Woody tongue – sounds funny but it describes the condition perfectly!
This disease syndrome found in cattle is one where the tongue becomes swollen, hard and immobile. For cows, the tongue is their main way of gripping feed and grass before chewing and if the tongue cant work, the cow cant eat!
So, in addition to signs of a tongue hanging out, dribbling food and saliva, a swollen area under the chin or neck – most affected cattle also lose a lot of condition and become skinny and lethargic.
The problem is usually caused by a small cut or abrasion on the tongue and this allows a specific bacteria (Actinobacillus) to enter the wound. This is a bacteria that can be found normally in the mouth but the real risk is harsh and rough feed that can create small wounds, cuts and nicks on the tongue, allowing the bacteria to invade. Hence, very thorny, dry and stalky hay or feed, particularly in times of drought, will increase the risk of this problem.
Unfortunately, many cases are not identified until the cow has become very thin – a good tip is to watch cows graze and any underweight animal – observe how well they are gripping their feed and whether they are dropping grass/hay or showing signs of drooling and slobbering. Soft swelling under the jaw may also be visible.
The earlier treatment is started, the quicker and better the response. This will also mean the animal does not lose too much condition.
Treatment requires a strong anti-biotic course (a penicillin or an oxytetracycline antibiotic) and an injection of Sodide (sodium iodine). The Sodide is best administered into the jugular vein (by a vet and in a good crush facility) however if this cannot occur, subcutaneous (under the skin) injections can be done. These may have to be repeated if the symptoms are advanced.
Buy or feed out good quality hay – not too stalky or thorny
Regularly check livestock for condition loss
If an animal shows difficulty eating/chewing and they’re looking skinny, check their tongue and look for swelling under the jaw.
If you can pull out a cows tongue and easily hold it out – it is weak and abnormal. This is a sign that something is going on there.