A fairly common call out for a vet is to examine a cow with a swollen face, there are a few different causes and I will touch on a few. Colleagues have mentioned they have seen a few cases of lumpy jaw lately. Lumpy jaw is a bacterial infection which is very difficult to treat and often leads to early culling or wasting of an animal. The bacteria (Actinomyces bovis) lives normally within the mouth and gains access to the facial bones through trauma within the mouth or tooth roots. The bacterium continues to form abcesses within the bones, which is difficult for the antibiotics to penetrate making it hard to treat this condition. One such case I saw was a cow who had a very overgrown tooth with a root abcess. The swelling in the jaw settled after the tooth came out and a long course of antibiotics,but this was likely more to luck than the treatment. Another option, but rarely attempted, is surgery – to drain the infection from within the bone.
Another condition which occurs in a similar way but due to a different bacteria (Actinobacillus lignieresii) is wooden tongue. This is an infection of the softer tissues of the mouth and gains access through small traumas to the cavity such as cuts from fibrous straw or thistles. There is a ridge at the back of a cow’s tongue which is a common location for such penetration. In most cases the chewing may be abnormal and drooling may be observed. Confirmation is usually based on the stiffness of the tongue. If treated with antibiotics early this condition can be resolved.
A bacterial condition seen in calves is Calf Diphtheria (Fusobacterium necrophorum) which yet again is another normal inhabitant of the mouth. Severe cases can be caused by stomach tube/bolusing injuries, but more commonly we see solid lumps within the cheeks. These are believed to be commonly associated with fibrous straw or tooth abrasions. I have often found a very small amount of pus compared to the size of the lesion and have now taken to monitoring the lumps. Some will respond to antibiotics and some will rupture and drain naturally. If these are a frequent occurrence, attention may need to be focused on hygiene or other fibre being made available.
If the incidence of these conditions is high on your farm it would be good to provide more palatable feed and reduce grazing rough pastures. With calves; clean and disinfect equipment to minimise spread of infections.