Before we continue with the theme concerning puppy ailments, from the birth of the newborn until the pup is about 6-8 weeks old, please allow me to thank the staff of SUNDAY TIMES, who ensure that the Pet Care text is embellished with appropriate photographs that relate to the subject matter of the relevant week. Readers of the column, especially those who earnestly and enthusiastically collect the weekly advice on “Pet Care” in files and folders for future use and reference, have mentioned to me how gratified they are that the column’s optics encourage them not only with the desire to read the accompanying text, but also helps in the understanding of the thrust of the article. For example, a few weeks ago (“PET CARE” – January 21, 2024), the message associated with the choices of keeping the dog in the house or the kennel was poignantly ensured by pictures that spoke a thousand words. On behalf of all those “Pet Care” fans, allow me to congratulate the staff of “Sunday Times” for enhancing the quality of the column with their choice of photographs.

Let us now continue with the ailments newborn
puppies could exhibit
THE “SWIMMER” SYNDROME (aka: The Flat Puppy Syndrome)
I have chosen to deal with this ailment in newborn puppies primarily because, in the space of two weeks, two cases were presented in the clinic. The Flat Puppy Syndrome is not very common, but occurs often enough for me to write about it.
Under normal conditions, puppies begin to stand and wobble around (unsurely at first) when they are about two weeks of age. With each passing day, they become more active, and the gait becomes steadier. On some occasions, this sequence of events does not take place: The pup does not stand; the puppy’s hind legs remain sprawled (‘Flat puppy’), and the pup drags itself forward using the front legs. Sometimes, all the legs (front and hind) are sprawled away from the animal’s body.
When I am confronted with such an abnormality, the first question I ask is whether the parents of the puppy are related. The reason for this question is simple: The ‘flat puppy’ can be the result of hereditary problems (products of incest). If both mother and father are carrying the genes (without themselves exhibiting the condition), then it is highly likely that these genetic deficiencies would combine and be passed on to the offspring, resulting in the pup’s sprawled legs (both hind legs and front legs can be affected).
Other factors can influence the development of ‘swimmer’ syndrome. Overweight puppies, whose legs cannot take the strain of the obesity, would have difficulty walking. The legs sprawl away from the body as they waddle forward (‘swimmer’).
Slippery floors (tiled, highly polished), that do not allow a firm grip of the paws, would assist in development of the deformity, and otherwise predispose to the injury. It is for this reason that I always advocate that, as puppies learn to walk, they must be placed on surfaces that are non-slippery and which provide good traction. Walking on lawns or on outdoor carpeting would help.

Once one has established that we are dealing with a genetic problem, and the condition is not likely to be treatable, the decision should be to euthanize the puppy. We should not allow this genetic deficiency to perpetuate itself from litter to litter. The animal would hardly ever recover fully, and it is quite agonizing to see a puppy crawling around on its belly. If several pups in the same litter are suffering from this ailment, it might be necessary to euthanize them all. Of course, this is a hard call to make. No owner wants to carry out such an act. However, you also do not wish to be the perpetuator of an agonizing defect.
In terms of a real attempt to rectify the situation and rehabilitate the pups, one can assist them to stand and walk. This you must do several times daily (five times daily and more). If the pups are sleeping on their bellies, one should gently roll them over on their sides. In other words, you are trying to get them in the habit of sleeping on their sides.
Some vets, myself included, have had some limited success in strapping the legs. A hobble is made from tape placed elbow-to-elbow (front legs) and thigh-to-thigh (hind legs). If the ‘swimmer’ syndrome originated from a slip on a smooth floor (in other words, a non-genetic predisposition), then the taping of the legs could lead to a complete recovery. You should allow your vet to assist you with advice on how to proceed with the handling of this ailment.
Next week, we shall discuss the problems associated with skin lesions in young puppies.