Bovine papillomavirus (BPV) is perhaps the most extensively studied animal papillomavirus. In cattle BPVs induce benign tumours of cutaneous or mucosal epithelia, called papillomas or warts. Cattle papillomas are benign tumours and generally regress without eliciting any serious clinical problems in the host, but occasionally persist and provide the focus for malignant transformation to squamous cell carcinoma, as in the case of cancer of the urinary bladder and cancer of the upper alimentary canal. BPV is the only papillomavirus that jumps species: the virus also infects equids, and gives rise to fibroblastic tumours called sarcoids. Sarcoids very rarely regress, more often they persist and can be locally aggressive. These tumours are the most common dermatological tumour of equids worldwide.

The purpose of this review is to discuss the biology of BPV, the biology of bovine tumours and equine sarcoids, and present the current understanding of BPV in tumour pathogenesis in its natural host, cattle, and in its heterologous host, equids. Finally, the use of anti-BPV vaccines as a therapy for equine sarcoids will be discussed. Only limited information on the clinical or pathological aspects of either bovine or equine tumours will be provided as this subject has been extensively addressed previously.