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Focus: Small animals -dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, pet rats and mice, birds and turtles      
November 14, 2020



"If you can help these remaining 11 puppies, " Ms Too pursed her lips and wiped the tears off her face with her right hand.  "I will be eternally grateful to you."  She clasped the limp body of a Miniature Schnauzer puppy that had died after a short illness of high fever, runny nose and a very smelly diarrhoea, "You keep half the income when the puppies are sold."   

She had her own worries as her mother had been hospitalised at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital for high fever, muscle pain and difficulty in breathing. The doctor was not saying what was wrong. But the signs and symptoms resembled those mentioned in the newspapers' headlines.  A new frightening disease called "SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)" virus had infected some Singaporeans for the first time. She was worried about her son, a second-year of junior college who kept late nights with his friends almost every night.

Convulsions, seizures, fits in this Miniature Schnauzer puppy.A few of Ms Too's puppies died every week for the past 2 months. Could the deadly SARS virus affect puppies as well as people?  No such cases were reported in dogs. 

I had advised Ms Too to take the remaining puppies to a new place. To quarantine them far away from the breeding kennel.  But she asked me to ward them at my Surgery. That was not possible. I could not put them in my Veterinary Surgery as they would infect other dogs and puppies. 

Ms Too's breeding kennel had one or more infectious and contagious disease of dogs.  She had three hundred and fifty Schnauzers and the puppies were dying as they grew up to around 6 weeks of age.   

The Miniature Schnauzers puppies were normal before that. At around 5 weeks old, a few stopped eating.  Some were sleepy, lost weight, had runny nose with green discharge. Every 2-5 days, a puppy would die after fainting from fits or after passing pure red bloody or black smelly stools. 

The eleven puppies looked healthy when I visited the kennels. Bouncing balls of dynamo wanting to play.  They were kept with their 3 mothers in 3 cages just next to each other and had been weaned to eat dry puppy food.  It was a hopeless situation. It was none of my business.  Or was it?

"Doc, if it is not too much trouble, don't let them die in the kennels," an 18-year-old boy came out from the kennels. "The Miniature Schnauzers are being stalked by invisible killers. They might survive if you could take them to a new virus-free environment. It can't be your surgery as there are no isolation facilities. How about your house? I will help you take care of them."  I looked up at his young man who was one head taller than me.  This must be Ms Too's son.  He had inherited her hot lips and her genteel manners. 

"Do you really have time to help me since you are seldom at home?"  He was in junior college and most evenings he would put on his contact lens, gel his hair, put on his T-shirt with patterns and spend late nights out with his friends.  This was one of those rare occasions I saw him helping his mother.  
There was a need to isolate the puppies.  But there were no special isolation and intensive care facilities for so such situations in puppies.  Besides it would be prohibitively costly.   It was too costly for any breeder or veterinarian to implement the strict isolation and hygiene practices of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) practised at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital which was designated as the SARS hospital in Singapore to contain the spread of infection to all Singaporeans. 

Care-givers wore space-man like suits to attend to the infected people.

I housed them at home, in separate boxes with separate drinking and eating bowls.  Four puppies suddenly went into fits, eye white rolling up as if they were knocked in the head and suffered a coma. They died within 2 days after crying non-stop due to internal pain. These were probable nervous signs of the distemper viral infection. Others had green runny nose, passed smelly black stools, vomited and cried non-stop due to abdominal pain. They died. The parvoviral infection of the intestines were confirmed using test kits. The killers were invisible but extremely lethal and virulent viruses of puppies.  It was very traumatic to see young healthy puppies dying one by one over ten days. Only 3 puppies survived the 14 days. Two of them are shown in the picture here.

2 survivors from canine distemper viral infections in a breeding kennelMs Too could not remember whether the dams had been vaccinated or not. Or they had been given dud vaccines which would not be effective. No puppies were vaccinated before they were eight weeks old and in any case, there was no proper planning for vaccination of the breeding stock or puppies.

After the deaths of these puppies, the next batch of weaned puppies were kept in a distant area far away from the breeding kennels when they were six weeks old for the next 12 months.  The breeding stock were vaccinated. Two subsequent batches of four 6-week-old puppies vomited, had yellowish diarrhoea and died. These were the only losses and coronaviral infection was suspected.

Ms Too had no more mass deaths for the last 15 months.   She used the 9-in-one vaccines according to the vaccination schedule recommended below.
Distemper and parvovirus were the invisible killers of Ms Too's puppies. Coronaviruses might be present but there were no electronic microscopic facilities to confirm their presence in dogs in Singapore.

