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 VeterinaryPartner.com 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. 🙂