Head Tumors and Cancer in Rabbits

By PetMD Editorial on Oct. 1, 2008

Shope Papilloma Virus


Shope papilloma virus, sometimes referred to as cottontail cutaneous papilloma virus, is a viral disease that causes malignant tumors to grow in rabbits, often on its head. The virus is seen in wild rabbits, as well as domestic or pet rabbits.


Outbreaks of the disease more commonly seen during the summer and fall, when populations of disease-carrying insects are highest. Keeping rabbits indoors during these seasons is recommended.


Symptoms and Types

A member of the Papovaviridae family, this virus is frequently seen in cottontail rabbits, but may be contagious for other breeds. A rabbit suffering from Shope papilloma virus will have raised, red and rough lesions (usually circular), which are greater than one centimeter in length. These lesions are found in various locations on the upper half of the animal's body, including the neck and shoulders, but are primarily found on the eyelids, ears and other areas of the head. (They are occasionally seen on a rabbit's feet.)



This type of papilloma virus is often spread by biting insects known as arthropods, more specifically mosquitoes and ticks.



To diagnose the disease, the nodules will have to be removed. A biopsy will then be performed to confirm the malignancy of the cancer.



Surgical removal of the tumors is generally recommended, as the nodules may become malignant, however, they do occasionally resolve themselves on their own.


Living and Management

Routine follow-up exams at the veterinarian's office is recommended. This will allow them to monitor the rabbit's progress and remove any recurring tumors. The rabbit must not be allowed to scratch the lesions, as they may bleed and can lead to an infection.



Keeping the rabbit away from pests, including mosquitoes and ticks, is the best way to prevent the animal from contracting Shope papilloma virus; it will also prevent the spread of the disease.

Featured Image: iStock.com/skynesher

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