How to Save a Swimmer Puppy

THERE IS HOPE FOR SWIMMER PUPPIES. THEY DO NOT NEED TO BE EUTHANISED.

Phew. Okay, I just wanted to get that off my chest. For anyone who is googling for help for their swimmer puppy, the search results can be very dis-inspiring. I wanted to explain that it actually only takes a few days to a week to get a swimmer puppy to a mostly normal pup, and then several more weeks until the puppy is unrecognisable as a past swimmer.

 

What is a swimmer puppy?

A swimmer puppy is a very young puppy, normally 4 weeks of age or younger, who has legs that stick out to the side rather than underneath. Their chest is normally flat, and their back legs sometimes drag behind them. This often means that swimmer puppies struggle to walk, as their legs don’t push them off the ground, merely along it (‘swimming’ along the ground). It is important that a swimmer’s puppies legs are righted as soon as possible.

 

This is the swimmer puppy we had in our 2010 litter. He was born with some signs of being a swimmer. You can see that his legs stick out to the side instead of underneath or in front of him. Unfortunately, his condition was not recognised until a week later - but he still was walking normally by 8 weeks, and is not recognisable as a swimmer today.

This is the swimmer puppy we had in our 2010 litter, pictured at 3 weeks. He was born with some signs of being a swimmer. You can see that his legs stick out to the side instead of underneath or in front of him. Unfortunately, his condition was not recognised until a week later – but he still was walking normally by 8 weeks, and is not recognisable as a swimmer today.

 

What causes swimmer puppies?

Some puppies are undeniably born as ‘swimmers’, with legs that stick out to the side. However, whether this is genetic (caused by genes) or merely congenital (caused by in-utero-carriage) is hard to say. Many people report that puppies sometimes develop symptoms after being held in particular ways, as their bones are soft and pliable. From this logic, it’s not unfathomable that difficult birthing could also result in puppies that may be ‘pressed’ into a swimmer body shape.

However, a lot of swimmers are born as normal puppies and then become swimmers through their environment. One of the most significant causes of swimming is when litters are raised on surfaces with poor traction – particularly surfaces like newspaper.  These puppies can’t gain purchase on the floor, and end up ‘swimming’ instead of moving.  As noted above, some claim that puppies can become swimmers through routine poor handling (e.g. applying pressure to the pup’s chest when holding) and even one-off unfortunate incidents (e.g. a bitch laying on a pup).  Puppies in small litters (especially singleton puppies) are at risk of becoming swimmers from being overweight.

 

How do I fix a swimmer puppy?

They can be fixed!  The sooner you begin to implement some of these fixes, listed below, the faster you will begin to see improvements. (And the longer you leave it, the worse the condition can be.)

  • Make sure the bedding in your whelping box is easy for the puppy to grip on! Vet bed is great for this, but you can also use carpet, rubber matting, synthetic grass, etc.
  • Make the surface of the whelping box undulating. You can achieve this by putting egg carton, lumpy foam, or scrunched up newspaper underneath the bedding in the whelping box. This helps to encourage swimmer puppies to use their hind legs.
  • Place the puppy in sleeping positions that are helpful to recovery. Puppies that sleep on their chest will exacerbate the flatness on their chest, so place sleeping swimmer puppies onto their side at every opportunities. Also ‘tuck’ in the legs of these puppies, so they’re underneath the pup’s body and not out to the side. Obviously you can’t do this all the time, but even doing this occasionally will see improvements.
  • Be conscious of the way you hold the swimmer puppy. Don’t hold the puppy in a way that exacerbates the symptoms – so don’t place pressure on their chest, and don’t encourage the legs to stick out sidewards.
  • You can hobble the puppy. Basically, create ‘paw cuffs’ that pull the legs together using tape, a small child’s sock, or whatever may work. Obviously, make sure that the cuffs don’t cut off circulation. Even though this feels barbaric to do, the puppies I have done this to have not really objected to the process. (Click for photos of the puppy handcuff method.)
  • Let the puppy have sleeps in a sling (like an inside out pillow case hanging on a chair) in between feeds. (Ensure puppy is kept at an appropriate temperature.) Make sure the puppy’s legs are in the appropriate position before you leave them hanging – you don’t want to exacerbate their swimmer status! (Click for photos of the puppy sling method.)
  • Apply puppy-physio. Put puppy on your lap on their back, and gently massage their legs and ribs, and move legs in all directions – gently!
  • Encourage the swimmer puppy to move around, even by simply making them ‘walk to the milkbar’.
  • For obese swimmer puppies, restrict feeding times and especially get them to ‘walk to the milkbar’ (work off their meals!)
  • Some anecdotal evidence suggests that an overheated whelping box could aggravate the condition. Depending on your particular context, it may want to reconsider any external heating in the whelping box.

 

The same puppy at 9 months. This puppy had pretty much all the methods outlined applied from 4 weeks old, and was walking normally by 8 weeks.

The same puppy at 9 months. This puppy had pretty much all the methods outlined applied from 4 weeks old, and was walking normally by 8 weeks.

How do I prevent swimmer puppies?

Recognise the symptoms and act immediately! All the advice suggested above won’t hurt a puppy that is ‘normal’. Indeed, it’s just good sense to have a whelping box with good traction and try to manage the weight of young puppies. Starting early in swimmer rehab will see earlier results, and get the puppy normal sooner rather than later.

As there may be a genetic basis to swimmer puppies, seriously consider running on swimmer puppies for breeding purposes. This is particular true if you are consistently getting swimmer puppies in your litters, despite implementing high-traction surfaces and otherwise ‘doing everything right’ in terms of managing your whelping box environment.

