Wooden tongue

Wooden tongue is an infectious bacterial disease commonly referred to as "action". This disease has the potential to be fatal but treatments are available if detected early. This disease is most commonly seen in cattle.


Actinobacillus lignieresi

Other names

  • Actinobacillosis

Similar species



Affected animals

  • cattle

Clinical signs

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.

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 this condition.

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.


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. The earlier you instigate the treatment, the more likely it is to be successful. A veterinarian is the best person to give the initial dose of sodium iodide.

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.