What is Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

By John Martin - March 17, 2022

signs of swimmer puppy syndrome in HarperI like to have some fun with Raise A Paw because I think that pets can be hilarious.

However, not all topics are all chuckles and such was the case when Sarah brought to my attention an article about Harper who was found stuffed in a trash bag and left for dead after being born with a syndrome called Swimmer Puppy.

After doing more research I was able to find out and report back for this week’s Raise A Paw.

So, What Is Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

Essentially Swimmer Puppy is when a young pup develops a flat chest and sternum, which makes them unable to get their legs under them and their head up. If you were to look at them from above, they would be splayed out flat with their legs out to the sides. This leaves the puppy unable to crawl or walk. Normally when a puppy is born the shape of its chest is an oval shape, but when a puppy begins to develop Swimmer Puppy as its crawling around in those first few weeks its bones – which aren’t yet dense but rubbery – begin to take on a flattened shape and the chest begins to splay out horizontally as opposed to lengthening.

There are a few schools of thought behind what causes this sad syndrome. When a puppy is first born it needs to lie flat on its stomach with its legs behind it in order to nurse but too much time with a heating pad, being overfed and not moving or a flat litter box with nothing to create a reason for the pup to push itself up and create pressure on its rib cage can lead to Swimmer Puppy.

Generally seen by the second week of birth but possibly as late as the sixth week, a pup will often die within the first few weeks as the pressure on their organs is too intense and milk starts to be pushed into their lungs, which can also trigger pneumonia. As they can’t support themselves or walk they begin to crush their organs. Swimmer Puppy is a very low quality of life for a pup to have to suffer through. Swimmer Puppy can effect any breed of dog but is most commonly seen in pups with shorter legs such as a pit bull or breeds petite in stature.

Any Treatments Available for Swimmer Puppy Syndrome?

There are potential treatments that can be done in order to help rehabilitate the puppy and help it come around, the biggest one being patience and determination on behalf of the owner. First, checking your puppy immediately after birth and for every hour for the next few days is vital. If you begin to see that your puppy is always on its belly, arching its back when it nurses and not relaxing its neck then you need to intervene and assist it in order to stop the formation of Swimmer Puppy from continuing. By laying the mother down and putting the puppy on a good nipple (one that’s full of milk) you can take the pup and turn it on its side as its feeding and hold its head and body down regardless of how much it hates this new position. You will need to continue this a few times each day until the puppy is back to normal and returns to its side on its only.

Massaging your puppy in your lap on its back is another important step in helping your newborn pooch overcome the onset of Swimmer Puppy. By helping to strengthen its muscle tone you’re aiding it in being able to support itself under its own weight. While it’s on its back take its front legs and turn them in a bicycle motion (yes, like you did in junior high) and do the same motion for its back legs. Massaging all its muscles to release the cramping stiffness in them will help them move around and free of tension, learn to walk and hold its head and neck up.

There are medical intervention methods that can be used to assist your baby pup but those should be discussed with your vet as well as all the possible options to help your little one get better.

Of course you should contact your vet immediately if you think your puppy looks as thought it might be suffering or begin to suffer from Swimmer Puppy. While it can be treated and they can live a long and happy life it needs to be caught early and tended to immediately or your puppy runs a great risk of suffering and then sadly, dying.