Before you rush out to buy your perfect puppy, please be aware that there is guideline age for when a puppy is ready to be sold. This isn’t just from a legal point of view, but also what’s right from an ethical perspective. In this blog I will explain below what the laws are in both the US and UK for selling puppies.
This should also serve as a handy guide if you are a first-time breeder and don’t know what the legal age to sell puppies is. Here’s the short answer first, followed by some essential information anybody selling or buying a puppy should know.
When can puppies be sold? In most US states puppies can be sold from 8 weeks of age, although it’s 7 weeks in some places. In the UK you can’t buy a puppy until they are 8 weeks old, or 12 weeks of age in Scotland. Always check local laws.
I’ve detailed local laws further down the page so you can see what the differences are from US state to state. It also includes a section about how weaning is often more important than the age of the puppy being sold. This has the puppy’s best interests at heart rather than how old they are.
At what age is a puppy ready to be sold?
If a puppy is separated from their mother too early, it can lead to developmental issues. Beyond that, it can be straight-up illegal to buy a puppy that hasn’t been appropriately weaned from their mother.
So, whilst there are age limits in place around the world, breeders should really only sell a puppy once it is fully weaned from the mother – in other words, be able to have independence.
However, the easiest ways for countries and states to put laws in place is to put ages at which puppies can be sold instead.
That means in most cases, puppies are ready to be sold between the ages of 6 to 15 weeks old. In truth, I think 6 weeks is far too young, but the law will depend on where you are in the world and where you are buying from.
Below I will break down the conditions to this rule, what can happen if a puppy is separated too young and some other things to watch out for when you are looking for the right age to sell a puppy or buy one.
What is the legal age to sell puppies?
Of course, laws change from country to country, state to state, so it’s important you verify the rules in your locality to get this right from a legal and ethical standpoint.
Where possible I have linked to trusted sources so you can refer to the specific rules wherever you are.
What is the legal age to sell puppies in the United States?
As you know, the law for when puppies can be sold in the US can be complex because everything varies from state to state.
There is no nationwide rule on the sale of puppies, and some states like Delaware, Idaho, and Iowa don’t even have laws regarding the age puppies should be before being sold.
According to the Animal Legal & Historical Center, 27 states have fixed age laws pertaining to the sale of puppies.
In most states, the legal age to sell puppies us 8 weeks old. This is the absolute youngest a puppy should be separated from their mother. Many states also put in a clause that the dog should also be weaned before leaving their mother’s side. (I will define weaning in a later section).
In Maine, Wisconsin, and Virginia, you can legally sell a puppy at 7 weeks old.
Washington D.C goes the youngest, allowing you to sell a puppy at 6 weeks old legally if you so choose.
Handy Hint: I recommend you take a look at this table of state laws drawn up by the Animal Legal & Historical Center to see the exact law wherever you are in the United States.
What is the legal age to sell puppies in the UK?
The UK also has varying laws for when puppies can be sold depending on the country you are in. For example, the legal age to sell puppies in the England, Wales, and Northern Ireland parts of the UK is 8 weeks old.
However, in the north of the UK, Scotland has different legislation. You cannot sell a puppy until they are 12 weeks old at a minimum.
The law regarding ages of puppies bought from overseas
Generally, it is not a great idea to buy a puppy overseas. Why?
Well, breeding standards differ greatly from country to country. Licenses may not be procured from the proper channels and it is harder to do background checks on breeders if you are not local to the country.
Having said that, if you choose to buy a dog abroad, what age should a puppy be before you bring them back to your home country?
The standard is at least 15 weeks and fully weaned from their mother.
Your home country may also require the following before they are permitted to cross borders:
- That the puppy is vaccinated against rabies.
- That the puppy is microchipped.
- That they have begun worming treatments.
- That they have a passport.
- That they are quarantined before traveling.
Why is it illegal to sell puppies before 8 weeks?
There are very good reasons why you can’t buy a puppy younger than 8 weeks old in many countries and states. It’s all down to weaning which I touched upon earlier.
Okay so let’s define weaning.
“Weaning is the process of gradually transitioning a puppy’s diet from their mother’s milk to solid food. It is an important part of your puppy’s development. When your puppy weans, it means they will no longer rely on their mother’s milk for all their nourishment.”
Professional breeders typically start the weaning process after their puppies are 3 to 4 weeks of age.
The idea is that the puppy is eating 100% solid food by the time they are 7 or 8 weeks old.
But like all things, the individual dog can take to the process differently… which is why the age of a dog is not always the best barometer to when puppies can be sold.
Most dogs will stop weaning by the end of their 8-week birthday, but some can take faster or longer than that.
If there were complications with the birth, the puppy may need more time. The breeder should be proficient and compassionate enough to allow the process to happen as naturally as possible.
What happens if a puppy is sold before being weaned?
The first couple of weeks of a puppy’s life is crucial to their development, very much like the early months of a human baby’s life.
The time spent with their brothers and sisters is their first interaction with other dogs. They learn canine communication. They learn how to play effectively. They also learn good manners from mama bear in these early stages.
If you take a puppy away from their mother before they are fully weaned, you may face behavioral, mental, and psychological issues.
These puppies are therefore much harder to train.
The bottom line is it’s cruel if they have not been weaned.
Is it cruel to remove a puppy from their mother before 8 weeks?
However, if the puppy has been fully weaned and is fit and healthy, it isn’t cruel to take them away at 8 weeks of age.
We often think that because dogs are so tiny when they are born that they aren’t as developed. The truth is humans just age super slowly!
You can’t measure the 8 weeks of a dog’s life the same way you measure a human baby ages. Dogs age much faster than us.
For context, vets commonly agree that a one-year-old dog is the same developmentally as a fifteen-year-old human.
So, imagine how speedily they are growing in puppyhood! You need not worry that it is too soon. As long as you are caring for your new puppy properly, it is perfectly fine to take them away from their mothers after weaning.
Handy Hint: Don’t give your new puppy a bone to chew until you have read this guide.
How to make sure you are buying a puppy from a good breeder
So now you know when puppies can be sold, I wanted to draw your attention to the practices of good breeders. There are dangerous, illegal, and high unethical puppy farms selling puppies so it’s important you can spot these.
Be sure not to support any breeders that do not abide by the following standards:
- Have a breeder’s license (not all countries or states require this so check your local regulations).
- Have limited litters per year.
- Is knowledgeable about the breeds they rear.
- Provides you with documentation.
- Begins the worming process with their puppies when they are of age.
- Can provide good references from other buyers.
- Is open to giving you a tour of their facilities so you can see the care and cleanliness of their surroundings.
- Allows you to meet the parents of your puppy.
- Has been undergoing socialization with their puppies.
- Provides written agreements for your purchase.
If in doubt, your local veterinarian may have recommendations of reputable, professional breeders in your area.
Over the last 12 months there has been a huge increase in people wanting to buy puppies. This has been attributed to the current pandemic and lockdowns that are occurring throughout the world.
With this increase in demand, it’s unfortunately seen an increase in unscrupulous people trying to turn a quick profit and sell puppies before the right time to do so.
If you are selling a puppy, please do wait until they are fully weaned and at least 8 weeks old.
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Image in header licensed via Storyblocks.com.