Swimmer Syndrome in Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) Cubs: A Series of Four Cases
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2019
John M. Sykes IV1, DVM, DACZM; Jenessa Gjeltema2,3, DVM, DACZM; Anne Rivas1,4, DVM; Ray Wack2,3, DVM, DACZM; Victoria L. Clyde5, DVM; Christy L. Rettenmund5, DVM, DACZM; Sean Brady6, DVM; Denis J. Marcellin-Little7, DEDV; Erika Gebhard6, DVM; Leilani Alvarez8, DVM, DACVSMR
1Wildlife Conservation Society, Zoological Health Program, Bronx, NY, USA; 2Department of Veterinary Medicine and Epidemiology and the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA, USA; 3Sacramento Zoo, Sacramento, CA, USA; 4Current address: Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham, AL, USA; 5Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI, USA; 6San Francisco Zoo and Gardens, San Francisco, CA, USA; 7School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA, USA; 8Animal Medical Center, New York, NY, USA


Swimmer syndrome1 was diagnosed in four (two male, two female) snow leopard (Panthera uncia) cubs. Litter size ranged from one to two, but two of the twin cubs died at 2–3 days of age, resulting in a rearing litter size of one for three cases. Age at diagnosis was 14 to 35 days. Clinical signs included splayed rear legs (4/4 cases), superficial abrasions (4/4), dorsoventrally flattened thorax (3/4), tarsal rotation (3/4), and splayed front legs (1/4). Two cubs also had bilateral eyelid colobomas. One cub developed a respiratory infection suspected to be a consequence of the abnormal chest conformation. All four cubs were mother-reared and received rehabilitation therapy 1–4 times per day. Three animals were removed from the dam, treated, and returned after each session; one animal was removed from the dam in the AM and returned the late PM. Therapy included use of corrective devices (hobbles, shoes, or splints; 4/4), encouraged activity on varied substrate (4/4), joint compressions/standing with support (3/4), walking with support/sling (3/4), tunnel/chute walking (3/4), range of motion and massage (2/4), and toe pinch/withdrawal exercises (1/4). Length of treatment was 52 to 88 days (ages 73–123 days). All cubs were ultimately able to walk unassisted, though three had mild abnormalities persist (rear leg lameness, rotated pelvic limbs, abducted pelvic limbs, and lax coxofemoral joints). Predisposing factors may have included slick flooring and a heavy body condition. This severe condition may be corrected with intensive care and cubs may be left with the dam for rearing.


The authors thank Kristen Luginbill, DVM, for rehabilitation therapy recommendations.

Literature Cited

1.  Nájera F, Brown J, Kaufman K, Schwartz R, Goodrowe K, Asaithanmakul W, Aitken-Palmer C, Kongprom U, Wildt DE, Bush M. Swimmer syndrome in a clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) cub. J Zoo Wildl Med. 2014;45:386–388.


Speaker Information
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John M. Sykes, IV, DVM, DACZM
Wildlife Conservation Society
Zoological Health Program
Bronx, NY, USA

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