 

Please share your successes with swimmer puppies. I would love to hear from you.

 

For more information, see the post Photographic Guide to Saving Swimmer Puppies.

 

This post is created with thanks to the Swimmer Pups thread on Dogz Online, and all the breeders who have contributed.

95 thoughts on “How to Save a Swimmer Puppy

  1. Pingback: Swimmer Puppy Syndrome (Pectus Excavatum)

      • I have a english bulldog that is 5 weeks old notice swimmer at 4 weeks . I have tried everything mentioned in your article and now I have made a corridor the exact width of puppy and trying to get it to walk down it . His back feet keeps turning outward. I’m not giving up , but open for idea’s.

        • I had a boxer pup with swimmers. Just two in the litter, she was over a kilo at C section delivery! Thats a hell of a LOT of pup on those soft bendy bones. I used chopped up pantyhose and hobbled her. Slept her between foam blocks on her back. Also held her up on her back legs to do squats and then wee handstands suporting most of her weight. Physio I guess. Also dont get too worried about turned out legs, feet or god forbid what i call swishy toes. Where the toes seem to bend left or right because the newly walking puppy weighs ten tonnes nd those soft bones are still jellyish! LOL As a long term breeder i found 99% of weird stuff grows out and they turn out perfectly fine.

          • I rescued this male lab puppies from a breeder he has swimmers legs , But he was almost 10 weeks when I got him , hoping it’s not to late for him to get to walk run with all 4 legs !! His left back leg turns out and over what I think you càlled ” swishy toes ” considering he is already 11 weeks he does get up and try to walk run but I’m worried his bones are not as soft as a 2 wk old will he still be able to walk normally sooner or later?? He has soooo much energy we love him to death we just hope we are doing everything right . any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated! Thank.

  2. Hi
    I breed and show Pembroke Welsh Corgis and have my 1st litter of swimmers. I am so sad.My bitch has had 2 successful healthy litters before this one.
    These pups were a planned section, litter of 4, 12.6,14.6,14.9 and 14.9oz. Huge pups, looked they were a week old. Never having seen this before I didn’t notice much until 1 male got congested and I saved him by putting him on Clavamox for a week. He is fine, but all pups have flatteded rib cages. They are walking fairly well. I have them in juice cans now. I took them out of the socks because they were getting wet from the whelping box. They are 4.5 weeks and had the socks on for a week. I saw that you wrote in several weeks you can’t tell? I so hope this happens for me.
    Any advice would be great. Thanks for this website.
    Carla

    • Hi Carla,

      Sorry to hear you are having troubles with your litter. Probably, the large birth weights of the litter caused them to be swimmers.

      If your pups are walking, then you pretty much don’t have anything to worry about anymore! The big problem with swimmers is getting them to walk in the first place. If your pups are able to walk now, then it’s likely they’ll continue to walk, and build muscles that get their legs into the right position.

      The best thing you can do right now is just make sure that you keep weight off them, keep them walking, and make sure that they’re walking on surfaces with high traction (not on tiles or newspaper).

      I would put money on your puppies looking normal by 8 weeks of age. :)

      All the best! Let me know how they go.

  3. We have a 9 year old French Bulldog who was a “swimmer”. Lucky for him and us! Had he not been defective he may have lived out his life in a cage in a Puppy Mill, but because he was defective he was cast off, saved by a rescue, and then adopted by iour family. He had one litter mate who was also a swimmer. They can become healthy, happy dogs!

    • Thanks for your experience, Jamie, and proving my point! It makes me sad to think many breeders think swimmers should be put down immediately – it’s simply not the case.

      • I rescued a puppy also from a breeder that didn’t have the time to work with him !! But he was already almost 10 weeks when I got him ! So we have been working with him everyday we put him in a sling for maybe 1\2 hour he doesn’t like it very much and can almost pull a leg or 2 out when he tries.! I was worried that maybe I got him to late he but he seems to be improving daily!!

  4. hello i have a quick question.. tomorrow we are adopting a 6 month old girl husky who they were going to put down because she has issues with walking. i was wondering what kind of exercises i could do to help misty be a strong dog in future

    • Hi Kayla. It really depends what those issues were, but general recommendations are to maintain physical fitness through off lead exercise, and to limit activity on slippery surfaces.

  5. I am so thankful i found this i went out of town and came home and found out my dog was pregnant. 2 of my pups are swimmers i have been looking everywhere for information i am more than grateful for the information.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this information, it has given me hope and comfort! I “think” one of our 3 French bulldog puppies has a mild case of swimmers, his back legs slide out when he walks, but he’s very active and tries to run on them still. The puppies are almost 6 weeks, I’m taking him to be checked out later this week. I’m hoping it’s an easy fix and no surgery will be required. Both parents are healthy Frenchies, fingers crossed that he will be okay!!!

  7. I have two bulldog puppies. They will be two werks old tomorrow. I am just now becoming aware of the swimmer puppy syndrome. I have my husband going to buy pvc pipe and cotton as i have seen making a chest cast is imparative to saving their lives. I have read swimmer pass away between day two and 4 weeks. Im not to late am i? I am so upset that this is happening. I am bottle feeding every two hours. My one puppy who i believe is a swimmer is so much bigger than the other puppy. And i have them in a large kennel. I feel like i have failed this is all my fault. I just hope im not to late to save them.

    • Hi Sandra.

      If you’ve recognised you’ve got a problem now, you should be able to rectify it in the next few weeks, no worries.

      Try to cut down on their meals if you can, as fatter puppies have a harder time using their legs properly.

