Puppies ideally need to stay with their mothers until they reach 12 weeks old. Separating your puppy from his mom before he's 6 weeks old not only may impact his health, but also his behavior later in life. In some areas, separating such a young pup is illegal.
A newborn puppy must feed from his mother to get the nutrition he needs from her milk. The little one doesn't begin the weaning process until he reaches between 3 and 4 weeks old. During this process, your pup begins to eat solid foods, while still nursing from his mother, although less frequently than he did as a newborn. Overall, the weaning process lasts around four weeks, meaning that your pooch won't be eating only solid foods until he reaches between 7 and 8 weeks old. Separating him from his mom before this time means that he won't get the proper nutrition he needs to thrive.
Taking away a puppy from his mother before he's 6 weeks old could be detrimental to his health. In a study published in the March 1993 issue of the "Journal of the South African Veterinary Association," pups separated from their mothers at 6 weeks of age were more susceptible to disease and had a higher mortality rate than those who stayed with their mothers until they reached 12 weeks old. The study also showed that taking the pups away from mom so early didn't make them any more apt to bond with humans than their older counterparts.
Your puppy learns all of his important social behaviors from both his mother and his siblings between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks, according to the Humane Society of the United States. During this time, both his mom and his siblings teach him about the social hierarchy rules for canines and how to interact with other dogs. Play fighting with his siblings helps him learn that biting is painful and discourages him from biting people and other pets later in life. If you take him away too early from his mom, he won't learn these skills that enable him to become a confident, relaxed adult.
Many states have laws in place that prevent the sale of puppies younger than 6 weeks old. There are 17 states that require a pup to be at least 8 weeks of age before you adopt him out and one state that specifies pups be at least 7 weeks of age, according to the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center. Some states, such as Nevada and Illinois, specify that you can't physically separate a puppy from his mom, even prior to sale, before he reaches 8 weeks old.
Of course, there are circumstances that may necessitate you to separate a puppy from his mother even if he's younger than 6 weeks old, namely a health issue with the pup or his mother. You also may find a young puppy who's been abandoned or rejected by his mom. If you can't find a canine surrogate mom to nurse and care for such a pup, hand feed him canine milk replacement formula and consult with your vet about his care.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Weaning
- Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center: Overview of Laws Restricting the Age of Puppies for Sale
- The Humane Society of the United States:
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Socializing Your Puppy
- Journal of the South African Veterinary Association: The Effect of Early Separation from the Mother on Pups in Bonding to Humans and Pup Health
- Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine: Nutrition of the Neonate/Orphaned Animal
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images