Bacteria are often present in the mouth of cattle. As a result, anything puncturing the mouth tissue can open the way for infection, which can lead to "lump jaw."
According to Salmon, ID, veterinarian Robert Cope, there are two kinds of lump jaw. Each is caused by two different types of bacteria and require different treatment.
The most common are soft tissue infections that are relatively easy to treat. Sometimes, these abscesses break and drain on their own. Usually, however, they must be lanced, drained and disinfected before they'll heal properly.
Another type of lump jaw is caused by infection in the bone, and it's difficult to halt, Cope says. Usually, it results in having to sell or butcher the animal.
Bony lump jaw tends to occur in two- to three-year-old cattle, says Pete South, a retired veterinarian and professor at University of Idaho.
A Common Beginning
Both forms of lump jaw actually begin in the same manner, says Cope. A break in the tissue surface allows bacteria to enter - which can happen if a cow eats or chews on a sharp stick or even a pointed blade of stiff grass. A sharp seed may poke into the side of the mouth. Ulcers caused by BVD virus can open the way for bacteria, which can then enter from feed or soil.
Ingesting dirt can also play a part, introducing certain bacteria that can begin an infection if there's a break in the tissues.
The soft tissue variety
The most common form of lump jaw is caused by Actinobacillus bacteria. It occurs in the soft tissues, forming an abscess, often along the lower jaw.
"Actinobacillus is a gram-negative bacteria routinely present in soil," says Cope. "Once the bacteria enter the mouth tissues they immediately begin to grow and stimulate an inflammatory response from the cow, resulting in formation of an abscess."
Treating with an injectable antibiotic generally isn't useful, Cope says. The abscess is a pocket of infection surrounded by a relatively thick wall of connective tissue. This wall prevents the infection from spreading through the body, but also keeps antibiotics in the blood stream from reaching the infective organism.
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The best treatment is to lance the abscess and flush it out with strong (7%) iodine, he says. One or two treatments will usually suffice to cure the problem. He recommends waiting until the infection comes to a head with a soft spot in the lump. If you lance it too early, it will not yet have formed a drainable pus pocket.
The lump may be either hard or soft, but moves if pressed firmly with your hand, he says. It's not attached to the bone. Inserting a needle (16 ga. or larger) into the lump is another diagnostic check. If it's an abscess, pus will come out the needle or be present in the needle when you remove it.
If pus is present, lance the abscess at its lowest point (with scalpel or sharp knife) to allow drainage. After squeezing out the pus, flush the abscess with tincture of iodine (7% solution) to remove the rest.
This type of abscess usually heals quickly once it's opened and drained, unless the drain hole seals over before all infection is out. Then, it must be opened and flushed again.
Bony Lump Jaw
Another bacteria, Actinomyces bovis (a gram-positive bacteria that also lives in soil), can infect the mouth and cause bony lump jaw. The condition is called Actinomycosis.
The bacteria enters a mouth wound similar to Actinobacillus, says Cope, but infects the bone if the tissue break is deep. This infection may also become established through the dental sockets where the teeth are set into the jaw, adds South. This is why the condition is common in young cattle whose permanent teeth are coming in. Two-year-olds are prime candidates.
The infection sets in the jawbone, creating a painless bony enlargement, usually at the level of the central molars. Some enlarge swiftly within weeks, while others grow slowly over months.
The bony swellings are very hard. They're also immobile because they're part of the bone. In later stages, the area may be painful and interfere with chewing.
This type of lump may break through the skin eventually and discharge through one or more openings, oozing a little pus or some sticky honey-like fluid containing tiny hard yellow granules, South says.
Lancing is of no value, since the lump is composed of infected bone and can't be drained. Attempting to drain this lesion can be harmful because opening this area to the outside may allow other disease organisms to enter, resulting in further secondary infection, South adds.
South says teeth in the affected jawbone of a bony lump may become misaligned, making chewing painful and thus causing weight loss.
In severe cases, the infection spreads to softer tissues and involves the muscles and lining of the throat. Extensive swelling can interfere with breathing. An animal may become so thin that humane destruction is necessary, though it may take a year or more to get this bad. If the infection spreads to the esophagus and stomach, digestion becomes impaired, causing diarrhea (passing undigested food particles on through) or bloat, says South.
Treatment Is Difficult
This bony lump is easy to diagnose, but hard to treat. Since it's a bone infection, "it must be treated from the inside out, via the bloodstream that serves the bone," says Cope. The usual treatment is to put sodium iodide into the jugular vein - a treatment that may need repeating in 10 days.
"Sodium iodide is merely iodine in a salt form, allowing us to get the iodine to the site of the infection via the bloodstream," says Cope.
This treatment isn't always successful in halting the bone infection, however. The animal may eventually have to be culled; the lump may stop growing for awhile and you might get one or two more calves from the cow, then it starts again.
Iodides given intravenously may halt the infection if given early (before the lump gets large) but many cases are stubborn, says Cope. Some lumps reduce a little in size once infection is stopped, but never go away completely.
The IV injections must be given carefully and slowly or the animal will go into shock. If you're not experienced in giving IVs, have your vet do it.
Treatment And Abortion
When treating either type of lump, remember that both iodine and the iodide solution can cause abortion, Cope says.
"We often try to postpone treatment of bony lump jaw during late pregnancy, hoping to save both the cow and calf. But if the cow is failing or not due to calve for some time, we'll usually treat and take our chances with the possibility of abortion," he says.
In the case of soft-tissue abscesses in pregnant females, Cope recommends flushing with a mix of nolvasan and water.
You can also use "green wonder," says Heidi Smith, a veterinarian in Terrebonne, OR. This recipe originated at Purdue University, she says, and is a mix of nolvasan and water, furacin solution and hydrogen peroxide (1/6 nolvasan, 1/6 water, 1/3 furacin, and 1/3 hydrogen peroxide).
Editor's Note--Ntrofurazones (furacin) is no longer approved for use in beef cattle. Consult with your veterinarian on treatment alternatives.
If a cow is pregnant, play it safe and use this type of flushing solution instead of iodine, Smith says. The mix is effective for abscesses or cleaning dirty wounds, she says, because "the peroxide's foaming action carries the disinfectant into all the nooks and crannies of the wound or abscess."
Have you had issues with lump jaw? Leave us a comment below with how you treated it.
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