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How old a puppy should be before you adopt and bring it home

Adopting a puppy under two months of age can not only put its health at risk but also impact its development and growth

It's best to adopt puppies after they are two months old. 
It's best to adopt puppies after they are two months old.  (Unsplash/ Ayla Verschueren)

When it comes to bringing a puppy home, most people prefer a puppy over a young dog. However, it’s important to understand how critical it is to bring a puppy home at the appropriate age. I have seen puppies as young as 35-days-old, who have recently been introduced to a new home. This growing obsession for younger pups is both harrowing and concerning.

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Puppy mills thrive because of this desire for younger puppies. Female dogs are used in puppy mills to produce puppies on a regular basis. When the puppies are about 30-days-old, they are taken away, which causes the female dog to cease producing milk, and reduces the amount of care required for both the mother and the puppies. This is economically beneficial for the puppy mills, however, it has serious implications on health and developmental growth of the puppies.

Puppies need to be with their mothers for at least 60 days. Just like humans, the antibodies found in the mother's milk keep the young puppies safe and protected from a variety of infections, and strengthens their immunity. Also, puppies can consume solid food only after they cross the two month mark, which makes the move from the breeder to the home much smoother. It is incredibly more difficult to feed a 35-days-old puppy because they are still unable to chew or ingest solid food completely. A lot of new pet parents make the feeding solid food to such young puppies. They may tend to over feed or feed it things intended for human babies. These often cause indigestion in puppies, further jeopardizing their already precarious health.

Puppies in puppy mills are frequently kept in confined spaces at close quarters, increasing their risk of developing an infection. The two common infections that young puppies can contract are parvoviral infection and canine distemper virus infection. 

Parvoviral gastroenteritis is an infection that has been on the rise in recent years. Just a few months ago, some states in India saw a surge in infection rates among pet dogs. This infection spreads via contaminated food or water sources and affects young, unvaccinated puppies. Only the other day, I came across a 45-day-old mastiff puppy with all of the symptoms of the Parvovirus. The common systems are vomiting, a loss of appetite and bloody stools and causes havoc with their digestive system. Imagine all of this happening to a puppy, who is only a few weeks old; they immediately become dehydrated. This disease has the potential to cause cardiac arrest, and even death.

Canine distemper, the other viral infection puppies are susceptible to, has a fatality rate much higher than that of the Parvovirus. The distemper virus affects the gastrointestinal and nervous systems in pups, which have a low immunity level. Airborne and exceedingly contagious, if a puppy contracts it, every puppy in the vicinity with low immunity and which hasn’t been vaccinated is likely to contract it. 

Symptoms of distemper include coughing, sneezing, vomiting, a loss of appetite, and a yellow discharge from the nose or eyes. If your puppy is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should immediately consult your veterinarian. The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the higher the probability of survival. 

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Distemper and parvo virus-affected dogs must be kept completely separate from other pets in order to prevent the infections from spreading. These viruses, fortunately, are not zoonotic in nature and do not pass on to people. Pups that survive distemper virus often have a twitch for the rest of their lives. I have a six year old Labrador that I has been coming to me since a pup, which survived distemper. It continues to have slight head tremors even when everything else about him is just fine.

Besides health risks, another reason to avoid weaning the pup from its mother too early is that it hinders its social abilities. During these eight weeks, the mother teaches the puppies what is and is not an acceptable behavior. She reprimands them by using her mouth to restrain them when they bite her or their siblings, thus teaching them biting is not always acceptable. They learn how to react to noises and situations from watching their mother. 

With its litter-mates, the puppy learns to socialize and communicate. When puppies are separated from their mother and siblings as early as 30 days, they are unclear how to act around other dogs because they are only exposed to people. It can lead to puppies developing anxiety as they grow older.

Vaccinations are extremely crucial in the life of a puppy. The right time to start vaccinating a puppy is only after it has weaned, which is from 6-8 weeks of age. Once you bring the puppy home, and if it’s not already vaccinated, it’s best to isolate it for a week and then vaccinating it as we don't always know what they were exposed to while at the breeder’s.

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Parvo viral gastroenteritis and distemper are preventable by vaccination. If a puppy has been separated early, it is even more important to ensure that it obtains all of its vaccinations on schedule. Pet parents who have a young puppy should at all times be vigilant about the symptoms of Parvo and distemper. They should also remember that since younger puppies are susceptible to infections due to their poorer immunity, they must limit their exposure to unvaccinated pets.

A pup opens its eyes when it’s 10-days old. Separating it from its mother at 30 days gives it a mere 20 days to process everything that is going on around it. Then we put it through the stress of relocating into a new house with new experiences, which further weakens its immune system. Puppies are adorable and cute but let's do right by them, and get them home only when the time is right.

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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