Ask the Vet

Heifers with Bottle Jaw

Bottle jaw is a condition that can occur when protein levels in the blood are low. (DTN\Progressive Farmer photo by Mark Parker)


I have several yearling heifers with a soft swelling below their jaws. A couple have swelling between the legs. I wormed them early spring and they get plenty of grass, so I don't think it's worms. What could be causing this?


I know you say you wormed these heifers, but until proven otherwise I would still suspect your problems is intestinal parasites. The common terms for what you describe are "bottle jaw" and "brisket edema." These conditions occur when protein levels in the blood are low. Albumin is a protein in the blood, and it acts like a sponge keeping the fluid portion of the blood inside the blood vessels. Worms suck blood from the intestines leading to anemia and low protein. When excessive fluid leaks from the blood vessels it tends to pool in the lower parts of the body.

Some dewormers, especially some of the generic ivermectin pour-ons, aren't as effective as the brand name products. Injectable dewormers tend to be more effective than the same drug in a pour-on form. There are also strains of worms resistant to all dewormers in the macrocyclic lactone class (Ivomec and its generics, Dectomax and Cydectin).

Use of a dewormer in the benzimidazoles class (Panacur/Safeguard, Valbazen and Synanthic) may be indicated in these cases. Some research has shown a benefit to using the two classes at the same time. The often forgotten concept of rotating classes might also be helpful in some cases.

Any disease that causes anemia or low protein can lead to similar signs. So hardware disease, Anaplasmosis, Johne's Disease and many others must also be on your rule-out list. Discuss your problem in detail with your veterinarian. He or she can develop a diagnostic and treatment plan that will not only make your cattle healthier, but more profitable.