Understanding Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

by | Oct 15, 2021 | Dog Health

Swimmer puppy syndrome is an unusual and uncommon deformity that’s mostly seen in newborn pups. This complication prevents these puppies from standing due to their rear limbs having weak muscles. If left untreated, it could lead to poor respiration, poor circulation, inability to feed for themselves, or even keep milk in their stomach. After several weeks of no apparent improvement, the chances of survival of swimmer puppies go down significantly.

In this blog, we’ll look at this bizarre canine condition, along with its symptoms, causes, and recommended treatment.

What is Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

As mentioned earlier, swimmer puppy syndrome is a canine deformity that affects newborn pups. Their front and hind legs would be splayed to their sides, preventing them from standing and walking properly.

Their movement would be severely restricted as they would instead push themselves forward by paddling their legs to the side. While all dogs can be affected by swimmer puppy syndrome, it’s more prevalent in dwarf and smaller breeds. 

What Causes Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

Swimmer puppy syndrome, also known as twisted legs or turtle pups, is an uncommon occurrence and has limited research about its causes. Some veterinarians and experts believe it to be hereditary, while others point to environmental factors that prevent puppies from having enough physical activity to develop their muscles. Other findings also argue that this condition stems from congenital defects during conception.

Take note that all of these are mere speculations due to the limited research involving the condition. Fortunately, there are treatments out there that can significantly increase the chances of swimmer pups having a normal life. 

Symptoms of Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

Apart from the obvious signs of the puppy paddling its legs to its sides while on its belly, other signs of this condition include:

  • The pup is lethargic compared to its littermates
  • Flattened chest instead of a normally rounded thorax
  • The pup is almost always struggling to breathe
  • Unable to eat properly
  • Lesions due to urine and fecal scalding
  • It usually regurgitates the milk it’s drinking
  • After a week, the pup’s legs will be splayed to the side permanently
  • After three weeks, the pup still can’t walk or even stand properly

After four weeks, swimmer pups won’t be able to run, walk, and play as opposed to normal dog development. If you notice any or a combination of these signs, then your pup might be suffering from swimmer puppy syndrome. In which case, you should take the pup to the vet immediately.

The sooner proper intervention is administered, the higher the chances of the pup’s survival. Additionally, you’d want to take photos or videos of the pup to show your vet. The more information they have, the quicker their diagnosis is going to be. 

Swimmer Puppy Syndrome Treatment

Due to the uncommon occurrence of swimmer puppy syndrome, treatment for the condition is limited. Most of the interventions involving this condition are geared towards:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Nutritional assistance
  • Environmental adjustments


Veterinarians can conduct physiotherapy sessions on swimmer pups for two hours in 40 days. The massage session involves a full-body massage that focuses on stroking their head to the limbs for 20 seconds. Their thorax will be gently pressed and released every five seconds for one minute. Their hips and digits will also have effleurage and kneading massage treatments. After the massages, the hind limbs of your pup will then undergo range-of-motion exercises. These exercises involve flexion and extension to the following parts:

  • Digits
  • Stifle or hind-leg joints
  • Hips
  • Hip joints

Your dog will then be placed in a normal standing position for a full minute to strengthen its leg muscles and encourage normal physiological development. Lastly, stimulating the paw pads of your swimmer pup is highly encouraged for proper nerve development.

For home remedies, you should prevent your swimmer pups from laying flat on the floor. You can bunch up towels and blankets around them so they’re forced to move around. Also make sure to prevent your pups from being in any position that would make them lay flat. This is especially useful when your pups are sleeping. Instead of making them sleep flat on their bellies, move them to their side so their legs are positioned well and make their breathing easier. You can create makeshift harnesses or make them move on enclosed walkways to help their legs stay upright. 


Another way you can treat swimmer puppy syndrome is by controlling the diet and nutrition of your dogs. Preventing your swimmer pups from getting overweight and obese is vital, as too much weight gain will put unnecessary pressure on their joints. Control their nursing so that your pups won’t get overweight. You can also help your pup swallow their food or milk by propping them up after eating. Gently rub their belly to prevent them from regurgitating their food.

Environmental Modifications

You should keep your swimmer pups from staying or walking on slippery surfaces. You  should let them go on rough surfaces so they have enough traction as they try to walk. Preventing them from walking on slippery floors can also prevent injuries and complicate their current condition.

What’s more, you’d also want to regularly clean the area where your puppy rests. Remember, due to its inability to move freely, it’ll urinate and defecate where it rests. As a result, it could cause urine and fecal scalding, not to mention the waste could harbor other germs and bacteria that would affect the pup’s health.

Swimmer Puppy Syndrome: Taking Care of Affected Dogs

While swimmer puppy syndrome can be a challenging condition for any dog owner, overcoming it is possible. Make sure to look out for the signs listed above to provide early treatment.

After that, be diligent with your interventions. Do not apply too much force when providing the message. Be gentle with the range of motion exercises and watch out for the pup’s food intake to avoid weight gain. Finally, always clean the area where your swimmer pups rest so they remain clean and free from infection.

For more health tips, nutritional advice, and other information about dog injuries, visit the TPLO blog.


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