Swimmer Puppy Syndrome | Have No Fear! It’s Easy to Fix

By: Danielle Harris

* This post contains affiliate links, and we will be compensated if you buy after clicking on our links.

Swimmer Puppy Syndrome: What Is It and How to Treat It

Swimmer puppy syndrome is a rare developmental condition that affects puppies, causing them to be unable to stand or walk properly. This condition can be distressing for both the puppy and its owner. In this article, we’ll explain what swimmer puppy syndrome is, what causes it, how to diagnose it, and what treatment options are available.

What is swimmer puppy syndrome?

Swimmer puppy syndrome, also known as flat-puppy syndrome or swimming-puppy syndrome, is a rare condition that affects puppies from birth to around six weeks of age.

Puppies with swimmer puppy syndrome have splayed legs that cause them to lie flat on their stomachs and paddle their legs like they are swimming instead of standing or walking.

This makes it difficult for them to move around, play, and eat, which can lead to other health problems if not addressed.

What causes swimmer puppy syndrome?

The exact cause of swimmer puppy syndrome is not fully understood, but it is thought to be due to weak muscles from lack of proper texture in the whelping box and over eating.

Symptoms of Swimmer puppy syndrome

· 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

· Regurgitation of milk and food

· After a week, the pup’s legs will be splayed to the side

· 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:


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:


Hind-leg joints


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.

In the home and whelping

Egg Carton Acoustic Panels
Egg Carton Acoustic Panels

You should prevent your pups and swimmer pups from laying flat on the floor. You can bunch up towels and blankets around them so they’re forced to move around or put egg carton shaped acoustic panels under the whelping blankets. 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. 

Enclosed Walkway to Correct Swimmers                                         Photo credit- someone on Facebook
Enclosed Walkway to Correct Swimmers Photo credit- someone on Facebook
Swimmer Puppy Splint

Corrective Devices

Taping legs together has been a long time method of fixing swimmers. Make sure not to tape the legs together too tight or too close.

You can create makeshift harnesses or make them move/walk in enclosed walkways to help their legs stay upright, guiding them to walk, and forcing them to keep their feet in line how they should be. 


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.

Prevention of Swimmer Puppy Syndrome

Environmental Modifications

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

Make sure you’re regularly cleaning the area where your puppies are kept. Remember, due to inability to move freely, pups urinate and defecate where they rest.

As a result, this could cause urine and fecal scalding, not to mention the waste could harbor other germs and bacteria that would affect the pup’s health.

Caring for Swimmer Pups and Conclusion

While swimmer puppy syndrome can be a challenging condition for any dog owner, overcoming it is possible and its 99% preventable.

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.

Watch out for the pup’s food intake to avoid weight gain and obesity.

Finally, always clean the area where your swimmer pups rest so they remain clean and free from infection.

Don’t forget to subscribe for updates and newsletters!

Photo of author


French Bulldog
Find Everything You Need on Chewy!

Leave a Comment