Jaw disease is a common illness prevalent amongst macropods, and can seriously limit the lifespan the creatures have.
But what exactly is a macropod, and how can jaw disease be identified?
What Is A Macropod?
Macropods (or macropodidae) are a family of marsupials that includes kangaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos, wallaroos, pademelons, quokkas, and several other groups of creatures.
While seemingly diverse, the one thing that binds them (other than being marsupials) is that they are all herbivorous. While omnivorous macropods existed in the past, the modern iterations all eat a plant based diet.
What Do They Eat?
Most macropods are grazers, meaning that they eat small amounts continuously throughout their waking hours. This diet usually consists of fibrous plants, small grasses, and shrubbery, as well as some types of fungus and fruit.
This makes them generally quite versatile, and explains why they can be situated around so many different areas and environments within mainland Australia.
What Is Jaw Disease?
Jaw disease, also known colloquially as ‘lumpy jaw’, is a disease suffered by many marsupials within the macropod family, and can prove very dangerous in some cases.
How Does It Present Itself?
Lumpy jaw is a collection of infections found on soft tissues in the mouth and jaw or macropods, which can cause difficulty eating and breathing, further problems caused by pus and blood leakage, and even death.
What Are The Symptoms?
The symptoms of lump jaw generally consist of hard swellings on the jaw and face. These cannot be moved, and are fused in place.
Other symptoms include white colored pus, which will discharge through holes in the skin, as well as weight loss, tiredness, and an inability (or increased difficulty) to eat, breathe, and communicate.
How Does It Happen?
The cause of a lumpy jaw is the accumulation of bacteria around the mouth and teeth. This occurs over time, and is caused by a buildup of food matter and other germs.
Over time, this will present itself as a hard brown scale forming on the teeth, known as tartar. This scale can cause infections in the gums, working their way in through cuts and wounds that the animal might sustain naturally during eating.
Once inside the body, the infection can then spread to the muscles, tendons, and tissues, eventually reaching the ones that surround the jawbones, and causing the formation of hard swellings.
How Can Lumpy Jaw Be Identified?
While lumpy jaw can be avoided (or caught early) in captive animals, it becomes an entirely new level of difficulty when it comes to animals in the wild.
This is because oral health can be maintained and monitored in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, where the numbers are lower and more manageable.
But in the wild, the creatures are so diverse and numerous that wildlife experts cannot possibly monitor them all.
Monitoring Lumpy Jaw In Populations
They can however be monitored in certain target populations of macropods.
This can either be done through the rescue and treatment of an animal with the disease – which would then be rereleased back into the wild, and the spread would be monitored going forward – or it could be through the monitoring of a smaller control environment – such as on owned land, or small areas of woodland.
Can Lumpy Jaw Be Treated?
This entirely depends on the extent of the disease, and the amount of damage done to the animal in question.
As you can probably imagine, bone infections are no picnic, and eradicating all of the bacteria can be a difficult job for even the best veterinarians.
If the abscesses can be lanced early, and the bacteria killed with antibiotics, then the animal should make a full recovery.
However, once the disease has reached the jawbones, it can become really difficult to treat, as the prevalence of the bacteria can make it hard to fight.
Even in cases where the animal is treated, they can still be left with deformities caused by the disease, and can have permanent swellings of the jawbones and surrounding tissues.
What If It Cannot Be Treated?
If lumpy jaw cannot be treated, then the infected animal is usually euthanized in some fashion – both for its own good, and to stop the further spread of infection through their familial group.
How Infectious Is It?
While lumpy jaw isn’t necessarily contagious in and of itself, the eating patterns of animals can spread the bacteria throughout a familial unit, or through a specific paddock or enclosure.
As far as humans are concerned, there is little to no threat of contracting the disease from livestock – namely due to the fact that we practice better oral hygiene, and clean our teeth regularly to kill any bacteria we come across.
How Can It Be Avoided?
Animals in the wild stand a good chance of avoiding it, unless there is an outbreak. This is because they have varied diets with plenty or roughage, such as plant matter, which helps to clean their teeth of tartar.
However, captive animals, particularly those fed on pellets and little else, stand more of a chance of building up tartar on their teeth and allowing bacteria to take hold.
This is why it is incredibly important to make sure that captive macropods have a varied diet, consisting of all the things they would otherwise consume if they lived in the wild.
Good hygiene is also important, keep enclosures clean.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about macropods, and the best ways to identify jaw disease in these creatures.
Jaw disease can be a prominent and dangerous illness, experienced by many within this family, but with the right identifying tools, the best treatment courses, and the right isolation of infected creatures, populations are slowly being saved, ensuring these creatures remain a part of the Australian animal kingdom for years to come.