      I would be inclined to hang them in a sling in the correct position during their sleeping time. Make sure that any surface that they walk on in undulating and they can get good traction (vet bed with scrunched up newspaper under it works well).

      If you start implementing some of the dot points in the list above now, you should see good results in a few days, and normal puppies in a few weeks. :) Good luck.

  8. Hi I breed labs and this litter of Minnie’s were born huge. Normally she has 10 but this time just 3. We never had this before but all 3 were swimmers the worst was the biggest boy. He started suffocating. I put him in a sock with foam at the chest and placed him on old piled up clothes to relieve the pressure. I put the litter in a small bin that encouraged climbing over the piled clothes and blankies. All are now running and playing and just sweet hearts. I’m expecting a complete recovery.

    • Hello my dog just had puppies 10 days ago and I noticed yesterday that one of the puppies ribs felt different when I researched it. I found swimmers pup and he has all the simptoms. Can you please send me a picture or a drawing of the sling you put him in so I can get a visual and alot with the sock did it help his ribs at all? Also when in the sling are the pups feet suppose to be touching the ground at all? Thank you so much and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

  9. We are dealing with a Lab swimmer right now! The litter will be 3 weeks old tomorrow. Only 4 in litter, all male. All grew really fast! Litter average was 1lb at birth and now all over 4lbs. Mom is first time mother, very attentive. The affected pup was actually most active initially, and is smallest, but not by much. About a week old, one day I noticed he held one front paw a little odd, but since he was so active I didn’t worry, it was only evident at certain angle and wasn’t painful. I tend to over analyze per my husband. We thought it might have had to do with his birth or position in utero. Wish I hadn’t listened to him and had investigated more, or monitored him especially closely. They all seemed to be progressing along identically. I feel so guilty now that I did not notice this sooner. Second week they had finally settled down. After a long first week of no sleep for me, I let the Mom care for them and wasn’t as vigilant. Their first week they all had a bout of diarrhea that scared us, they also seemed to be more active and cry more than I expected. The second week they settled right down and seemed to always be either sleeping or nursing. I spent less time with them then, not wanting to disturb their sleep. I began catching up on the rest of my life, and started weighing them only every other day since they appeared so fat and happy. I left them mostly to their Mom’s care and even felt comfortable enough to finally leave the house! But once they opened eyes and all started trying to stand at 15 days it became obvious this one wasn’t moving like the others. He was first born, came out butt end first. Had a difficult prolonged delivery and required LOTS of stimulation to breathe. Thought he wasn’t going to make it at first. When he was the feistiest one during the first week we were so proud of him. We call him Tigger, since his neckband color is orange. I have read everything I could find on internet re swimmers. We started “therapy” yesterday and he seems rounder already, keeping his back feet more pulled in and under him too. Did you do anything to restrict nursing time? Several sources mention that. I am doing massage and physical therapy like movements of all his limbs. I had made a “vest” type wrap with chest padding that I tied on. I had copied idea from another lab swimmer posting on internet. I just changed over to a sock this morning. Hope this will stay in place better. The sock fits very snug with foam piece cut from eggcrate mattress on his chest. He looks like he has a little flak vest on! Not sure if it is too tight. He has never had breathing problems. Thought maybe the light “compression” would aid in rounding out his chest. This is our first litter. I did not know that puppies should not lie on their tummies and should sleep on their sides. They all tended to sleep in a variety of positions. If I had known about no tummy sleeping I would have intervened much earlier and possibly prevented this. I am a nurse and read numerous books preparing for this litter. Multiple pictures show young puppies on their tummies with back legs in “frogleg” position. I did note that they tended to lie about on their own or in pairs. They never did the “puppy pile” thing. I have changed the whelping box around. Originally I had scrap carpet for padding, covered by 2 layers of washable bed pads with a top layer of fleece blanket held down by edges of the box. I had put some blankets or “sheepskin” in, but they tended to get under them and I was worried Mom would not see them and step on them, or they would roll under them and possibly suffocate. Last night we bought eggcrate mattress pad and added that plus a 1 1/2″ thick square chair pad to each corner to create uneven surface. These pads are covered with the bedpads and fleece. The small hills and valleys make it easier to prop puppies on their sides when asleep if they are not already in that position. Not sure if I should leave Tigger in with his brothers or keep him in a smaller box wedged on his back? He tends to get onto his tummy when left in whelping box with others. With his sock flak vest on he can’t get into swimmer position. Thinking it might be good for him to try and mix with others as they wrestle each other. His back legs seem so weak an

    • Oops, hit wrong button! I know my message is super long, just excited there is someone out there who recently dealt with this successfully. I was just saying that my pup’s back legs are so weak and floppy. That does not seem to be highlighted in online descriptions. We have not had any breathing problems at all. His front legs were never straight out to the side like online photos. Any insight or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

      • Lots of what you’re telling me is like my first swimmer experience, especially your description of “Tigger” – “He was first born, came out butt end first. “Had a difficult prolonged delivery and required LOTS of stimulation to breathe.”

        You are doing good things! Doing therapy, making him a vest, rearranging the way he is sleeping, and making the bedding surface uneven. I think it’s okay to leave Tigger with his brothers most of the time, but I’d put him in a sling for 2x hour lots a day if you can. I would also hobble his legs together if you haven’t already done so.

        Straight behind legs or legs behind that they just drag behind is a symptom of swimmer puppies. Having undulating bedding is the best thing you can do for this, and doing physio (encouraging them to push with these legs) is good, too.

