, May 24, 2024

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The Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

  •   4 min reads
The Swimmer Puppy Syndrome
By Niko Gabriel Salgado

Swimmer puppy syndrome is a rare condition primarily observed in newborn puppies, where their weak rear limb muscles hinder their ability to stand. If not addressed, it can result in breathing and circulation problems, difficulties in feeding, and an increased risk of mortality. Without improvement over time, the chances of survival for these puppies decrease significantly.

What is a Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

“Swimmer puppy syndrome, also referred to as twisted legs or turtle pups, is a deformity found in newborn puppies that causes their front and hind legs to spread out to the sides, impairing their ability to stand and walk correctly. Affected puppies typically have limited mobility and must use a sideways paddling motion to move forward,” said Emma Williams in “Swimmer Puppy Syndrome: Everything You Need To Know,” an article published in The Dogington Post.

Onyok and Nathaniel, rescued asong pinoy (aspin) puppies of Save Animals of Love and Light-Save ALL, were born with splayed legs. They were given calcium phosporous (vitamin), good food, and a massage every day. They are now seven (7) years old. (Save ALL file photo)

It is a rare condition with very limited research on its origins. Some veterinarians and experts suggest it might be hereditary, while others attribute it to environmental factors that hinder muscle development in puppies. Thankfully, there are treatments available that can greatly improve the prospects of swimmer puppies leading normal lives.

Symptoms of Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

According to Williams, apart from the obvious signs, here are a few other signs of this condition:

1. The puppy struggles to paddle its legs to the sides while lying on its belly.

2. It appears lethargic when compared to its littermates.

3. The chest is flattened instead of having a normal rounded shape.

4. The puppy experiences difficulty in breathing.

5. It has trouble eating properly.

6. Lesions can develop due to urine and fecal scalding.

7. The puppy frequently regurgitates milk.

8. After one week, the puppy's legs remain splayed to the sides.

9. After three weeks, the puppy still cannot walk or stand properly.

10. By four weeks, swimmer puppies cannot engage in normal dog activities like running, walking, and playing.

If you observe any of these signs, or a combination of them, your puppy may have swimmer puppy syndrome, and it is crucial to consult a veterinarian promptly. Early intervention increases the pup's chances of survival. Documenting the puppy's condition through photos or videos can aid the vet in making a quicker diagnosis.

Butter, a rescued Corgi rescue, was also born with swimmer puppy syndrome. 


Most interventions for this condition focus on:

·       Physiotherapy

·       Nutritional assistance

·       Environmental adjustments


“Veterinarians can offer physiotherapy sessions that encompass a full-body massage, including seconds of stroking from head to limbs, gentle thorax compressions and kneading massages for the hips and digits. Following the massages, range-of-motion exercises are performed on the hind limbs, involving flexion and extension of the digits, hind-leg joints (stifle), hips, and hip joints,” Williams said. 

“To promote leg muscle strength and normal development, the puppy is placed in a standing position for one minute. Additionally, stimulating the paw pads is recommended for proper nerve development,” Williams added. 

As for home care, it is important that you do not allow swimmer puppies to  lie flat on the floor. This can be done by arranging towels and blankets around them to encourage movement. During sleep time, avoid positions that make them lie flat on their bellies. Instead, position them on their side  to improve leg positioning and breathing.

Nathaniel can now walk and run, lives a normal life and even smells the... soil! (Save ALL file photo)

Nutritional Assistance

Managing the diet and nutrition of swimmer puppies is another way to treat the syndrome. It is important to prevent these puppies from becoming overweight or obese because excessive weight can strain their joints. Avoid overfeeding.

Environmental Modifications

Ensure that swimmer puppies avoid slippery surfaces. Let them walk instead on rough, textured surfaces to provide better traction. This will help prevent injuries and complications related to their condition. 

“It’s important to maintain cleanliness in the area where your puppy rests. Because of their limited mobility, these puppies may urinate and defecate in their resting area, which can lead to urine and fecal scalding. Moreover, the presence of waste can create a breeding ground for harmful germs and bacteria that can negatively impact the pup's health,” Williams noted. 

Taking Care of Affected Dogs 

Although swimmer puppy syndrome poses challenges for dog owners, it is a condition that can be overcome. It is essential to recognize the early signs for timely treatment.

Following diagnosis, it is crucial to approach interventions with care. Avoid excessive force during massages, be gentle with range-of-motion exercises, and monitor the puppy's food intake to prevent excessive weight gain. Furthermore, maintain cleanliness in the area where the swimmer puppies rest to ensure their hygiene and prevent infection. 

This article also appears in the Manila Standard

About the Author: Niko Gabriel Salgado is a graduate of consular and diplomatic affairs from De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, and worked at the House of Representatives. He is now an entrepreneur and a volunteer of the animal welfare group Save Animals of Love and Light- Save ALL.

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