Infection of mucosal epithelium by papillomaviruses is responsible for the induction of genital and oral warts and plays a critical role in the development of human cervical and oropharyngeal cancer. We have employed a canine model to develop a systemic vaccine that completely protects against experimentally induced oral mucosal papillomas. The major capsid protein, L1, of canine oral papillomavirus (COPV) was expressed in Sf9 insect cells in native conformation. L1 protein, which self-assembled into virus-like particles, was purified on CsCl gradients and injected intradermally into the foot pad of beagles. Vaccinated animals developed circulating antibodies against COPV and became completely resistant to experimental challenge with COPV. Successful immunization was strictly dependent upon native L1 protein conformation and L1 type. Partial protection was achieved with as little as 0.125 ng of L1 protein, and adjuvants appeared useful for prolonging the host immune response. Serum immunoglobulins passively transferred from COPV L1-immunized beagles to naive beagles conferred protection from experimental infection with COPV. Our results indicate the feasibility of developing a human vaccine to prevent mucosal papillomas, which can progress to malignancy.