What Is Swimmers Syndrome In Puppies? How To Get Rid?

Swimmer puppy syndrome serves as an uncommon and unusual deformity that is usually witnessed in newborn puppies. This type of syndrome prevents the puppies from standing as their rear limbs possess weak muscles. And, if swimmers syndrome in puppies is left untreated, it might lead to poor circulation, and respiration, can’t feed themselves, and at times milk remaining in their stomachs. After a plethora of weeks of no improvement, the survival chances of these puppies go down drastically. Here is a detailed guide that offers you information about its causes, symptoms, and treatment.

What is swimmers syndrome in puppies?

This type of syndrome serves as a developmental deformity that leads a puppy to have a flattened chest or thorax. Or, it could be taken as a canine deformity that usually affects newborn puppies and suffers them. In swimmer dog syndrome the hind and front legs get splayed to the sides, which prevents them from walking and standing properly.

Noticed just a few weeks after their birth, the hind and front limbs grow towards the body’s side. This keeps the puppy in a swimming position where limbs could only move in a paddling motion. Moreover, their weak muscles make walking, standing, and running almost impossible. Every dog could get affected by this syndrome, but it is mostly seen in small and dwarf breeds.

If a swimmer pup is untreated, the situation could lead to eating and breathing problems, constipation, joint issues, as well as early death. Moreover, a puppy with this sort of syndrome could overcome various physical issues and can grow up to run, walk, and live a normal life.

Symptoms of swimmers syndrome in a dog

Symptoms of swimmer’s syndrome in puppies start to appear in the first few days to weeks in a puppy’s life. The puppy will be seen lying on its stomach, and not on the side, and its back and front legs get splayed out. And, by three weeks of age, the puppy can’t walk or stand, and faces problems moving.

Apart from paddling their legs toward their sides while on their belly, certain other symptoms showcase the problem.

  • The puppy gets lethargic towards its littermates.
  • Have a flattened chest instead of a rounded thorax.
  • Swimmer pups always struggle to breathe.
  • Can’t eat appropriately.
  • Lesions because of urine and faecal scalding.
  • After about one week, the puppy’s legs get splayed to its side permanently.

Due to its flattened chest, the puppy’s lungs and heart are experiencing difficulty working and might get displaced or don’t work properly. Due to this, the puppies have difficulty breathing along with low energy levels. And, due to pressure on the chest, the puppies might struggle with keeping food down.

What are the causes?

Swimmer dog syndrome, popularly known as turtle pups or twisted legs, seems to be uncommon along with limited research about its causes. Certain veterinary experts believe that the syndrome is hereditary. While some other points toward environments that avoid the puppies from moving enough to develop the muscles. Other experts believe that puppies are born with congenital defects that happen before birth.

How to treat swimmer puppy syndrome?

Because of the uncommon occurrence of swimmers syndrome in puppies, treatment for the situation seems limited. There are certain best treatments for the syndrome that can make their life much healthier.


Veterinarians come up with physiotherapy sessions on the puppies for almost two hours in forty days. The massage session includes an entire body massage that concentrates on stroking the head to limbs for almost twenty seconds. The swimmer dog syndrome puppy’s thorax gets gently pressed and released every five seconds for almost one minute.

Moreover, their digits and hips get kneaded massage treatments. And, after the massage session, the puppy’s hind limb will undergo range-of-motion exercises. The puppy is then placed in a normal standing position for an entire minute just to strengthen leg muscles that enhance physiological development.


Another way to control the syndrome is by controlling the nutrition and diet of the puppy. Avoid the swimmer pup from getting obese, as more weight depicts unnecessary pressure on its joints. So, it is pretty essential to control the puppy’s nursing to prevent it from getting obese. Help the puppy to swallow its milk and food by propping them after eating. Ensure to gently rub the puppy’s belly to avoid them from regurgitating the food.

Environmental modifications

Avoid the swimmer dog syndrome puppy from walking or staying on slippery surfaces, so allow them to walk through rough surfaces. Preventing the puppy from walking over slippery floors could avoid injuries and complicate the current situation.

You require to clean the area regularly where the puppy rests, as the puppy might urinate and defecate wherever it rests. This results in faecal and urine scalding, which gives rise to various bacteria and germs that might affect the puppy’s health.


Ensure to provide the puppy with a supportive and comfortable orthopedic bed that allows it to keep much pressure from the puppy’s abdomen and chest. Moreover, you can even pad up your puppy’s bed with blankets so that you can make up the height and comfort of the bedding.

Water therapy

Water therapy is an ideal option for swimmers syndrome in puppies that develop swimming reflexes. Submerge the puppy in water up to the chin along with keeping the puppy secure. When the puppy gets submerged, the instinct the puppy would kick in and they starts paddling. Ensure to get hold of the puppy along with their paddling. This activity greatly helps build the muscles in the legs that could be done two to three times a day.

Tickling of puppy’s feet

Touching and tickling the puppy’s feet depicts that you are stimulating the puppy’s nerves which creates a nuisance sensation that will make them kick. The puppy’s kicking allows them to stretch out the legs and permit them to build muscle, the most essential factor for these syndrome-laden puppies.


It is mandatory to reposition your swimmer pup on its side any time whenever you witness the puppy lying on its sternum. Encouraging the puppy to sleep on its side as much as possible would greatly relieve pressure over the chest. Even if the puppy is not sleeping, repositioning seems to be a better way to lessen the complications from continuous pressure on the chest.


Hobbling is a situation when the medical tape is taken in use to secure the puppy’s legs and that too in the right position. An experienced veterinarian will show you how to tape the puppy’s legs to avoid any damage or pain to the puppy’s limbs.

Moreover, it needs to be worn for fifteen minutes and for three to four times a day. During hobbling, you are required to make use of a harness or sling to support the puppy. With sling support, the feet should only touch the ground, as it enhances the puppy’s muscles and relieves pressure.

Management of swimmers syndrome in puppies

Apart from starting the treatment as early as possible, successful management and recovery of the syndrome need patience, time, and consistency from pet owners. Regular therapy of the syndrome should be complemented with better nutritional support and environmental modification.

  • Slippery floors might worsen the case of swimmer syndrome in dogs. To avoid this, egg crate bed liners seem to be a great option. Ensure that the puppy should never on a flat surface. Bunch up the blankets and towels and keep the puppy in a small area.
  • The puppy should not get obese, as this might weaken its rear limbs.
  • Certain puppies include flattened chests from flat laying, so regular massage therapy is required. Massage just by rounding off the chest along with your hands and by putting the puppy in a dog life vest works well and keeps the puppy off its chest.
  • Tapping the puppy’s legs in an appropriate position should be done as soon as possible. You can witness quick progress. But, the puppy is a chewer you require to put a cone on while the legs are taped.
  • Swimming sessions three times a day will greatly help in muscle building. But, the swimming reflex might not develop until the puppy is six weeks or more. Ensure to submerge the puppy to its chin along with safety.

Final word

While swimmer dog syndrome could be a challenging task for any dog owner, overcoming the challenge might be possible. Ensure to look out for various symptoms listed above to offer the treatment with early treatment. But, be diligent with your treatments, and remember not to apply great force during massage sessions.

Be gentle with a range of motion exercises and look for the puppy’s food intake just to prevent its weight gain. Moreover, make sure to always clean the area where the puppy rests so that the puppy stays free and clean from infection. Furthermore, start with the search for pet insurance, as the treatment of this syndrome is a bit expensive.