Swimmer kittens have a muscular or tendon/ligament deficiency which causes their back legs to splay out and they cannot bring the legs under the body to lift the body into position. It is called ‘swimmer’ because the kittens get around by using a swimming motion with their legs to scuff around instead of standing up properly. Sometimes people worry that the hips are dislocated, but this is not usually the case (a cat’s hip joints are naturally very flexible), this is simply a looseness in the muscles and tendons, and educating the legs to stay in the right position with physiotherapy and taping as described below will fix the problem very quickly.
This is an e-mail sent to me by Dave and Liz, who sorted out the swimmer problem independently of the flat chest. This information is reproduced with their permission, and I'm very grateful for the insight it provides into this particular condition.
Pogle was born with 'swimmer kitten' syndrome she also has FCKS (flat chested kitten syndrome). We took her to the vets who examined her chest and could not find any immediate respiratory problems but they recommended euthanasia as they thought she may have future problems both with her chest and her legs.
Pogle was one of a litter of three - the other two kittens did not survive and we had become very attached to her so we decided not to make a decision immediately but to see how she went on over the next few weeks. We searched on the internet for both conditions and discovered that cats with FCKS that is not too severe can live perfectly normal lives. Swimmer kittens have also been treated with some success. A vet at the practice was good enough to send us some information on 'swimmer kittens' that they had found which recommended binding the kittens back legs together and performing daily physio.
We took her back to the vets and were shown how to bind the legs using surgical tape (micropore).
At first we taped the legs a little too closely together and the kitten had difficulty balancing - we then tried the legs slightly further apart and the kitten seemed to tolerate this much better and was able to get about quite well. With the tape around her legs, the kitten took little steps whilst walking slowly but moved both legs together when she ran.
The tape would last for about 30 hours before the kitten managed to pull it off. After the first 30 hours there was already a vast improvement. For most of the time she was walking with her legs tucked under her with just the odd instance of reverting back to 'swimming'.
We kept the tape on for about a week and she is now walking and running fairly normally and is a playful 'normal' kitten. Whether Pogle will have future respiratory problems only time will tell but for the moment she is a delight to have around and we are really glad that we decided not to follow the vet's initial advice.