Lumpy jaw

Lumpy jaw is an infectious bacterial disease commonly referred to as 'actino'. This disease is similar to wooden tongue and has the potential to be fatal. Treatment can be successful if disease is detected early. It is most commonly seen in cattle.


Actinomyces bovis

Other names

  • Actinomycosis

Similar species



Affected animals

  • cattle

Clinical signs

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.

How it is spread

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.

Monitoring and action

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


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


The treatment of lumpy jaw is similar to the treatment for wooden tongue, 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 and Protection Act 2001.