SWIMMING PUPPY SYNDROME
by Henrietta Beaufait (Perkins) D.V.M Source: Current Therapy by Kirk
The swimming puppy syndrome is an uncommon
developmental abnormality observed primarily in certain chondrodystrophoid
breeds of dogs. Occasionally the abnormality is observed in cats and other
breeds: however, the syndrome appears to be most common in those breeds of
dogs that have short legs and wide thoracic cavities. The English Bulldog,
Basset Hound, and Scottish Terrier arc especially predisposed to this
The cause of the syndrome is unknown, although various undocumented
theories have been formulated. These include altered neuromuscular synapse
function, improper or delayed myelindin of peripheral nerves, slow
muscular development, and ventral horn dysfunction (neuropathy).
Regardless of the cause, signs of the syndrome may be seen as early as the
second week of life, and are usually pronounced by the fifth to sixth
week. Early in the syndrome, affected animals appear to be weak and unable
to stand or move about. Progressive movements are made by the animal
pushing itself along in sternal recumbancy. Affected neonates usually
nurse well and continue to grow well despite the locomotor dysfunction.
Apparently, failure of the trunk to be supported by the appendicular
skeleton results in dorsoventral compression of the thorax, abdomen, and
pelvis. This compression of the thorax causes malpositioning of the limbs
in a lateral manner, so that support of the body is impossible. At this
stage of the disease, affected animals make characteristic "swimming
movements" with the limbs in an attempt to move about. Joint
deformities develop because of the altered limb angulation. Neurologic
examination usually usually reveals no detectable signs of neurologic
deficit. Clinical signs of dyspnea may occur in cases with severe thoracic
compression. Aspiration pneumonia is a common finding; and constipation,
as a sequel to abdominal and pelvic compression, is also observed.
Decubital ulcers and urine scalds are associated problems.
Both environmental and genetic factors may play an important role in the
development of this syndrome, and prevention is the best management.
Breeders of the chondrodystrophid dogs should be advised to place soft
mats in the puppy box for the pup to walk on. A satisfactory mattress can
be made by covering clean straw with a blanket. The thick straw mattress
supports the clumsy pup, and decreases the mechanical forces on the body
that tend to produce dorsal-ventral compression. Balls of wadded newspaper
can also be covered. I use small pillows stuffed with styrofoam on an
eggshell mattress. Breeders should be encouraged to take the pups out of
the whelping box at least twice a day outside or on a large piece of patio
carpet. Turn pups frequently, especially the heavy ones.
Passive manipulation or massage of the
appendicular skeleton may strengthen muscle tone. Hobbles that prevent the
legs from splaying laterally can be used to help the limbs support the
body. The hobbles are made of half-inch adhesive tape. I use bias tape or
one-inch gauze. Check the legs frequently for tightness. If the hobbles
are tied too loose, they will come off. Change p.r.n.
Breeders should be advised the genetic factors
may influence this syndrome, and the breeding of affected ambulatory
animals should be discouraged.