The Swimming Puppy Syndrome
(Swimmers, Swimmer Puppies)
Although the scientific term 'Pectus Excavatum' is sometimes used as a synonym for the Swimming Puppy Syndrome, these are two entirely different conditions that can occur independently or simultaneously.

Pectus excavatum is a severe deformity resulting from intrusion of the breastbone (sternum) into the chest cavity (a deformity of the chest).

The main symptom of a swimmer puppy is his inability to stand or walk by the normal age of three weeks (a locomotor dysfunction). The puppy paddles his legs much like a turtle, hence the term 'swimmer'.

Other symptoms may develop as a consequence of the unnatural position. Swimmer puppies appear to have flattened or widened chests, probably from lying on their stomachs. Pectus excavatum can also occur in flat-chested puppies, hence probably the confusion. Also note that the lay name for Pectus Excavatum is funnel chest, not flat chest.

For more info about Swimmer Puppies please read the following:
The Swimming Puppy Syndrome

by Henrietta Beaufait (Perkins)

Source: Current Therapy by Kirk D.V.M.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the South African Bulldog Club
No part of this article may be reproduced without the author's written permission.

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 syndrome.

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 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 that genetic factors may influence this syndrome, and the breeding of affected ambulatory animals should be discouraged.

Source : South African Bulldog Club

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Other Short Faced Dogs: Pug | French Bulldog | Boston Terrier
See also (external links):
Swimmer Puppies by Race Foster, DVM  and Marty Smith, DVM
Fading puppy and kitten syndrome: Do you know the signs? Veterinary Medicine NOVEMBER 2005. Not the same as the swimming puppy syndrome, but explains the difference between the swimming puppy syndrome and pectus excavatum.
Thoracic Issues in Neonatal Kittens. Note: The flat-chested syndrome is similar in kittens and puppies.