We had a case last week that highlighted the problem with adopting or buying puppies or kittens before they are ready.
Here is a basic timeline of some important puppy and kitten milestones you should be aware of:
4 week old puppies and kittens
Most puppies and kittens can begin weaning if absolutely necessary, ie: encouraged to eat commercial food and not mother’s milk. Survival may be a challenge at this age, if separated from the mother, especially in dogs who weigh under a pound or two.
6 week old puppies and kittens
Most puppies and kittens can be weaned. Smaller breed dogs are still at risk for life threatening hypoglycemia, and require constant feeding, maintenance, and monitoring by either the breeder or the new owner. Vaccines at your friendly neighborhood veterinary clinic, begin at 6 weeks.
8 week old puppies and kittens
All puppies and kittens should be weaned by this age. Puppies born without litter mates can be separated (cautiously) from the mother, if the new owner is willing to monitor food intake and understands that critical socializing behaviors will not be learned by litter mates, perhaps necessitating additional training later on. Or, at the very least, intensive socializing with other dogs not from the same litter (ie: puppy kindergarten).
NOTE FROM THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF INDIANAPOLIS: “This gets a bit tricky for us to answer, because we tend to get puppies who are surrendered, transferred in, or even abandoned on our property. These puppies don’t usually have a mom at that point, or even know litter mates. So, we often receive puppies at our facility who simply don’t have the option of staying with their mom until 12 weeks. So we wanted to point out the difference. If people are getting puppies from breeders, who have the option of staying with their mom until 12 weeks, that works well. But, we don’t always have that option at IndyHumane and for the sake of our puppies, we want them in and out of the shelter as fast as possible after being spayed/neutered, which may mean they are 8-9 weeks old.”
Between 10-12 weeks…
Puppies learn bite inhibition, which is to know how hard they can bite another dog (or human!) without causing pain. Puppies of this age also learn general socialization from litter mates and from the mother dog. This training is essential to proper socializing. Humans are far less effective than other dogs, at teaching bite inhibition and inter-dog socialization.
Human socializing, getting the pup adjusted to meeting new people, is equally effective at 8 weeks or 12 weeks, so that should not impact your decision when to adopt.
If you get a dog that is younger than 12 weeks old, it is critically important that you socialize your new puppy to others of the same age, to learn some of these important social behaviors. Check with your local humane society for training classes that might allow “puppy kindergarten” classes of dogs under 12 weeks.
16+ week old puppies and kittens
If the breeder or shelter/rescue puts in an exceptional effort to socialize the pups, taken them places, crate trained, taken them to a licensed veterinarian for vaccines, stool tests, heartworm and parasite protection, leash trained and house trained them – then these older pups may well be the ABSOLUTE best – especially for a busy family! The critical point here is that dogs who are three or four months old and well socialized to litter mates must now be actively socialized to humans and new environments.
Any older puppy, or really a dog of any age, can bond with a new person or family who loves and cares for them. It is clear that most adult dogs socialize into new homes after an adjustment period; the same logic applies to these puppies older than about four months.
The ideal age to get a new puppy or kitten is…
It should be clear by now, that the ideal age to buy a new puppy from a breeder is when they are at least 12 weeks old. By then, the puppy will be socialized to litter mates, weaned off mother’s milk, have a very low risk of hypoglycemia, and be ready to socialize into your new home.
Or if you’re adopting from your local humane society, 8 weeks old plus immediate enrollment in your nearest puppy kindergarten class.
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