What is a swimmer puppy, what causes a flattened chest, is it environmental, or more common in small litters?

Swimmers syndrome is also known as flat-puppy syndrome or swimming-puppy syndrome. This syndrome leads to a deformation in their limbs, beginning with the hind limbs. Swimmer Puppy Syndrome is a developmental deformity that results in a puppy having a flattened thorax/chest and can result in the legs being twisted and the inability to stand or walk.

Some believe this is more common in singleton and small litters, but there is no evidence to suggest this, it is just more noticeable when you have less puppies in the whelping box.

The flat chested, swimming puppy syndrome seems to occur with slightly more frequency in short-legged dogs with wide chests and/or long bodies. Examples, Bulldogs and Basset hounds, but no breed is immune to the deformity which can vary in degree from slight to crippling.

This is generally noticed within a week or two from birth and the front, and hind limbs, grow out to the side of the body, keeping the puppy in a permanent swimming position where the limbs can only move in a paddling motion. Weak muscles make standing, walking, and running virtually impossible. If left untreated, this condition can lead to breathing and eating issues, joint problems, constipation, aspiration pneumonia, Patellar Luxation, as well as early death. Fortunately, with early intervention, a dog with Swimmer Puppy Syndrome can overcome the physical challenges and grow up to walk, run, and live a mostly normal life.

It is rare for an entire litter to be affected. Some studies have shown that “swimmer puppy syndrome” is highest in obese puppies. The debate then is whether that’s because fewer calories are expended in struggling for a teat, or there is a genetic component linking small litter size with fetal obesity. Some breeders say that they have noticed newborns feet slipping on newspaper as they struggle to propel themselves forward to the teats which would suggest it is environmental.

So is it genetic, or is it environmental?

There is not a lot of evidence either way, some medical professionals believe that Swimmer Puppy Syndrome is hereditary. If this is the case, an affected puppy should not be used for breeding purposes. Others believe that it is not genetic at all, but merely congenital. This means that the deformity happens at random, in-utero-carriage via infection or due to some other abnormality. Others believe it is environmental and due to either an obese puppy, or the surface they are raised on.

If you notice symptoms, you should speak with your vet. The sooner you start therapy, the better chance your puppy has of a full recovery.

Symptoms may include......

1. The puppy has a flat chest with the forelegs and hind legs permanently splayed out of the sides of the body. This is usually evident a week after birth.

2. If a puppy is unable to stand or walk by three weeks of age

3. Because the chest flattens, the heart and other organs are pushed up into the pleural cavity. This makes breathing difficult, so the puppy will lack energy and appear lethargic.

4.You may notice that a flat chesed puppy that either cannot or chooses not to lay on its side.. If turned onto its side, it will “right” itself by rolling back onto his belly, thus putting pressure on the chest.

There are some adjustments you can make to the whelping area to help a swimmer puppy

Your puppy should not be kept on a completely flat surface. Keep your puppy on a non-slippery surface, so it can practice standing without falling about.

Laying down carpet is one idea, but as you can't wash carpet, and vet bedding is generally used by experienced breeders.

Egg crate liners have been shown to help promote ease of balance and increase traction. As well, you can confine your swimmer pup to an area where towels have been bunched up to prevent sliding. Use disposable puppy pads for the puppy to relieve itself and these should be changed regularly to keep the area clean. Swimmer puppies tend to develop painful lesions on their bodies from laying in their urine and faeces.

Too much weight gain will put unnecessary pressure on the joints. You may have to help puppy swallow food or milk by propping up after eating and gently rubbing the belly to prevent regurgitation.

Physical movement has been shown to be a huge factor in healing Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. If not done, there is a chance that a swimmer puppy will survive past eight weeks old.

Massage therapy: A full body massage will help relieve tension in the muscles and coaxes proper body alignment.

Supervision: Discourage positioning that promotes flatness. When the puppy is sleeping, move onto the side, so it is not splayed out. This also makes breathing easier. Turn over from time to time.

Sock method: This is similar to putting a life vest or harness on the pup. The idea is to keep the chest from being on a flat surface. Take a sock and cut holes where the legs can come through, then let your puppy wear it like a sweater. Stuff the chest area with foam to keep it elevated.