The legality of selling a puppy younger than 8 weeks old depends on breeder's state or city laws. Even in areas where it is legal, buying or selling a puppy before he has reached the 8-week mark is generally not a good idea for a wide range of reasons.
Sixteen states require that puppies be at least 8 weeks old before being sold, and one, Virginia, requires that puppies for sale be at least 7 weeks old. Some states mandate that a puppy be fully weaned before being sold, which may occur later than 8 weeks for some pups. The specific laws also vary in who is affected, with some states issuing a blanket prohibition and others focusing their laws on breeders or kennels but exempting individual pet owners or cases of no-cost adoptions. In most cases, the punishment for breaking the law is a small fine or short jail term.
One major reason for preventing the sale of puppies under 8 weeks old is that this is around the age when a puppy is fully weaned. Separating a puppy from its mother before weaning is concluded can make the puppy more prone to illness and long-term health problems. Weaning typically begins at around 3 to 5 weeks old and takes a few weeks to complete. Toy breeds may take longer to wean, so they may need to stay with their mothers for up to 10 to 12 weeks.
A puppy who is removed from his mother and siblings before he reaches 8 to 12 weeks of age may not be properly socialized yet. Some behaviors, such as refraining from biting, cannot be properly taught by humans, so a puppy must learn them from his mother and littermates. Puppies separated from their mothers and other puppies too early may have poor physical coordination and social skills.
Puppies who are abandoned or turned in to animal shelters when they are younger than 8 weeks old are typically exempt from laws that restrict the age at which a puppy can be adopted. If you find or adopt a newborn or very young puppy, you will have to bottle feed him with a puppy milk replacer and must provide a temperature-regulated sleeping area until he is able to regulate his own body temperature. Socialization with other dogs and humans is also important during early puppyhood. Work closely with a vet to give your adopted orphan proper care.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.