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Lumpy jaw and wooden tongue

General information

Lumpy jaw and wooden tongue are infectious bacterial diseases commonly referred to as 'Actino'. Both diseases have the potential to be fatal but can be successfully treated if detected early. These diseases are most commonly seen in cattle.



Lumpy jaw or Actinomycosis is caused by Actinomyces bovis, while wooden tongue or Actinobacillosis is caused by Actinobacillus lignieresi .

The organism generally enters the body through cuts and abrasions in the mouth. The eruption of teeth is thought to play an important role. Altering grazing management to try to reduce exposure of cattle to coarse or prickly feed helps reduce the prevalence of these conditions.


Lumpy jaw

Lumpy jaw can occur in bony and soft tissues, but is predominantly seen in the bones of the upper and lower jaw.

The first symptom noted is usually swelling, as the bone becomes enlarged and honeycombed, and full of pus. In most cases, but not always, the swelling will break out through the skin, and the discharge will be very thick and sticky.

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

Wooden tongue

Wooden tongue is seen mainly in soft tissues, but can occur in bony tissue on rare occasions. It is characterised mainly by inflammation of the tongue, which will become hard, swollen, and painful. Nodules and ulcers are often observed.

The onset of the disease is usually quite rapid , The animal drools from the mouth and often is unable to eat or drink, causing rapid loss of condition.


In most cases, a person can diagnose both diseases by closely inspecting the animal. The laboratory confirms the diagnosis by examining microscopic smears or culturing the organism.


The earlier you instigate the treatment, 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, if given early, is iodine therapy. A veterinarian is the best person to give the initial dose of sodium iodide.

The treatment of lumpy jaw is similar but often ineffective. If the disease is detected early, the animal can be sold for slaughter while still in good condition, and while the lesion is not broken at the skin and discharging. Early detection and salvage slaughter of an 'Actino' animal prevents the development of an advanced case, which would constitute an animal welfare offence by the animal's owner or property manager under the Animal Care & Protection Act 2001.

Cattle with 'Actino' lesions that are large and discharging should be destroyed on the property, not sent to saleyards or meatworks.