Survival Secrets: How Your Puppy Can Live Longer?  
Who Stalked the Miniature Schnauzers?


Dr Kong Sing, BVMS, MRCVS
Convulsions, seizures, fits in this Miniature Schnauzer puppy."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 very smelly diarrhoea, "You keep half the income when the puppies are sold (as remuneration for  veterinary services)." 

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.

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.  In this case, the signs and symptoms especially the nervous signs of infection led to a likelihood of distemper virus as the main stalker of the puppies. 

Prior to 2003, there were 3 bigger breeding operations reporting mass puppy deaths in Singapore reported to me as anecdotes.  As much as $50,000 losses were reported by a breeder.

* One was attributed to parvoviral infections.  The Rottweiler puppies were growing up well and received their first vaccination. They died from "parvoviral" infections.

* The other two were said by the breeders to be due to dud vaccines.  This could not be substantiated as there were no investigations. 

Since 2003, vaccinations were done by some vets visiting the breeding farms and pet shops.  Breeders were well informed and educated in 2005. 

LINK Controversies and vaccination schedule for puppies in Singapore, from Toa Payoh Vets. 

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Readers who wish to share their experiences in infectious diseases, please email your information to  This educational article is sponsored by, "affordable homes for expatriates".  Pictures are 
Last updated: 11 Mar 2005.