Tim Tam was a gorgeous 3-week old kitten when Paws in Motion were called in by his family vet to help with a developmental deformity noticed by his owners. Swimmer syndrome is seen occasionally in new-born puppies and kittens, where instead of their legs being positioned under the body, the back legs and sometimes the front legs are flattened and ‘splayed’ to the side. Any movements to try to walk look like the animal is swimming. In Tim Tam’s situation, all four of his legs were stuck out to the side making it impossible for him to walk and he also had some chest flattening, starting to affect his ability to breathe easily. You can see the ‘splayed legs’ in the picture above with Tim Tam (left), compared to his normal litter mate (right), looking more like a turtle than a kitten!
Swimmer syndrome usually only affects one of the little, often the largest in the litter and it is suggested to be caused by differences between development of the muscles and rapid growth in bodyweight. It appeared as though Tim Tam was drinking more than his fair share of mumma’s milk and was unable to develop the strength in his muscles to keep up with his body weight.
Fortunately, kittens’ bones are still soft and pliable at this young age, which was good news for Tim Tam as this meant that intense therapy could help to correct his problem and his owners were willing to put in the time and effort to help him.
Tim Tam needed to have his back legs placed and held together, so that he was positioned in the correct standing position, and this would also help to strengthen his muscles as he walked. We carefully applied stretchy bandages to hold his legs in position- which was not an easy task as Tim Tam’s legs were so tiny! It took several attempts to work out how best to bandage his little legs so that they were in the correct position, as well as making sure the bandage stayed on and wasn’t too tight. His owners were taught how to do some range of motion exercises in order to help correct develop his muscles, as well as some gentle quick squeezes around the chest to help reverse the chest flattening. This therapy needed to be done every 2 hours, alongside the bandaging, to have the best chance of improving Tim Tam.
After just one week, Tim Tam was progressing well and the bandage was helping to keep his legs in the correct position. By 2 weeks after starting physiotherapy, he was walking almost normally and no longer required any bandages. By 5 weeks after we met Tim Tam, he was walking well with his legs in the correct position, like a normal kitten!
Luckily for most puppies and kittens, Swimmer syndrome is uncommon. For Tim Tam, he was lucky to have such concerned owners who noticed his problem early, were able to seek expert advice and therapy and were committed to his recovery.
In 2020, Paws in Motion met Zola (Bellatrix), a French Bulldog at weeks old, who was displaying Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. Check out her rehabilitation video below.