Lumpy Jaw in White-tailed Deer

With the white-tailed deer hunting season now upon us, most hunters are already in the woods looking for that big, mature buck. However, as is often the case when in the field, hunters will see the strangest things — and sometimes those odd things include deer with different diseases and other issues. One fairly common problem in whitetail is lumpy jaw. The name “lumpy jaw” says it all because deer with this problem stick out; The animal looks like it has a lump between (or under) its jawbone and the hide.

The lumpy jaw many hunters witness is the result of adult arterial nematodes (Elaeophora schneideri). These worms live primarily in the whitetail’s carotid arteries. In fact, partial paralysis of the deer’s jaw muscles occurs when high arterial worm infestations reduce blood flow. As a result of jaw muscle paralysis, food becomes trapped inside the deer’s mouth and this food impaction leads to the lumpy jaw and/or swollen cheek appearance. The impaction often causes tooth loss, bone decay, and sometimes even death.

Whitetail Deer Management: Lumpy Jaw in Whitetail Deer

So now your thinking, how do white-tailed deer get lumpy jaw? Well, the common horsefly passes the nematode larvae from an infected deer to an uninfected one by feeding on deer blood. The horsefly carrying larvae-infected blood is ultimately what perpetuates this lumpy jaw condition in deer.

Luckily for property owners, hunters, and the deer, infection rates in are not high enough to impact white-tailed deer populations. Arterial worms, like most other deer issues, do not pose a risk to humans, but as a hunter I don’t like to think about the deer I harvest as having arterial worms, nasal bots, or any other of the many diseases, viruses, or things deer can possibly tote around.

And on that note, arterial worms are not the only creatures that can give white-tailed deer that lumpy jaw appearance. A bacterium called Actinomyces bovis can also cause an infection of the jawbone. This bacterium is actually a common inhabitant of the mouths of healthy whitetail. It is when a sharp object such as a thorn punctures the inner lining of the mouth that A. bovis bacteria are allowed to invade the tissues.

Additionally, healthy deer — like all animals — can simply get large or odd-shaped food items caught in their mouth. However, food impaction in white-tailed deer is often the result of arterial worms that cause muscle issues that lead to food impaction and lumpy jaw syndrome. As mentioned previously, deer with lumpy jaw do not pose a health problem for hunters and the meat can be safely consumed.

10 Replies to “Lumpy Jaw in White-tailed Deer”

  1. Interested in dewormers effective in treating arterial worm in whitetail deer. Need treatment protocol.

  2. Dear Dr. Artall, I believe that one of the female deer has this arterial worm disease. I would be so grateful if you could advise me how to help her. Thank you so much.

  3. I have used ivermectin horse wormed in the past for worming some of the whitetail deer on my place for mange and lumpy jaw.
    put in in some cracked corn small amount of wormed in about cup of cracked corn.
    worked for the deer I treated.

  4. Brandon, it sounds like the deer have all they handle at your buffet of offerings. Good nutrition aside, the best way to allow a buck to reach its potential is to let it reach maturity. Nothing tops age, but good food will help.

  5. Wild deer with swollen jaw, assume she has lumpy jaw. It visits my yard for pieces of apple. Would ivermectin help it out, or is it even legal?

  6. Raised a fawn whose mother was killed. He is now a 4 year old buck that visits me daily. He lets me pet him and eats from my hand. Last winter he returned after rut with a wound under his jaw. Think he fought with another buck and possibly broke his jaw or injured a tooth. It occasionally swells and drains, possibly Actinomyces bovis or an abscess tooth. Any suggestion for a home remedy? Thought about using honey as an antibiotic?

  7. Freeda, honey may help because of it’s natural healing properties. Obviously, some sort of antibiotic would be best but giving free-ranging wildlife any type of pharmaceutical is illegal. Whitetail are tough animals so a good chance he shakes it off.

  8. We have a doe with two small fawns visiting us every day. The mother has a swollen jaw with her tongue sticking out. We are worried. Can you recommend what authorities we need to notify about this in Somerset County, NJ?

  9. Barbara, the best contact would be the nearest office of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife but they will likely not respond. The issue that your deer is facing is an individual deer issue, which is not a perceived threat to the deer population as a whole. Besides, the most likely do not have a vet on staff that could treat the animal.

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