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Swimmer Puppies

Swimmer puppies are puppies that cannot walk and stand upright. Instead, they paddle their legs like a turtle. Learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of swimming puppy syndrome here.

Health puppies begin to stand at 14 days and have a rather steady gait by 3 weeks of age. If a puppy cannot stand and walk by 3 weeks, the puppy may be a "swimmer".

A swimmer puppy is a puppy with weak adductor muscles that pull the legs together. As a result, the puppy lies flat on the floor and paddles around like a turtle.

The legs affected can be the fore legs, the hind legs, or all four, although the hind legs are usually more severely affected.

Causes of Swimming Puppy Syndrome

The exact cause of this syndrome is unknown. However, it may be congenital. Breeds that seem to be predisposed include:
  • Small breed dogs (such as the Dachshunds, Yorkshire Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels).
  • Breeds with large thorax and short limbs (such as the Basset Hounds, Pekinese, Cavalier King Charles, French and English bulldogs).
Additionally, it appears that overweight and heavy-boned puppies are more prone to become swimmers.

There is also one theory which says that swimming puppy syndrome is the result of an infection caused by a viral or fungal disease in utero that results in a muscular dystrophy of the adductor muscles.

Symptoms of Swimming Puppy Syndrome

The clinical symptoms are their inability to stand up and inability to walk normally. They move by making swimming or snake-like type of movements. They stick their legs out to the sides and paddle around like a turtle.

As puppies with swimming puppy syndrome cannot stand up, their thorax and abdomen are compressed. They are flat-chested from lying on their stomachs and have abnormally narrow chest cavities. This results in regurgitation of milk and respiratory insufficiency. The puppies have trouble filling their lungs. Consequently, they often breathe with their mouths open.

Because the abdomen is compressed, puppies with this problem may also suffer from constipation as a result.

Affected puppies may also have joint deformities such as medial patellar luxation as a result of the abnormal angulation of the limbs.

Treatment of Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

In most cases, the condition will go away as the puppy grows and the adductor muscles develop and strengthen. There are also several things that can be done in the meantime to help puppies with this syndrome. They include:
  • Keep swimmers on a non-slippery surface such as carpeted floor since slippery floors aggravate the problem.
  • Help a swimmer puppy stand and walk several times a day.
  • Massage the puppy's limbs twice a day to help strengthen the muscle tone.
  • Use a pair of flexible plastic handcuffs or a hobble made from adhesive tape on the affected limbs to limit splaying.
  • Keep a swimmer puppy sleeping on his side, rather than splayed flat out.
  • Stimulate the puppy's paw pads with a toothbrush to increase tactile sensation. This supposedly can stimulate the nerves and get the puppy to use his legs more forcibly.
  • Avoid over-feeding the affected puppy to limit rapid weight gain.
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