Unlike the human SARS virus, the distemper, parvoviral and coronavirus causing infectious diseases in puppies can easily and effectively be prevented just by vaccination. 
Hard foot pads, the later signs of distemper, were present in other older ones of puppies kept by Ms Too at her pet shop

The vaccination schedule is a guideline from Toa Payoh Vets

A top Singapore breeder knows how to rear vigorous and breed top quality Chihuahuas. Toa Payoh Vets, Singapore.Vaccinations are recommended for dogs at week 6, 10 and 12 and then yearly vaccinations.   Other veterinarians in Singapore will have their own recommendations.  Consult your veterinary surgeon as the disease situation may vary. 


Less than 1% of puppies vaccinated will have vaccine reactions which include face and eyelid swellings, vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy for around 2 days.  Death happens usually in not so healthy puppies or in severe reaction, but this is uncommon.  Always phone your vet when you notice the puppy behaving abnormally after vaccination.

Singapore's veterinary authority, unlike Hong Kong's, has the following regulations:

1.  Imported puppies must be 3 months old, must receive 2 vaccinations and must be imported 2 weeks after the 2nd vaccination.

2.  Although I have not received any regulatory letters, the pet shop operators in 2005, cannot display a puppy for sale unless they have got 2 vaccinations. 

3.  Vaccinations must be 4 weeks apart. This interval is commonly stated in vaccination cards of many veterinary surgeries in Singapore. However, 2 weeks' between vaccination is recommended by one vaccine manufacturer and some surgeries, including Toa Payoh Vets, do recommend 2 weekly for the first 3 vaccinations.

4.  I note that an Australian veterinarian who vaccinates puppies imported into Singapore, recommend the 3rd vaccination to be 6 weeks after the second.  There is one veterinary practice which adopts such a recommendation. One pet shop in Sengkang told its client that the 3rd vaccination can be as long as 6 months (I received a phone call from the dog owner on May 16, 2005) despite the fact that my vaccination card stated 2 weeks later.  
A dry hacking cough in new puppies. Owners can't sleep esp. at night.
So, you can see, there is much confusion and controversies in Singapore and all over the doggy world.  


Regarding yearly vaccinations, there are some controversies about the need for vaccination boosters and the type of diseases to be vaccinated against in the U.S. Much information on the controversies have been published in doggy magazines and books and on the numerous websites.

There are veterinarians in the U.S who recommend no more vaccinations after the first yearly booster because the dog or cat is protected for life when modified live viral vaccines (MLV) are used. 

A 3-yearly vaccination booster has been recommended by a veterinary association provided the vaccine used is a MLV. The association stated that there is live-long immunity if MLV vaccines are used, but as a compromise, 3-yearly vaccination is recommended. Some dog book authors then recommend 3-yearly vaccination in their books. Not all American or British vets adopt this 3-yearly recommendation.  

One vaccine importer showed me the literature for a "new" vaccine in May 2005 he had been asked to import. He said, "Doc, bad luck to you! You will have less business now since the dog owner does not need to vaccinate yearly with this 3-yearly vaccine."

When I read the literature to him, he saw that the deadly parvovirus was NOT recommended in this combined vaccine literature. It applies only to distemper.  So, if you don't read the FINE PRINT, you will think that there is a 3-yearly vaccine available for ALL dog viruses.

There are other viruses like parvoviruses which are not in the 3-yearly recommendation, but the confusion is created by such recommendations. One confusion is: Owners ask why there is a need to recommend booster vaccination every 3 years when there is a life-long immunity after the first yearly booster vaccination? 

There are vets who recommend yearly vaccination only against distemper and parvovirus but not leptospirosis.   Some vets don't recommend coronavirus (to save money for owners) and kennel cough
Siberian Husky imported with 2 vaccinations tested positive for parvoviral infection. Will it survive?vaccinations in adult dogs.  Some do. A vet on the website recommended only two vaccinations and no more, showing that his dog was still healthy for many years although it accompanied him to the veterinary surgery (in the U.S) daily. Some internet forums recommend that blood tests be carried out and if the dog has no antibody levels to the diseases, then it should be vaccinated. 

It is not possible nor cheap to test the dog for antibodies against diseases in Singapore. It is not possible to just get only distemper or parvoviral vaccines. 

Combined vaccines
are the ones approved for use in Singapore. They include the diseases of distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis and coronavirus. They are presented in  6-in-one (excluding coronavirus),  8-in-one (excluding coronavirus) or 9-in-one (including coronavirus).

