We examined 12 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded feline skin tumours which had the histopathological features of fibropapillomas for the presence of papillomavirus (PV) DNA using touchdown polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing and nonradioactive in situ hybridization. Nine of the tumours contained a 102-bp PCR product demonstrated using consensus PV primers that amplify a portion of the L1 gene. The nucleotide sequences are closely related, but not identical to that of ovine PV type 2, rabbit oral PV and reindeer PV. The deduced amino acid sequences had strong homologies with the major capsid protein L1 of deer PV, bovine papillomavirus (BPV) 1 and BPV 2, and European elk PV. Although PV antigens were not detected in any of the tumours by immunohistochemistry, PV DNA was demonstrated in individual mesenchymal cells or cell nests of 4/12 tumours by in situ hybridization. A nonproductive infection of mesenchymal fibroblast-like tumour cells with a papillomavirus would explain the lack of PV antigen expression and the absence of PV DNA in the hyperplastic epithelium. Because these tumours and their pathogenesis are similar to equine sarcoids, we suggest that they should be reclassified as 'feline sarcoids' instead of fibropapillomas.