D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Doc, I have a heifer that is going to fair at the end of the summer,” Bruce said as he leaned on the front counter. “They tell me that they won’t let her into the fair with a wart.”
“That’s right, Bruce,” I said. “Warts are caused by a virus, and it is considered a contagious disease. They will send her home.”
“Is there anything that we can do to get rid of it?” Bruce asked.
“There is a vaccine,” I said. “It works, but I always try to crush a few off at the same time I give the vaccine. I guess I probably have more confidence in the crush than in the vaccine. But that is just my impression. I don’t have any data, one way or the other.”
“What do you mean by crushing a few off?” Bruce asked.
“If there are a few small ones, I just crush them off with a needle nose pliers,” I said. “Not very surgical, but it works. You see, the virus that causes warts is intercellular. So it never gets exposed to the blood supply to allow the animal to develop an immunity. By crushing the base of the wart, you expose that virus to the blood supply.”
“What if the wart is too big for doing that crush thing?” Bruce asked.
“Just what size of a wart are we talking about?” I asked. “Maybe I should be getting a look at this wart if you want to take this heifer to the fair.”
“It is about the size of a large orange,” Bruce said. “Well, it might be the size of a large grapefruit. It just hangs on her neck, just below her jaw.”
“Are there any smaller ones around it?” I asked.
“I haven’t really looked at it close, Doc,” Bruce said. “The daughter came home in tears from the last 4-H meeting, and I had never heard about it before.”
“I would suggest I look at this wart. The sooner, the better,” I said. “I would also suggest your daughter come up with another animal to be on standby, just in case we don’t get rid of this wart before fair time.”
“We have her tied outside the barn now,” Bruce said. “Sara is teaching her to lead, and they tell us that keeping her tied for a few days helps in the process. You could come by anytime.”
“When is your daughter home?” I asked. “I like to have the kids around when I work on their 4-H animals, and they need to learn as much about the health care of their animals as they can.”
“She is home any afternoon,” Bruce said. “Are you thinking about coming today?”
“Yes, I have some time, and it will take some time to get rid of a large wart,” I said.
“So, what happens to the wart?” Bruce asked. “I mean, does it just fall off?”
“Pretty much, it just falls off,” I said. “When the animal develops some immunity, the normal tissue under the wart sort of cuts the blood supply to the wart, and it just falls off. Sometimes after a few weeks, you can just pull them off. There is no bleeding at the point, and the spot heals pretty fast. Sometimes, it might be more of a process on large warts. And it might take more time.”
“How large do they get?” Bruce asked.
“I have seen some pretty large warts,” I said. “One Holstein cow had a wart, or a mass of warts, that was on and around her udder. There was more wart than there was udder. I have seen some animals with masses of warts on their necks. So they can get pretty large.”
“Okay, I will tell Sara to watch for you,” Bruce said.
Sara was out with her heifer by the side of the barn with I pulled into the driveway. Sara looked like she was twelve or thirteen, and she was a petite girl with long dark hair that hung over her shoulders.
“This is Bessie,” Sara said. “She is a Shorthorn
I petted Bessie and stepped back to look at this wart hanging from the ventral midline of her upper neck. Bruce was pretty accurate when he said it was the size of a grapefruit. The good thing, it was hanging from a relatively narrow stalk of tissue. The first thing that came to mind was that it could be cut off without too much trouble.
“That’s a pretty large wart,” I said. “How long has it been there?”
“It has been there several months,” Sara said. “It has been growing slowly, but there are some smaller ones now, sort of around it.”
I felt the wart and tugged on it a bit. Sometimes an animal will already have developed some natural immunity, and these warts will just pop off. No such luck with this one. I ran my hand over the skin around the wart. There were a half dozen small warts present. They were about the size of a pea and would be just the right size to crush.
“I think we can get this thing to fall off before fair,” I said. “But one thing you should think about, Sara, is if it does fall off in time, you should have another heifer ready to go in Bessie’s place.”
“That’s what dad said,” Sara said. “I don’t want to do that. If Bessie can’t go, I won’t go.”
“Okay, I can understand that. But you are putting a lot of pressure on me to make sure I get the job done,” I said. “So let me explain what I am going to do. First, I am going to give her a vaccine. And we will give her a booster to that vaccine in three weeks. I am also going to crush these small warts off of her neck. That won’t hurt too much, but it will make them bleed. I don’t want you to clean up that blood until tomorrow. Tomorrow you can shampoo the blood out of her hair coat and comb it if necessary. If it bleeds when you do that tomorrow, just let that happen, and don’t clean up the new blood until the next day. It is important that the blood supply is exposed to where I crush those small warts.”
With the explanation out of the way, I gave Bessie a subcutaneous injection of wart vaccine behind her elbow where any lump would be unnoticed. Then, I crushed each of the small warts surrounding the large wart with my needle-nose pliers. Bessie shook her head a little when I crushed the warts, but that was her only reaction. She was dripping blood from the area when I was finished.
“I will be back in three weeks,” I said. “If we are lucky, this big wart might be ready to fall off by then. If not, I will give Bessie another dose of vaccine, and we will wait another few weeks.”
“What is it going to look like when it falls off?” Sara asked. “I mean, is she going to have a big scar?”
“I think it will heal up and have hair covering any scar by fair,” I said.
Three weeks passed in no time. Bruce was out with Sara this time when I arrived.
“Doc, I think this thing is just about ready to fall off,” Bruce said.
“That’s a good thing,” I said. “Let me get a look at it.”
All the small warts were gone. This large wart was half detached, and it would probably be ready to fall off by next week. Pulling it off now would cause some bleeding, and we had plenty of time to resolve things before the fair.
“I am confident that this big wart will fall off in the next week or so,” I said. “All the little ones are gone. I am going to give Bessie another dose of vaccine, and I will stop by next week sometime and check her.”
“That crack around the side of that thing looks a little nasty,” Bruce said. “What if the flies start bothering it?”
“You can use some fly spray around it, and you can put some ointment on it,” I said.
“I have some gentian violet. Will that work?” Bruce asked.
“It will work, and it will make one hell of a mess out of her,” I said. “That stuff is terrible to work with, and she will still have a purple neck when fair rolls around. Let me give you a little bit of ointment to use. You won’t need much.”
Nobody was around when I stopped by the next week, but Bessie was still tied at the corner of the barn. The wart was gone, and the spot looked like it was healing well. Bessie would be ready for the fair.
Photo by Julissa Helmuth from Pexels.