Rabies vaccination is not permitted in Singapore-born dogs as Singapore is rabies free.  Lyme disease vaccination is not done in Singapore.

For the ordinary dog owner, the controversies and the technical aspects confuse them. For example, only 30% of the puppies at 6 weeks of age need vaccination against distemper and parvovirus as they don't have maternal antibodies.  70% will have maternal antibodies which will make vaccination ineffective.  Therefore, some vets recommend vaccination at 8 weeks of age as more puppies at this age will need to have vaccination.  Some vets recommend that breeders should not vaccinate their puppies at the veterinary practices because they get the puppies infected with parvovirus from the veterinary practice.  A puppy importer advised buyers that two vaccinations were sufficient according to the veterinary authority.  Since the puppies received two vaccinations in Australia, they did not need any more vaccination.  


Much depends on the presence of diseases in the country, money and priority for research to be done in checking on how long the dog will be protected against the serious viral diseases. Whether your dog will be exposed to other dogs, e.g. in veterinary practices, boarding kennels, dog parks and grooming centres.  It is too expensive to check for antibody levels in dogs to determine whether the dogs are protected against the various viral diseases before vaccination is recommended.

Therefore, each owner has to decide for themselves as to whether they should adopt the three vaccinations for their puppies at week 6, 8, and 10 or week 6, 10 and 14 and then the annual vaccination booster to protect their dogs against viral diseases. 

Golden Retriever much loved by this talkative boy but encouraged to bite through playing. Toa Payoh Vets.
As it not cheap to bring in single vaccines and most dog owners don't want to pay for such vaccines, combined vaccines are used in Singapore.  Therefore, it is not practical to use vaccines to protect against parvovirus, distemper or coronavrius only.   

Vaccines are effective in preventing the deadly distemper and parvoviral diseases which are still present in modern Singapore. 

Shop around to get the least cost. Be well informed and read up. Consult your vet. 

Develop a healthy, respectful relationship with your vet. Try not to doctor hop but you may need to get a second or third opinion. 

In the end, your vet is your best friend's friend. You are number 1 to him or her. But an excellent relationship with your veterinarian results in a happy and trustworthy situation for you and your pet. 


Vaccinate puppies at week  6, 8 & 10.  Before estrus (female). 12-monthly for others. 9-in-one & Kennel Cough vaccination important.

Pet shops
Vaccinate imported/unvaccinated puppies on arrival, 2 weeks later and 2 weeks later.  9-in-one & Kennel Cough vaccination advised.

Dog owners
Vaccinate at week 6, 8 & 10, then yearly vaccination. 9-in-one & Kennel Cough vaccination advised. Kennel Cough vaccination 2 weeks before boarding if not vaccinated.

Orphan puppies that have no opportunity to suckle colostrum will need to be kept away from other dogs while they are growing up.  Colostrum is the milk produced by the dam in the first 48 hours of birth. It contains antibodies against dog diseases if the mothers have been vaccinated or have exposure to the diseases.

Kennel cough in new puppies. Toa Payoh Vets

As at May 2020,  Singapore does not have approved vaccines for puppies younger than six weeks of age.

Disease protection:  Some vaccines available for dogs in Singapore.

1.  Leptospira vaccine.

2. Parainfluenza vaccine.

3.   8-in-one (Distemper, adenovirus, para-influenza, parvovirus, leptospirosis x 4 serotypes).

4.   9- in-1 (8-in-one+Coronavirus).

5.   Kennel Cough vaccination is given separately. KENNEL COUGH VACCINES are recommended for breeders, pet shop operators and pet owners 2 weeks before boarding in places with many dogs.

6.   Rabies is permitted in Singapore resident dogs.

Consult your veterinarian as the disease situation may be vary in your situation.

Maternal antibodies in the colostrum usually protects the puppies for the first few weeks of life.

At the age of week 6, around 25% of the puppies would be unprotected, assuming that all had received antibodies from the mother via drinking milk in the first few days after birth.
Good looking 6-week-old Labrador Retrievers. toa payoh vets
By week 12, almost 100% of the puppies would be killed off by the viruses as their maternal antibodies no longer exist to protect them. It takes about 14 days to provide full protection.

Puppies infected by viruses before vaccination will NOT be protected when vaccinated.  A very small percentage of puppies do not produce antibodies even though they are vaccinated.


9-in-one and Kennel Cough.  Rabies for dogs for export, but are permitted in Singapore resident dogs .

Article contributed by: Dr Sing Kong Yuen, Veterinary Surgeon, Toa Payoh Vets.

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