        PS: I deleted all the extra messages for you. :)

  10. Oh my!! This just answered my prayer and it’s really making me teary eyed now to know that there’s a chance my little puppy will live a normal, healthy life. My shih tzu gave birth to 5 puppies three weeks ago. All five are healthy but we noticed a few days ago that one of the boys is moving around dragging his hind legs behind. He’s not having difficulty breathing, eating well, and can even move fast using his front paws. I will start the therapy first thing tonight. How often and how long would be the best therapy session for a 3-week old shih tzu pup should be? If i’m going to put him in a sling, how high? Should his legs still touch the ground? How long should I keep him there? I’m also planning to use a hobble and do the physical therapy. Thank you for this information!

    • The sling should contain his whole body so his weight isn’t on his chest. It doesn’t matter how high he is, as long as it doesn’t touch the ground. A 3 week old puppy should be contented in there if he’s had a feed and is at a comfortable temperature. Take him out when everyone else goes for a feed, and you will probably see results doing it only a couple of times a day, plus making the whelping box bumpy etc. I’m glad this post has given you some strategies to try. :) I’m sure your boy will recover well.

      • Just an update on my swimmer boy Tzu. He’s been on hobble and physical therapy and he’s made great progress. He’s now able to walk using his hind legs even without the hobble. He even tried running this morning when we gave him his usual exercise. He is now 5 weeks old. His hind legs are still stiff and his butt part seems weak but he’s made great progress and we’re hoping it’ll continue until he’s finally able to run and walk like his other siblings. Thank you so much again for this wonderful information!!

  11. Smallest girl, 9.2 oz Labrador, born normal, at 2 1/2 weeks I noticed her ribcage was misshapen and her legs were dangling behind her while the other pups were pushing towards the teats. Googled flattened rib cage and got scared to death. Immediately started repositioning her, doing PT and cooled off the whelping area. (Already had good traction and slightly padded surface). It has been 3 days and she walks, sleeps on her side without me putting her there and pushes strongly with her back legs come feeding time.

    I have very high expectations for her recovery. Will she be like a normal Lab when she grows up? Should I worry about joint health? I am wondering what kind of home to place her in ie: active with kids, sedate old lady…….

    I am so happy I googled it again. You popped up this time.

    Leslie

    • I wouldn’t be concerned about her ongoing health. My swimmer boy (and my girl who wanted to be a swimmer but I prevented) are both normal dogs, including in terms of their physical capabilities. I’m glad you found this site helpful and all your best for ‘smallest girl’. :)

  12. Just wanted to update on Tigger, a Lab pup discovered to be a swimmer just prior to 3 weeks of age. He made a COMPLETE recovery! The egg rate matress and other padding to create undulating surface in whelp box seemed important. But 3 days of PT of his legs 6-8x/day, combined with the vest that prevented belly sleeping, followed by hobbling for 2-3 days had him up and walking well. At 6 weeks I took whole litter for complete vet exams. I purposedly did not mention Tigger’s swimmer history. The vet made NO observations of any problems! After I mentioned his history, he carefully evaluated gait and conformation. All that he could find was a slight flattening on his sternum, that was only obvious when specifically looked for. The vet does not anticipate ANY future health problems. He was selected today by a lovely family to replace their aging Lab that will be retiring as the husband’s duck hunting dog. He will be picked up next weekend at 8 weeks. We informed the new owner of his history, just to be honest, but anticipate no further problems. Thanks early observations and help from the many internet articles a puppy was saved! I am a nurse and prepared extensively for this litter. I never read that puppies should not sleep on their tummies until I began researching swimmer puppies. I will spread the word that all puppies should sleep on their sides, just like human babies are now put on their backs to sleep to prevent SIDS. They say “back to sleep” for human babies, so it is ” side sleeping only” for puppies. Pass the word

  13. Hi Leema, In the 10 years of breeding labs this is the 1st time having swimmers. All 3 pups have it really bad, they are 2 weeks old and I lost the smallest pup last night:( Now I need to save the other 2. I’ve had the hobbles on their legs for 2 days. It seems to be helping a little but I was wondering what position you put them in when putting them in a sling? Also when you put a sock on them where do you position the cotton? Any suggestions would be great, Im in a panic!

    • Hi Kristi,

      Sorry to hear that you’ve lost a puppy. It’s very likely there was something wrong with that pup other than being a swimmer, as swimmers don’t die – they just continue to mature in an unnatural way.

      ‘Normal’ puppies often sleep on their bellies but with their legs tucked underneath them. When you’re doing any therapy, that means you’re trying to replicate this ‘normal’ position. So for the sling (I use a pillow case) and just arrange them with their legs underneath them laying in the pillow case. I do this in between feeds, and the puppy normally happily goes to sleep and only really wakes up when it’s time to eat again. For the sock method, you want it to fit snugly onto their elbows and how their elbows against their chest (but not so snug that it cuts off circulation, obviously).

      Make sure your bedding is undulating and high-traction. This is the single most effective thing for saving swimmer puppies.

      Good luck, Kristi.

      • thank you! I will do that. Yes, I think the one that we lost had more wrong, she was extremely small when they were born but seemed ok until a few days ago. In a x-ray last night it showed she had a enlarged heart

  14. Hi Leema,
    Great advice here. I have some additional issues.
    I have a 2 week old swimmer pup, just showed symptoms last night. I have been trying to use the sock method to relieve the pressure, but when I try to do anything with the pup, he struggles so much that he gasps to breathe. The only way he is comfortable is when he climbs on top of towels that I have rolled up. He has not eaten today. He tries to nurse, but immediately spits the nipple out and it is apparent that he cannot eat. I have used a dropper to give him some electrolytes throughout the day, but he becomes very distressed (mewling; gasping-almost turns blue, and throwing his head back) whenever I try to get some liquids in him. I have him in a box instead of with his littermates since he can only be comfortable there. He is obviously hungry and crawls searching for a nipple.His legs are strong and not splayed out. It’s his ribcage that is very flat.

