What is Swimmer Syndrome in Cats?


If you notice that a kitten begins to assume a different body posture with laterally splayed hind legs, he may be in the beginning stages of a condition that is called Swimmer Syndrome. It’s a problem that can occur in young cats and dogs, and unfortunately, many kittens that are diagnosed with the issue are euthanized. Not all animals born with Swimmer Syndrome should be euthanized. It is a condition that is treatable if caught early. Here is everything you need to know about Swimmer Syndrome in cats, and what you should do if you suspect it in a young kitten.

What is Swimmer Syndrome in cats?

Kittenlady explains that this condition is congenital and it usually presents itself in young kittens who are usually born with it or develop symptoms within three weeks of birth. Signs of Swimmer Syndrome are hind legs that splay outward in a lateral fashion that makes the kitten look like a frog. The hips of the kitten may jut out to the side of its body and its feet may appear to face sideways instead of tucking neatly under the body. The tragedy of this condition is that if it is left untreated, kittens will either find it hard to walk, or they will not be able to stand on their hind legs. It has a detrimental impact on mobility.

The causes of Swimmer Syndrome in cats

Researchers have studied Swimmer Syndrome to try to understand more about this horrific condition. The causes of the condition are still not known, however, it is believed to be a genetic issue. Some cats have given birth to more than one kitten with splayed limbs. Researchers suspect that some type of defect in genetic makeup causes Swimmer Syndrome, and they further theorize that poo diet in the mother cat can further contribute to the likelihood of kittens born with the disorder, but at this time, there has not been enough evidence to say one way or the other for certain. More research needs to be done.

How is Swimmer Syndrome diagnosed?

There has not yet been an official diagnostic test to confirm Swimmer Syndrome. Veterinary health care professionals rely on visual observation of the kittens to make a diagnosis. If the limbs are splayed or if the joints in the hips are loose, a diagnosis is made with recommendations for the best course of action to follow.

Is Swimmers Syndrome treatable?

While a diagnosis of Swimmer’s Syndrome is bad news, it isn’t always a death sentence. This is a condition that can be treated when caught in the early stages, and the earlier, the better. Treatment consists of physical therapy for the kitten. The diagnosis cannot be confirmed until a kitten is about 3 weeks old because kittens tend to splay their legs until they get a little bigger. At age 3 weeks, muscle development should provide the kittens with the stability to start to walk. It is at this stage that outward pointed feet indicate the likelihood of Swimmer Syndrome. It is critical to apply interventions early while the kitten’s body is still growing and developing. Veterinary medicine has come a long way in addressing such conditions. A caregiver can help to position the kitten’s body in the proper form and help teach the kitten to walk and to strengthen its muscles, building mass and leading to the proper development. It is a time-consuming process initially, but it doesn’t take long for kittens with early diagnosis to learn how to walk and take over the task of growing strong and healthy.

Other types of Swimmer Syndrome in cats

Bombadillo points out that there are a few different presentations of Swimmer Syndrome in cats. While the most common type affects the hind legs, it can also be seen with issues in all four legs or just the front legs. Here are the distinctions between the three types.

Four legs

This type of Swimmer syndrome is diagnosed with symptoms of Swimmer Syndrome is seen in all four legs. The condition is most often associated with another condition called Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome. it is a highly treatable condition if caught early.

Front legs

Swimmer Syndrome affecting just the front legs is a condition that is also associated with Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome. Like the other types, it is treatable if caught early.

Hind legs

Swimmer syndrome may affect only the back legs. This type, unlike the other two, is not usually associated with Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome. If caught early, it is highly treatable.

Is it more merciful to euthanize a kitten with Swimmer Syndrome?

If left untreated, Swimmer Syndrome can render a kitten immobile. It would not be able to fend for itself and would likely succumb to a predator or starvation. In cases where there is no help given, sometimes, euthanization is a more merciful response. If caught early, there is no reason to euthanize an otherwise healthy kitten. If you can take a few hours of your time each day to help the kitten assume the proper body positioning, build his muscle mass, and learn how to walk, you can help him to grow up to be a normal and healthy cat with little or no mobility issues. The key is catching it early and intervening. Treatments are the most successful when started around 3 weeks of age.

Final thoughts

Swimmer Syndrome in cats is a tragic congenital condition that can make it hard or impossible for a kitten to walk. When you first notice any sign of splayed front or hind limbs, it’s advised to take the kitten to a veterinarian for diagnosis. Even if your vet recommends euthanasia, which some will, it is worth taking the time and effort to help each kitten how to properly stand, and learn to walk. Your intervention at the early stages may help to save his life and allow him to go on to live a normal and happy life.

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