A sheep being given medicine for bloating

What is Bottle Jaw in Sheep? (With Treatment!) 

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As a farmer, I try my best to care for my animals. But even then, they do fall sick occasionally. While I was a new farmer, I lost several of my sheep to bottle jaw, a condition characterized by swelling in the lower jawbone area of a sheep.

Bottle jaw can be highly uncomfortable to the animal, so you must move fast to identify the condition and administer the correct treatment.

After several years of dealing with farm animals, I can quickly note when something is wrong with them and find a solution fast. Below is what you need to know about bottle jaw in sheep: causes, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and prevention.

A sheep being given medicine bottle jaw in sheep

What Exactly Is Bottle Jaw?

The term’ bottle jaw’ is commonly used to describe fluid build-up (edema) under the jaw. The build-up occurs due to disrupting the balance between oncotic and hydrostatic pressure in the sheep’s body.

In balance, these two opposing forces keep the level of fluids in the blood stable. Hydrostatic pressure drives fluids over the semi-permeable walls of capillaries, while oncotic pressure pulls them back into the circulatory system.

Several factors can disturb the balance between these two forces, most commonly low levels of red blood cells or hemoglobin (anemia) and abnormally low protein levels in the system.

When the two forces are not in balance, the fluid portion of blood escapes the capillaries into the spaces between the cells in the tissues. In sheep, the fluid tends to collect under the jaw.

READ ALSO: Ewe Not Eating After Lambing? | Here’s What You Need To Do

What Causes Bottle Jaw in Sheep?

Bottle jaw in sheep develops due to internal parasites, hypoproteinaemia, lymph drainage or salivary duct blockage, and chronic disease.

However, any condition that leads to hemoglobin (anemia) and blood protein levels in sheep is a possible culprit. Let’s look at the mentioned causes of bottle jaw in sheep in detail.

Internal Parasites

The primary cause of bottle jaw in sheep is a parasitic infection, such as Barber Pole Worm or Haemonchus contortus. The blood-sucking internal parasites draw so much blood the sheep becomes severely anemic.

As a result, the fluid portion of the blood leaks into the interstitial space and accumulates under the skin as edema fluid. The fluid pools under the jaw due to gravity when the animal lowers its head to graze.

With internal parasites, there are usually multiple animals affected. Ill thrift — the loss of body condition despite ample feed — and diarrhea may also be present.

Hypoproteinaemia (Low Protein)

Another possible cause of bottle jaw in sheep is hypoproteinaemia or lower-than-normal protein levels in the body due to malnutrition or malabsorption. Reduction in blood protein can contribute to low oncotic pressure.

When the blood protein levels fall below normal, there’s not enough force to pull the fluid back into the circulatory system.

As a result, more fluid stays in the spaces between the cells of the tissues. The animal develops a bottle jaw. You can evaluate the nutritional value of the feed to diagnose low protein in the diet and rule out hypoproteinaemia.

READ ALSO: Can Sheep Eat Hay? Everything You Need To Know

Blockage of Lymph Drainage or Salivary Ducts

Bottle jaw in sheep can also occur when lymph node abscesses block lymph drainage, leading to an increase in local hydrostatic pressure and subsequent fluid build-up under the skin of the lower jaw. Blockage of salivary ducts by grass seeds can have a similar outcome.

Chronic Disease

Milder cases of bottle jaw are common with chronic infections that cause low protein in the animal’s body. Johne’s disease, for instance, is an infectious wasting disease where the sheep loses protein from the body through a chronically inflamed bowel wall.

Additionally, many chronic diseases interfere with the normal ability to replace red blood cells, leading to severe anemia. For instance, bottle jaw is common with congestive heart failure and chronic liver fluke.

A sheep being treated for bottle jaw

What Sheep Are At Risk of Bottle Jaw?

While it can happen to any other sheep in your flock, the disease primarily affects weaners and lambing ewes. The condition tends to be more pronounced with poor nutrition.

Symptoms of Bottle Jaw in Sheep

Severe bottle jaw can be highly unpleasant for the animal. For this reason, you must be able to identify the signs and symptoms of bottle jaw so you can act quickly.

Luckily, the general symptoms are relatively easy to recognize in sheep. Look out for the following:

  • A rounded and bulbous swelling under the skin of the jaw
  • The swelling feels flabby to touch
  • The animal may recoil in pain when you touch the swelling
  • Pale to white mucous membranes of the mouth and eye due to anemia
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss

Swelling under the jaw is a feature of many health conditions affecting sheep and other farm animals. Besides the swelling, other symptoms will vary depending on the underlying cause.

Symptoms like diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia will be present with causes such as gastrointestinal parasitism, malnutrition, and Johne’s disease.

Treating Bottle Jaw In Sheep

Treatment for bottle jaw in sheep will vary depending on the cause. The major cause of bottle jaw in sheep is internal parasites. And in that case, an internal parasiticide will be the appropriate remedy.

The best course of action upon noticing swelling in your sheep’s jaw is to talk to a vet as soon as possible. No matter your experience as a shepherd, you can always get a diagnosis wrong.

A vet can provide an accurate diagnosis and specialized treatment to effectively deal with the swelling under the jaw and its underlying cause.

Preventing Bottle Jaw In Sheep

Bottle jaw in sheep is preventable in most cases. However, looking for the symptoms of internal parasites (such as Barber Pole Worm), malnutrition, and low blood cells (anemia) in your flock is important.

Suppose you can determine the underlying causes of swelling below the jaw and eliminate risk factors. In that case, you can prevent recurrence and perhaps even keep your sheep from developing the bottle jaw in the first place.

Wrapping Up

Bottle jaw is one of the most common conditions affecting sheep. The swelling under the lower jaw can be uncomfortable for the animal and has many possible causes.

Fortunately, this condition is treatable and preventable in most cases. If you worm your sheep in time, feed them high-quality rations, and watch them carefully, you can keep them from developing bottle jaw.


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Bottle Jaw in Sheep

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