  15. HI Leema,
    Just thought I would throw in that this pup is VERY strong. He also struggles immensely if I try to lay him on his side or back. I get the same reaction (mewling, gasping).
    Thanks!
    Janice

    • Hi Janice,

      If your pup is not feeding, then there’s probably a more significant issue at hand rather than ‘just’ being a swimmer. Swimmer puppies normally have a problem in feeding too much.

      For puppies that object strongly to being rearranged would probably do best in a pillow case sling.

      -Tegan

  16. This is the first litter of puppies I have ever had and I had no clue about “swimmers”. I noticed that one of the pups was not walking yet (3 weeks old) like all of the others. She had a flat chest and scoots around everywhere (fast lil thing) with the front and hind legs sprawled out. She has some strength in her legs but not much. Your post has given me ideas on how to help her. I placed carpet in the whelping box after they were born, I didn’t think it needed to be padded. So the surface was hard. Since reading this I have added padding and small pillows under the carpet making it lumpy. I’m hoping this helps. I was wondering if you could please post some links or informative pictures showing how to use the pillowcase or the sock ideas. I really want her to recover. We are keeping all 4 pups and the swimmer is the pup that our youngest child of 4 (he is 3yrs old) has picked. I don’t want his lil heart broken. Please help!

    • It’s good that you used carpet as the flooring in the first place, and making it lumpy will help all the more.

      Here’s a thread with pictures of the pillow case sling:
      http://www.dolforums.com.au/topic/157516-swimmer-pups/page__st__15

      Basically, using a sock is all about squeezing the elbows in, close to their chest. There’s a few different ways to do this, like:
      http://www.swimmerpuppy.com/saved/uno/index.html
      http://www.swimmerpuppy.com/methods/tshirt.html
      http://www.swimmerpuppy.com/methods/sock.html

      Hobbles are also good. I’ve used hobbling with success and is easier than the sock method.

      • Leema,
        Thank you so much for the advice and information! I was truly afraid that she would not be able to walk. I put the sock on her Monday, coupled with the adding more lumps to the bedding. She is up and walking!!! She is still having a little trouble with her hind legs. I am seeing so much more strength in them though. I have been keeping her in the sock 24/7. Is that ok? It does not seem to bother her at all and seems happier because she can keep up a little more with her brothers and sister. I am also doing PT with her and she enjoys the one on one attention :) Would you be willing to answer some questions about the mother not feeding (all of their teeth have come in)? I think they are hurting mom, she is raw around each teat. I’m worried that she will reject them way to early. Should I start them of puppy formula? Again, thank you so much. Your latterly a life saver.

        • I would take the sock off sometimes because I want her to learn to walk without the sock. But it’s certainly fine for her to have it more on than off. :)

          If your puppies are nearly 4 weeks old, that’s a perfectly okay time for them to start eating other food. My mums normally lose interest at about the 3 week mark, and my puppies are normally mostly weaned at 4-5 weeks (mother’s choice). I hear that larger breeds generally wean their puppies earlier.

          • They are German Shepard’s, the biggest pup is almost 9lbs as of the 3 week mark, smallest is 7lbs. What would you suggest that I feed them, how much and how many times per day? I know that I am asking a lot of questions and seem uneducated on this matter. I really appreciate all of the help that you have given to me. I just want the pups to have a great start to life and for me to not mess them up ;)

            I did end up taking it off of her to allow the skin to breath, she did wonderful. Watching her try to run was so funny. Her hind legs are still not strong enough, but I am sure that they will get there in time. Thank you again.

  17. I’m a bit late in replying, Kea, so sorry.

    I wean my puppies onto mince and soaked Advance rehydratable food.

    When weaning, I try to feed them before every feed from the bitch… So that’s a lot of times a day. At least 4, normally more. I feed them as much as they can/will eat, in the hopes that they’re ‘full’ and choose not suckle the bitch when she returns.

  18. It would be MOST helpful to have photos of the different ways to make the sock, how to hobble their legs and make a sling. My main one I wanted to is the sock but would love to have a diagram or photo showing where to put the padding on chest and elbows. Is there any links to other sites that show this? Thanks so much

    • Hi Marilyn. The links in this comment thread may help. When I next have newborn puppies I’ll take some photos of the various methods.

  19. I have had 2 experiences with puppies (Miniature Schnauzers) whose legs stayed straight out behind them (entire litters, same sire). They tried to get those legs under them but couldn’t. When I finally got a hold of my vet (was on vacation) the first time they were 4 weeks old and I was ready to take them to another vet to have them euthanized. Thank goodness I didn’t. Over the phone my vet told me that a heavy load of round worms can do that. I immediately started a 3-day course of Panacure and they started to improve before the treatment was finished. Within a couple more days they were toddling around like much younger puppies but by the time I sold them at 8 weeks they were perfectly normal. That first time I lost 3 out of 5. When it happened again this month I started the Panacure a couple days before 2 wks old because they just looked like the other ones did. They are now 3 weeks old and toddling around normally. Now I see that there is another reason for this but in my case it was being born with heavy loads of roundworms. Personally, I put this down to the dams’ nasty habit of eating our moist black dirt as if it were ice cream! (They all do it but most are retired and spayed, some because their puppies kept dying. . .)

