Jaw Disease in Macropods
I J Hough B.Sc., B.M.V.S.
This article was first printed in “Keeping Marsupials” some time ago but is relevent to Trevor Harrowfield’s article on the Dama Wallaby.
Jaw infections in macropods are relatively common and often very difficult to cure. Appropriate management of your animals can help reduce the incidence of this disease.
“Lumpy Jaw” as it is often known can affect a range of macropods. It has been seen in red Kangaroos (Macropus Rufus), Western Grey Kangoroos (M. fuliginosus), Euros (M. robustus), Swamp Wallabies (Wallabia bicolour), Dama (Tammar) Wallabies (Macropus eugenii), Northern brown Bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) and Potoroos (Potorous tridactylus).
There have been a large array of bacteria isolated out of these infections but the primary culprit is Fusobacterium necrophorous. Fusobacterium necrophorous is an organism that lives in soil and as such always represents a risk of infection.
Given that the organism is likely to be present in your yards, other factors must be involved to allow the infection to develop. It is controlling these factors that ultimately determines wether you will have lumpy jaw or not.
There are two forms of overcrowding. The obvious form is simply too many animals in the area provided. The other is where the compatability of the animals in a given area is theoretically adequate for those animals. This second form is especially true when the sex ratios get skewed with more males than females.
Yards that do not drain water well seem to have more problems than well drained yards. Try and ensure adequate run-off, this will also help reduce the chance of coccidiosis. On the clay based soils, common around Adelaide, it may be necessary to dig drains and use sand.
Any animal kept on a less than adequate diet is more likely to develop disease. Pasture is rapidly degraded under grazing pressure and suitable supplements need to be provided. Fresh fruit and vegetables, quality hay, and kangaroo pellets are some of the extra foodstuffs that can and should be provided. Animals grazing on very short growth will wear their teeth faster as they are chewing a lot of dirt and sand.
Inflammation of the gums can allow infection to enter the body. Diets with mainly harsh and dry foods increase the chance of gum injury whilst diets composed mainly of soft foods promote tartar build up and gingivitis. A mix of both softer and harder foods needs to be provided on regular basis.
Ageing increases the chance of lumpy jaw dramatically. As macropods age they shed some of their teeth and the rest of their molars move forward in the jaw. This gives an opportunity for the causative organism to enter the gums.
It is far more common to see lumpy jaw in species being kept outside their normal range, such as the Red Kangaroo in Adelaide. Suitable shelter from the weather, and heaters during the winter, help to reduce this type of stress.
Other environmental stressors can be earthworks, dogs, foxes, children, bush fires, in short anything that the animal finds distressing. These, acting over at length of time, will reduce the animal’s resistance to disease and thus increase the chance of lumpy jaw.
Once lumpy jaw has occurred in your yards it is more likely to re-occur due to increased contamination. Expose the yard to as much sun as possible and encourage good drainage. Consider removing the infected animal from the yard.
Regular cleaning of the yard to remove excess droppings, stale and decayed food, and old hay will also assist in reducing the incidence of this disease.