Wooden Tongue & Jaw Abscesses


Wooden tongue, sometimes referred to as "woody tongue" is an infection caused by bacteria; Actinobacillus lignieresii. This disease can be expressed as either abscesses or wooden tongue or both. The bacteria that cause wooden tongue can be found in the mouth of normal healthy animals. When the mucosa of the mouth is injured by plant awns, foxtails, rough or coarse feed, etc., these bacteria are able to enter the body and begin causing problems.

Clinical Signs

Whether presenting as wooden tongue or abscesses the problem usually comes on suddenly. In the early stages of wooden tongue, swollen tissue between the two bones of the lower jaw can cause the appearance of "bottle jaw." As the condition progresses, the affected animal will begin to drool and may have its tongue protruding from its mouth. The animal may appear to be chewing gently, and nodules and ulcers may be visible on the tongue. Over time, soft tissue in the tongue is replaced with fibrous tissue, causing it to become hard, shrunken, and immobile. The term "wooden tongue" comes from these changes found in the tongue.

When expressed as abscesses; the lymph nodes may swell, as large as a football. These abscesses can break open, draining granulated pus either on the animal's surface or internally. Sometimes the abscesses can be found in the skin, udder, esophagus, lungs, and other internal organs.

Disease Transmission

In general, wooden tongue is not considered highly contagious, but the bacteria can be spread from one animal to the next through infected saliva that contaminates feed consumed by other animals. Reports indicate that Actinobacillus lignieresii can survive 4 to 5 days in feed. Although the disease can appear worldwide, it usually occurs in cattle being fed coarse, rough hay or pastures with abrasive feeds.


Cases of wooden tongue are often identified based on clinical signs alone. Microscopic examination of smears made from pus, along with cultures are the best ways to confirm this infection.

Always use caution when handling drooling cattle. While actinobacillus is rarely a zoonotic disease other conditions including rabies can cause drooling.


Administering intravenous injections of sodium iodide can be a very effective treatment. These injections may need to be repeated. Improvement can be noticed in as little as 2 days. Sometimes the abscesses must be opened and flushed with iodine. Antibiotics are also helpful.


There is no vaccine available. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid feeding or grazing coarse feeds, plant awns, green foxtail or thistles.


For more information, or if you suspect any animal health related concerns, please contact the Chief Veterinary Office or call 204-945-7663 in Winnipeg.