  20. My baby is a swimmer now, his hind legs always slide out and drag behind. But the problem with hobbling method is that his legs are too small and weak to stand on. So how can i get him walk? Please help me. He is a tiny Peki, 7 weeks now but only 0,5kg. I’m really appreciated your responses. Thank you.

    • Hi Anais,

      If he’s 7 weeks you’ve waited a long time to try to rectify this problem.

      When hobbled, the puppy can’t continue to lay on their chest and exacerbate the problem. They also often are able to stand on the hobbled legs, as they get strength from the hobble.

      You need to make sure the bedding is of high-traction and bumpy, and start physio with the puppy immediately, as well as hobbling.

      Good luck.

  21. I have a litter of pups and 5 of the 7 are left. They are now 5 1/2 weeks old. My vet thinks distemper had something to do with the other pups so of bourse is concerned for my other 5. To make long story short, I have concerns for one of my pups who is definitely showing signs of a swimmer. About 2 weeks ago I noticed his flat chest and all 4 legs sprawling out. I hobbled the legs right away and tried using a sock with padding to keep him on his side. Since then it seems that he is gaining strength in his back legs although the one keeps Turing in now and he can hold his head up much better ( but not while he is swimming). His front legs seem to have gotten worse as if he has no control or no muscle tone any more. Wen he eats mushy puppy food mix I try make him stand as I hold him to help strengthen legs. Just wondering if this is normal fir a swimmer pup or should he have more strength in his front legs by now?? I feel like I am running out of options. Please give me advice…. Thanks

    • I would hobble his front legs and continue doing physio (e.g. holding him while he eats, but also massaging his legs into the right positions). I often find pups get better in the front or back end at different points, and then it eventually all comes together. Hope that helps.

  22. Thanks for your quick reply. So you think this is “normal” of a swimmer? Does it seem that the swimmers don’t have any movement in their front legs until they get more muscle? I am starting the physical therapy but not sure I’m doing it correctly so I compare the other puppy’s movements and go by that. I have read it helps to put them in warm water before therapy. Should I consider that? I am just trying to figure out if this is a true swimmer or something more neurological especially since he doesn’t seem to have any movement in front legs. Thanks again for all your help!

    • Hi Shelly. I haven’t heard the warm water thing. It’s hard to know exactly what is happening to your puppy over the internet. ‘Normal’ swimmers move their front legs, but do so in a swimming motion (hence the name).

  23. Hi ,we have a 18 day French bulldog pup who seems to drag her rear legs. She pushes off them a bit tho. Could she be a swimmer? The rest of the litter seem ok.
    Thanks David

  24. Today we brought home our new baby that was diagnosed with swimmers syndrome at 8 weeks when she was originally adopted. The vet told the woman there was nothing to be done and that she should be euthanized. The lady took her back to the breeder,who has been carrying for her since. She had made a brace which appears to be working. She runs and walks well. I need to make her a new brace as she outgrew her other. Can you give me any advice on how to do so or the best material to use? is there anything else that I can do for her? I have read about swimming therapy and I will check that out as well. I just want to be able to do as much as possible for her!

  25. Hi need some advice brought home our 8 week old puppy Alfie he is the off spring of a German Shepard and a mastiff very cute but turns out breeder has not done all he should for the pups we noticed when Alfie walks his back legs go in to what I would describe as doing splits then he army crawls took Alfie to vets for first injection yesterday the vet wouldn’t inject him said he was worried about the big belly and gave him worming tablet and said to come back in a week and she hopes she can give us better news but its not looking promising she advised light excersise and helping him stand and walk so I just need the best advice possible on how to help him and I’ve heard about this hobbling but need a step by step guide how to do this please help us save Alfie we just lost our hamster yesterday my 9 year old daughter was heartbroken I really don’t want to have to tell her Alfie has to be put to sleep as my other four children will be heartbroken too only had him a few days and he is so loved and spoilt with toys already many thanks Wendy UK xxx

  26. hi,I need some help from you.I want to buy a 6 weeks old french bulldog puppy who I think that has the swimming puppy syndrome,but the breeder tells me that is nothing wrong with the puppy.he is breathing and walking normally but the rib cage is pretty bad flattened and the end of the ribs are somehow oriented towards interior.Can you please tell me if he really has this syndrome,if he is going to have a normal development or if he’s life is in danger.Also can you please tell me what can i do for him to correct this problem. The links contain 2 pictures of the puppy so you can see the “hole” in he’s chest and have a better idea of the situation.
    I wish you a wonderful day!

    http://i.imgur.com/ApyrAK8.jpg
    http://i.imgur.com/sQ7lLs5.jpg

    P.S. Sorry for my english,I am not a native english speaker.

    • Hi Lorena,

      That puppy doesn’t look like a swimmer puppy. I’m not sure why that puppy has a dimple on its chest, but if it’s acting normally, I wouldn’t feel too worried.

      All the best.

      • Thank you Leema for the reply.I forgot to mention in my first message the fact that this puppy had a sister with the same dimple in the chest who,unfortunately,died suddenly. I have asked 4 doctors about the puppy,and they all had different opinions,so it’s really confusing for me.
        Thank you again!

