Lumpy Jaw(s) in adult cows
July 2024

Only last week I was called out to see 2 cows on the same farm with very similar clinical signs.

Both cows were dried off mid-May and had been fine ever since and their Allflex collars had not flagged any health alerts. However, each cow had a large, very firm swelling of the maxilla (upper jaw) on one side of the face only. The cow in the photo(below) also had 4-5 areas where pus was exiting from the swelling and the discharge contained many small soft, gritty granules. One of the cows had some soft swelling behind her upper molars when I looked inside her mouth but otherwise all teeth were aligned well and there was no sign of drooling from either animal. The firm swelling was not painful to the touch and the cows were generally bright and alert.

Lumpy Jaw

These ‘sulphur granules’ seen discharging from the various sites are characteristic for Lumpy Jaw (Actinomycosis) and so at this stage that is the most likely diagnosis.

This condition is asporadic, relatively uncommon disease affecting mainly adult cattle. The bacteria, Actinomyces bovis, is a normal inhabitant of the mouth but needs some form of trauma to gain entry to the bony structures of the jaw. This can be due to eating sharp objects within feeds, drenching/bolus application or through tooth root injuries.

Once in the bone, the bacteria cause a chronic reaction to the underlying bony structures resulting in a firm enlargement on one side of the face and eventually small pockets of gritty pus appear at the skin surface.  As is often the case in vet practice, cows don’t always read the textbooks and follow the normal clinical picture! Normally the firm swelling is present within the lower jaw but in both cows, they were swollen in the upper jaw.

Having 2 cows show up with the same, uncommon disease in the upper jaw at the same time had me stumped a little. However, on quizzing the farm owner more closely, it sounds like one of the animals has had a swollen face for a little while. They hadn’t been drenched or had a zinc bolus recently but had access to some PKE which had quite a lot of gravel in it.

We decided to try and treat both animals as they were still eating, and they were otherwise bright and alert. The decision whether to treat or not depends on the degree of destruction and deformity of the jaw.

So, a long course of Vibrostrep was initiated and at this stage it seems to be helping to reduce the swelling for both cows. Chances are that the swelling will not fully resolve but the prognosis is relatively good as long as the cheek teeth are in alignment.

The other recognised treatment for this condition is Sodium Iodide solution given intravenously. Whilst not strictly speaking an antibiotic it is often used in the treatment of both Lumpy Jaw and Woody Tongue.

Fingers crossed we get a good outcome with these cows.