriends. She could easily catch something like that!

  14. Jan K says:

    It was very brave of you to share this, Miss Lee! It is great information and may save other families a lot of worry. Even with humans, herpes can have a stigma attached that it shouldn’t….it is the virus responsible for cold sores which many people can get but doesn’t mean they did anything bad! 🙂

    • It seems as if the papilloma virus in dogs is very much of an unknown among our friends, so I’m glad I could share my story. And you’re right . . . there shouldn’t be a stigma. But there should be treats. 😉

  15. Amy says:

    Hi Miss Harper Lee. I found your site through My Margret of Three Pups and a Couple of Kitties. And timely is the name of the game! I was researching this very thing last night because of some growths that have appeared on Lucy’s lip. So I know way more about this virus than I want to. It is not what she has, though (wish it was) and she is going to the vet next week. Glad you are over it, and thanks for sharing this important info.

    • I’m happy that you found us but so sorry that you don’t know what’s going on with the growths on Lucy’s lip. Poor Lucy, and poor you. I’m wishing both of you the best when you visit the vet next week.

  16. Whew, glad it was mostly nothing MLH! And yes us humans automatically go to the C word because it scares us so much. My Golden Kali just came home from a vet visit today after I noticed this open sore just below her lip. It turned out to be a lesion most likely caused by the rough housing and face chewing her little sister Kloe instigates. There may be a small abscess so she is on an antibiotic for the next week. But like your mommy did I go to that place in my mind where bad things happen. Fortunately for you and Kali it was mostly nothing. Kali wishes she could develop some immunity against her little sister but that probably won’t happen.

    • Unfortunately, there is no known cure for pesky little sisters. Their ill effects can be managed with tolerance, but that seems to be the best we can do. 😉 I’m happy to hear that Kali’s lip lesion wasn’t too serious. I wish her a speedy recovery. And for Kloe, I wish a speedy road to maturity!

  17. I’m sorry but to me, there is no better news that any kind of doggy bump is anything besides cancer. Glad this is just a virus and both you girls will have it behind you soon.

    But you have made me happy that I always bring Honey’s private water bowl with her when we travel. Not sure all those restaurants who bring out dog water bowls are cleaning them in between visits. So thanks for teaching me something new.

    • So with you on the whole cancer thing. At the LSU vet school, where I do my dysplasia rehab) the cancer patients go back to the left and everyone else goes back to the right. Mommy says she would go to the right every day for the rest of my life if the never had to go to the left.

  18. Thank you Miss Harper Lee for sharing.
    My huMom always says secrets make us sick.
    I’m sure you feel much better now that you have said it out loud & we have all gain new & important information. It’s a good thing!
    3 bum swings! 3 more!

    Nose nudges,
    CEO Olivia

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