  27. Hi Leema , We bought a pup recently and it’s 22 days old now.. we noticed it struggled to walk on the day we brought it home although now it’s much better but it’s hind legs aren’t strong enough so whenever it tries walking the hind legs split.. will it be able to walk normally like other dogs? Is it too late to implement your methods? Because I think the hind legs are lil apart from what they normally should be or I don’t know
    Will this result in any long term disability ? And I want to talk to you personally

  28. Hello,

    I am so glad I found this and hope I can get my only puppy swimmer of the litter to walk and have fun like the others. Although I did not understand quite well the advice to put them to sleep hanging. Can you try to explain it in another way or explain how you to that please? I am having trouble with getting him to exercise more, he is the chibbiest of the litter and he tries hard to firm his hind legs but he cant. His only problem is the hind legs the front are ok, but he seems a little diacouraged to move because he has trouble doing so with his hind legs. Any extra suggestions when its only the hind legs that the issue?

    Thank you in advance!!

  29. Hi our 4 week old french bulldog puppy is up and about walking and running about but her legs do stick out to the side, I was going to tape her legs but do you have any photos of how to do this please?
    Thanks
    Trudie

    • Hi Trudie. If the pup is walking, I would just provide it with plenty of high-traction surfaces. I mostly hobble until they walk, and then they’re okay once they’re walking.

  30. hi i have a puppy she is a labrador 5 weeks old now im desperate right now to get this pup right we have tried all things but im interested in the sock idea is it possible to show a photo on how thats done and the pillow case idea would pup be lying on its side or back in pillow case ? thanks
    Donna

  31. I have a 6 week old shih tzu/bichon cross that is normal in every way, walking, running, playing etc. but I noticed that her chest is flat. Her breathing is fine. I can feel her ribs from her back down, come to a sudden ridge, turn then form a flat chest.
    In your experience, would this indicate future problems for her, even if all development seems fine to this point with that one exception?
    Is there anything I can do at this point to prevent problems in her future?

  32. We have a 14 week old swimmer come into the shelter. No treatments done prior. He has seen a vet
    physical therapist and PT has started but no improvement seen after a week. Vet feels he will never walk.
    He’s now 14 lbs, a lab. Right front leg deformed and that leg will need surgery if he survives. Seems
    to have minor esophageal problem and occasional gasping for air after feeding. Has flat chest. Back legs totally
    spayed. Cannot walk at all and has difficulty moving around though he tries. Any experience with these older
    swimmers and what helps. He does not like to be put on his back and side. Happy litle guy though.

  33. Good day I have a boerboel puppy we bottle feed him as the mother has no milk at 4 weeks his little brother is walking and playing and he just lie there. We helped him to stand up but he cross his front legs and fall over. I read about the swimmers syndrome but not sure if that is the problem can someone pls advise as we are desperate

  34. Have a 2 week old puppy and it appears it has swimmer puppy. I am going to start some of the work on him and can’t quite get a picture in my mind of creating a sling for him. Anyone have a pic or a clear written description what that might look like?

  35. We are fostering six FCKs and am dealing with “swimmer legs” as well. We are trying to figure out how to brace them. They are thirteen days old to-day. Do you have any photographs of what you have done to correct the back legs?

  36. Hi my Pomeranian Arabella was overweight when she went into heat and had 3 puppies. She had a long labor 2 puppies were born with popped out eyes and one had what looked to be large intestine on his head. I feared the only pup to survive was effected. He is way overweight and at 3 weeks I noticed he wasn’t moving like a 3 week puppy does. So I started exercising him a little because he wasn’t holding up his head as well as he should. Then I found your site and his legs are not too bad but he appears to be a swimmer puppy. Today I put him on the carpeted floor and he walked a little he is now holding his head up a little longer and seems to have a little more balance. After just a few days of exercising him. I will continue to work with him and let you know. I was naturally beginning to do some of the things you suggested but it is a relief to know you are not alone and that there is hope. Thanks so much for posting you probably saved this puppy’s life.

    • Try using rubber bath mats turned upside down, with the Suction cups facing up to give the pup traction points to help it get up and develop muscles

  37. We used rubber bath mats , turned upside down with the little Suction cups facing UP. This provided the traction need to help pups get up and start development of muscles in the legs.

  38. hi i have a shih tzu. she is 5 weeks and is a swimmer puppy. I’m worried . Do you tink i can help her to walk any recomendation , thanks

  39. Use a 50litre rubbish bin anchor the edges of a sheet under the bin so the sheet is not touching the inside bottom of the bin – should look a bit like an icecream cone. Place the pup tail down in this cone for 30 minutes at a time. This takes pressure off the rib cage and they tend to spring back . Also lie the pup on its side between rolled towels so it can’t lie on its chest. The worked for me with a Lab pup.

  40. Help my new rescue Hope!
    I work at a small town pet store. I have had my fair share of people dropping off there unwanted animals. How ever last week and man brought in this 3 to 4 month old lab/pointer puppy with swimmers legs. She could basically do nothing. I have had her a week and now She is up walking somewhat when outside but not so much in the house. We have built her a walker and do water therapy aswell rub and work her legs. When i put her in her walker her one leg she still puts it out should I cuff her front legs closer together so asto retrain them? Have you ever ran into a puppy of this age with this problem? How would you recommend correcting it? I’m still waiting to here back from the vet specialist about her x-rays but my vet said they look pretty normal.

  41. Hi there!
    First I’d like to say how encouraging this site is, for all the sites that say it’s impossible to treat a swimmer or the vet recommends euthanasia, this is the first that says no..there’s help. Wow! Thank you. Okay, so on to my conundrum. I have a 3wk old chihuahua, current weight is 3.8oz and his front legs go directly under his chest and belly (not out to the side) however all his other symptoms seem to mean swimmers. Has anyone here heard of a swimmer puppy with legs like this vs to the side? He has no use of them currently. Any suggestions s or advice is welcome. Thanks!

