What a week it has been for Fruitcake! He is making great progress. A week ago, I took him to the vet because he couldn’t sit, stand, or walk. Whenever he tried, his hind legs did a split and flailed around helplessly like flippers. The vet told me what I’d already guessed(thanks to google) – he most likely had Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. Luckily, he only has it in his hind legs, many pups have it in all four.
She encouraged me to try to make a sling to support his body and allow his legs to get under him. She also said that just moving his legs into the proper position as much as possible would help. We needed to build muscle and reinforce his muscle memory. She told me that we might also consider putting hobbles on his hind legs by tying the legs together so they couldn’t slip out sideways. And then she said, “Because of his deformed feet (he has six toes on each back foot), there might be something else going on in there. We’ll just have to wait and see and maybe take xrays when he’s older.”
I went home with my mind spinning. How could I fix this? I set Fruitcake down in the puppy box with his siblings and watched him flatten out like a pancake, with his hind legs out to the side and his stomach spread across the floor. I don’t think a normal puppy could put their legs in that position even if it wanted to, so maybe there was another way of looking at this. Maybe we could say that Fruitcake is very special – he has six toes on his hind feet and he can do a split! With those big boots and flexible legs, certainly he could learn to walk.
I spent a good portion of Friday night and Saturday morning sitting in his box repositioning his feet underneath him again and again and then holding my hands on either side of him to keep them from slipping sideways. By Saturday evening he was sitting up on his own. I decided this was HUGE progress. But what else could I do?
Here’s a video of Fruitcake after he mastered sitting up.
I wrapped a scarf under his belly as a sling and held him up so that he could get his feet underneath himself. This was awkward and he spent as much time wriggling sideways to chew on the scarf as he did standing up. Again and again he squirmed and then his top heavy front end slid forward and he landed on his nose.
I took to the internet looking for more ideas and posted on the OPH family page to see if anybody else had ever had a swimmer pup. Ideas and sympathy flowed. The hobbles seemed like the best plan, but even with the vet’s instruction and the internet photos, I couldn’t figure out how to make hobbles out of vet rap and put them on my squirming puppy. Each time I attempted, Fruitcake screamed and fussed and Estelle grew frantic.
I texted my neighbors and Chris, who is also my vet, stopped by after work and brought tape and showed me how to make hobbles for Fruitcake.
With the hobbles on, Fruitcake could stand and do a slow wobbly waddle across the box before spending the rest of his time trying to figure out how to get the hobbles off . Now I put hobbles on him in the morning and he is upright and easily able to tackle his siblings or wrestle a toy before successfully getting them off about mid-afternoon. I do think they will be key in his therapy.
The same day that Chris came with the hobbles, another OPH foster, Debbie, sent me a link to an article about bulldog puppies with swimmer syndrome. The breeder had built a chute that was just wide enough that the puppies could brace their legs against the sides and walk! It was amazing. I showed the article to Nick and he built a chute for Fruitcake. The first time we put him in it, Fruitcake was uncertain. He was cranky and complained about the confinement. Finally, he simply lay down and slept.
The next time, I put him in the chute he walked the entire length of it—his tail wagging and a look on his face that said, “Wow! Look at me!” Back and forth, up and down the chute he went. Soon my knees were hurting from crawling beside him as I followed him to one end of the chute and then turned him around and followed him back.
This therapy was going to work! The only problem was that I have work commitments, children that have these unreasonable expectations of being fed, horses who won’t clean their own stalls, and a husband headed out of town for a few weeks. Not to mention my knees could only take so much crawling around on the floor. What I needed was help.
Lots of people had offered to come help with Fruitcake’s physical therapy, but I worried that volunteers would become discouraged if they showed up and Fruitcake wasn’t in the mood for therapy. What if they came all the way out here and Fruitcake refused to cooperate? I put out a conditional plea for help. I warned potential therapists that sometimes the patient was more inclined to nap than work. I also issued a disclaimer that my house wouldn’t necessarily be company-ready when they arrived, but if they could stand the mess and the possibly uncooperative patient, I’d welcome their help.
Tanis was the first to show up. She cheered Fruitcake on as she helped him make multiple laps of his chute before collapsing in what she termed a “fruitcake puddle.” After that she offered to spend a little time with his neglected littermates which was wonderful for them (and for my guilt since Fruitcake eats up most of my attention).
Lots of other therapists have followed. My knees are extremely grateful for the help and Fruitcake is making real progress. Even without his hobbles or chute, he can now stand briefly and he can get his belly off the ground more so he makes better forward progress even when he’s swimming. All the time in his chute has taught him that he can walk and he gets frustrated when he tries to walk in the puppy box and can’t. Sometimes he’ll sit up in a huff and paw at the air and whine. He knows he should be able to walk and doesn’t understand why his legs aren’t cooperating.
Yesterday, Nick built a new chute for Fruitcake with taller walls so he won’t climb over the sides and abandon therapy when he gets fed up. This one is a square so he doesn’t have to be turned around each time he makes it to the end of the chute.
This afternoon we moved the puppies out of their box and into the puppy room. We’ve covered the floor with yoga mats donated from friends. The mats will give Fruitcake a non-slip floor which will help as he begins walking on his own. They also make it extremely colorful! Nick calls it the Romper Room.
Fuzzy little fruitcake is a fabulously cute patient who has quickly stolen the heart of each therapist who shows up, so hopefully they will keep coming back. I have no doubt that we will soon have this puppy walking on his own thanks to “Team Fruitcake.”
If you’d like to see regular updates of Fruitcake’s progress, plus pictures of foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.
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