Lumpy jaw

Lumpy jaw produces lumps on the upper and lower jawbones, hence the common name 'lumpy jaw'. These lumps are immovable hard swellings of the bones, usually at the level of the central molar teeth. The swellings develop slowly and may take months to reach the size of a tennis ball. They consist of honeycombed masses of thin bone filled with yellow pus. If neglected the swellings may become very large. In advanced cases, sinuses or openings develop and discharge small amounts of sticky pus containing gritty yellow granules. Unlike the case with wooden tongue, the local lymph nodes do not become involved.

Lumpy jaw may be well advanced before external signs are visible. Difficult breathing due to involvement of the nasal bones may be the first sign.

As the disease progresses, chewing becomes more difficult and painful, resulting in loss of condition.

Occasionally, the soft tissues of the head and alimentary tract can be involved. Lesions in the alimentary tract give vague symptoms of indigestion, often with chronic bloat.


The earlier the treatment is instigated, the more likely it is to be successful. Early treatment of wooden tongue is usually successful, but advanced cases may fail to respond. The most effective treatment is probably iodine therapy. The initial dose of Sodide® (sodium iodide) is best given intravenously by your veterinarian. Follow-up subcutaneous injections at weekly intervals for several weeks are likely to be necessary in deep-seated cases. However, subcutaneous treatment alone may be effective.

Treatment with tetracyclines daily for five days is also reported to be effective.

Advanced cases may require surgical drainage, and opened abscesses should be irrigated or swabbed with iodine for several days. All treated animals should be observed regularly, as relapses can occur.

Treatment of lumpy jaw is similar, but is often ineffective. If the disease is detected early, it may be better to dispose of the animal while it is still in good condition. Only the head should be condemned by meat inspectors, unless the lesions have spread elsewhere in the body.

Expected course

The abscesses often seen in the lymph nodes of the head with wooden tongue may break open and regress for a time, but usually recur.

Lumpy jaw is usually progressive. As the bony swellings continue to enlarge, gross disfiguration of the head can occur, much condition will be lost and death may result.

In both conditions, the disease often appears to be dormant for a time, but relapses are very common.


Affected animals should be isolated from the mob, especially when pus is discharging. They may be sent to an abattoir for slaughter. If the lesions are large or discharging, the affected animals should be destroyed on the property. Feed and water troughs used by affected animals should be disinfected.

Both bacteria are thought to be normal inhabitants of the mouth and/or rumen. The bacteria causing lumpy jaw can survive for considerable periods in the ground. Those causing wooden tongue, however, only survive for a few days. A constant lookout for new cases will further help to reduce environmental contamination and allow better treatment of these early infections.

Alteration of grazing management to try to reduce exposure of cattle to coarse or prickly feed will also help to reduce the prevalence of these conditions.

Differential diagnosis

These diseases can be confused with grass seed abscesses or foreign bodies in the mouth.



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