  42. I had a litter of 5 labradors, 4 of whom were swimmers. After trying several ways to “hobble” their front legs, all of which they could wiggle out of, I finally found a kind of “vet tape” that horse owners use because it sticks so much better than anything else. I wrapped the pups’ front legs together with the tape leaving about the width of one leg in between, then used more tape to “tie” the middle together. The pups were forced to keep their front legs in front of themselves, the ribs quickly became “V” shaped, and they began to use their back legs effectively, too. All four were normal in less than 48 hours. The one thing I didn’t do that I should have done is that I should have put some NONE-sticking wrap on the legs before the tape itself, as it was difficult to get the tape off when the time came, and painful on the pups. This is the stuff: https://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?pgguid=2e87beb5-7b6a-11d5-a192-00b0d0204ae5

  43. Hi
    Can see that there is no longer reply on this site but I hope and would very much appreciate pictures of all of the methods that you use to hold together spread legs as I have a 4 week old puppy that still cannot walk. It is like her back and back hind (from the middle of her body and back) is like rubber and when she lies down she is kind of looking flat. Feet are flexing in all directions. All the web links mentioned above in this thread I cannot open. All sorts of commercial crap appear but not any pictures. Please all – I would like to see the sock method and the hubble method. I do not think the sling will help my poor girl as she do not have a flat chest. She is not a swimmer pup bud has problems in standing and walking.

    She was born first of a litter of 3 and taking her a long time to get out and with her back and hind first. She was very quickly growing fat :) Please write to me and I’ll give my personal mail if link is still not working

  44. Hi, I have a 4 1/2 months Labrador that recovered from swimmers. He walks and run fine. My question is, are the lasting issues that I should be aware. He is getting xrays for a lump in his back leg joint. It doesn’t hurt him to the touch but I wonder if it is a lasting effect of the condition he was born with. The vet started him on antibiotics but they didn’t do anything. He is healthy happy go lucky no so little thing.

  45. I recently purchased a lab puppy that shows all the symptoms of a swimmer puppy as described in earlier post. Only 2 pups in the litter, pups had plenty of milk and grew very fast. The breeder didn’t tell me that there was any issues with the puppy at purchase. At 8 weeks he could walk and play, but very sloppy. Now at 5 months, he is still very sloppy in his front end. I have taking him to the vet a couple of times, but nothing shows up. He doesn’t appear to be in pain, but falls all the time. I have several videos that can be emailed showing what happens will retrieving. Does this sound like a Swimmer? If so, what can I expect in my puppies future? Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

    • It doesn’t sound like it’s a swimmer, because the dog is over 8 weeks of age. If the dog is falling over, I’d be concerned, and if your vet is unhelpful, I’d suggest a second opinion.

      • Thank you for your reply! I didn’t mean for it to come across as if the vet has been unhelpful, he actually has been trying to work with me to get it figured out. He and his colleagues have their opinions, but have not had any experience with a swimmer puppy before. He has actually suggested that I seek a second opinion as well, just to gets another veterinarians opinion. I have talked with the breeder on several occasions and he hasn’t been completely honest about the situation, especially when referring to his abilities before the purchase. He now tells me the puppy did have some forms of therapy and needed assistance to get started walking. When he lays on a flat surface his shoulders go straight out and paws end up on both sides of the head, with the back legs tucked under his side. I’m not sure if this is a case of swimmer or not, that was just what has been mentioned to me by a few other people. I was encouraged to post on a forum to get some opinions from others. Do you know if I am able to post a photo on here? Or a video?

    • Hi Brandon. I watched the videos and, though I can’t always see it so well, to me, this dog looks it has some deformity of the front legs. (‘Bandy legs’ or bowing out of legs.)

  46. Hello,
    I want to start by saying that this has been an incredibly helpful post. I’ve been breeding labs for close to 8 years and this is the first time I’ve encountered a swimmer pup. I noticed it at 3 weeks and after some puppy PT, some hobbling, and lots of love she’s walking mostly normal at 3.5 weeks old without any extra help. The pen surface has a lot of traction and the whole litter has at least a few hours a day where they are outside in a pen running around on the grass. This is now by far the most active pup in the litter, but her back legs still go out a bit to the sides when she walks, runs, or climbs. Should I still be trying to hobble her or do I just continue to monitor her now that she’s mostly normal, just a bit of a wide stance when she moves and a flat rib cage that is rounding out?

    • Hi Katherine. Glad you’ve found this blog post helpful. If your puppy is walking close to normally, I’d just let her go. The biggest problem with swimmers is getting them on their feet – once they are walking, moving around is its own type of physio and the pup just gets better from there. :) Hope that helps. -Tegan

  47. Hello, it may be a few good years after you’ve published it, but I’ve read your article and I must ask you for help. My Corgi female gave birth to a litter of four, out of which only two puppies survived birth. 2 weeks passed, and one of the puppies, while the other began walking, became extremely tired, started breathing quickly and seemingly ‘not enough’, without even trying to pick himself off the ground. Then we noticed that his rear legs were turned sideways and right leg almost paralyzed. We figured the flat chest we had noticed beforehand had something to do with that too. I googled the symptoms and stumbled upon a few articles. You claim you managed to cure puppies, and that’s why I decided asking you for help. I’d like to add some photos of his back legs (front legs seem fine and he manages to pick himself up a bit using them) and the way we tied his legs together but it is impossible here.
    I started giving him some physical therapy too.
    I have all the intents of saving him. He is only 20 days old.
    Please, if you may have some advice, I’ll be extremely grateful.

    • Hi Anna. If your puppy is a swimmer, following the advice of this article is likely to help your pup. Good luck.

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