Lapis ISSN 2398-2969


Synonym(s): Shope papilloma virus, Cottontail rabbit papilloma virus

Contributor(s): Anna Meredith, Glen Cousquer


  • There are two types of infectious papilloma in rabbits: cottontail rabbit papilloma (described here) and rabbit oral papilloma   Oral papillomatosis  .
  • Anorectal papillomas occur in rabbits, but have not been associated with papilloma viruses and do not appear to be transmissible (these papillomas will not be discussed here).
  • Cause
    • Cottontail rabbit papilloma virus (CRPV)   Papilloma virus  , a papovavirus first discovered by Shope in 1933, and the first oncogenic virus to be identified in mammals. CRPV does not cause oral pathology. 

CRPV is distinct from the Shope fibroma virus   Shope fibroma virus  .

    • It occurs as a benign disease in wild Cottontail rabbits ( Sylvilagus floridanus)   Cottontail  . It may also spread to California brush rabbits ( Sylvilagus bachmani), snowshoe hares ( Lepus americanus) and jackrabbits ( Lepus californicus).
    • CRPV does not occur in the UK or Europe, but is reported in American commercial rabbit units.
    • Infection of domestic rabbits ( Oryctolagus cuniculus) is rare, but in these cases malignancy may occur.
    • Lesions may undergo neoplastic transformation to squamous cell carcinomas   Cutaneous neoplasia  . This is more common in domestic rabbits.
    • The disease has been widely used as a model for the study of human papilloma virus and the development of a papilloma virus vaccine.
  • Signs: horny warts on ears, neck, shoulders or abdomen.
  • Diagnosis: often based on clinical appearance, histopathology required for confirmation.
  • Treatment: generally none, though surgery indicated in some cases.
  • Prognosis: usually resolves spontaneously, though some cases become neoplastic.

Presenting signs

  • Typical papillomas (horny "warts") on neck, shoulders, ears or abdomen in Cottontail rabbits   Cottontail  .
  • In domestic rabbits lesions are usually found on the ears and eyelids.
  • Early lesions are rounded and rough, but frequently develop into large horn-like growths.
  • CRPB lesions do not occur on the mucous membranes, but can occur at the mucocutaneous junction, (unlike infection with the distinct oral papilloma virus   Oral papillomatosis  .
  • Affected rabbits are otherwise systemically well.
  • If the papilloma has undergone malignant transformation to a carcinoma this may be locally invasive and ulcerative.

Geographic incidence

  • North America.
  • Natural disease in Cottontail rabbits   Cottontail   (the natural hosts) is most common in Midwest and Great Plains states.
  • Natural disease in domestic rabbits has been reported only from Southern California.

Age, sex and breed predisposition

  • No known age or sex predisposition.
  • No known breed predisposition in domestic rabbits.

Cost considerations

  • Moderate.
  • Costs include general anesthesia   Anesthesia: overview   and surgical removal, supportive post-operative care if necessary, plus histopathological confirmation of diagnosis.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Christansen N D, Cladel N M, Hu J et al (2014) Formulatoin of cidofovir improves the anti-papillomaviral activity of topical treatments in the CRPV/rabbit model. Antiviral Res 108, 148-155 PubMed.
  • Hu J, Budgeon L R, Balogh K K et al (2014) Long-peptide therapeutic vaccination against CRPV-induced papillomas in HLA-A2.1 transgenic rabbits. Trails Vaccinol 3, 134-142 PubMed.
  • Cladel N M, Budgeon L R, Hu J et al (2013) Synonymous codon changes in the oncogenes of the cottontail rabbit papillomavirus lead to increased oncogenicity and immunogenicity of the virus. Virology 438 (2), 70-83 PubMed.
  • Sant R & Rowland M (2009) Skin disease in rabbits. In Pract 31 (5), 233-238 VetMedResource.
  • Giri I, Danos O, Yaniv M (1985) Genomic structure of the cottontail rabbit (Shope) papillomavirus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 82 (6), 1580-1584 PubMed.
  • Phelps W C, Leary S L, Faras A J (1985) Shope papillomavirus transcription in benign and malignant rabbit tumors. Virology 146 (1), 120-129 PubMed.
  • Kreider J W & Bartlett G L (1981) The Shope papilloma-carcinoma complex of rabbits: A model system of neoplastic progression and spontaneous regression. Adv In Cancer Res 35, 81-110 PubMed.
  • Hagen K W (1966) Spontaneous papillomatosis in domestic rabbits. Bulletin of the Wildlife Disease Association 2, 108-110 VetMedResource.
  • Syverton J T (1952) The pathogenesis of the rabbit papilloma-to-carcinoma sequence. Ann NY Acad Sci 54 (6), 1126-1140 PubMed.
  • Kidd J G & Rous P (1940) Cancer deriving from virus papillomas of wild rabbits under natural conditions. J Exp Med 71, 469-493 VetMedResource.
  • Shope R E (1937) Immunization of rabbits to infectious papillomatosis. J Exp Med 65 (2), 219-31 PubMed.
  • Larson C L, Shillinger J E, Green R G (1936) Transmission of rabbit papillomatosis by the rabbit tick, Haemaphysalis leporis-palustris. Biol Med 33, 536-538 VetMedResource.
  • Rous P & Beard J W (1935) The progression to carcinoma of virus-induced rabbit papilloma (Shope). J Exp Med 62 (4), 523-548 PubMed.
  • Shope R E (1935) Serial transmission of the virus of infectious papillomatosis indomestic rabbits. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 32, 830-882 VetMedResource.
  • Rous P & Beard J W (1934) Carcinomatous change in virus-induced papillomas of the skin of the rabbit. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 32, 578-580 SAGE.
  • Shope R E & Hurst E W (1933) Infectious papillomatosis of rabbits. J Exp Med 58 (5), 607-624 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Krogstad A R, Simpson J E & Korte S W (2005) Viral diseases of Rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim Pract 8, (1) 123-138.
  • van Praag E (2005) Do Horned Rabbits Really Exist? Papillomatosis. Skin diseases of Last accessed 14th August 2006.
  • Haffar A & Chermette R (1995) Les affections du pelage et de la peau chez le lapin domestique. In: Path Lapin Rongeurs Dom Ed: Brugere-Picout J. pp 185-195.