What is the True Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies?

Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies     by Janice Jones     |Published 07-19-2021

This article is both for those interested in purchasing a puppy and for would-be puppy breeders.

When we get ready to purchase a puppy, most people have no idea how much money goes into the operation of breeding.  And, the prices of all these incidental costs continue to climb each year.  If you are considering breeding your female dog, it is tempting to look around and see the high price of puppies and think this is a quick way to make a buck.  Think again, but keep reading.

Naturally, breeders would not breed their dogs if they continually lost money.  Some breeders consider themselves hobby breeders and may not make a lot of money.  These usually are show breeders who spend all their free time attending shows, breeding a litter or two a year, and otherwise living a dog-centric life.  If you ever find one of these breeders willing to sell you a puppy, you can be absolutely sure you are getting a great puppy.

But even for professional breeders who never step foot into the show ring, the costs of raising a puppy are steep.

A female with her litter of three newborns.The True cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies

In this article, we will look at the myriad costs associated with raising a litter of puppies.  I hope that any prospective puppy buyer will appreciate the actual price of their new best friend. At the same time, I hope that anyone wanting to get into breeding will also enjoy the hard work that goes into this profession. 

The Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies

The Cost of the Breeding Stock

Before you can have a litter of puppies, you need a sire and a dam.  Many breeders own both, but it isn’t necessary.  If you own a female, you will need to find a stud dog.  We will discuss that in a moment.  Let’s start with the female.

Typically breeders purchase a puppy that they hope to breed later (usually during their second or third heat cycle, which works out to  1 ½ to 2 years in the future. 

Consider the costs of raising that one puppy for 2 years.  This includes a high-quality diet, excellent veterinary care, training, grooming, and genetic screenings to ensure that the puppy will be healthy for breeding. 

This also includes all the routine care that everyone should give their dogs, including heartworm screenings and preventative, shots and wormings, dental cleanings, and grooming.  If the breeder intends to keep the stud dog on their premises, the cost is double.  If not, they will incur the charge of stud fees that can range upwards of $5,000.  This doesn’t include such things as routine blood work, hernia repairs if needed, typical problems associated with the breed of your choice.

Local Ordinances and Business Fees

Reputable breeders will abide by local, state, and national laws, which means that many require business licenses, insurance, associated fees.  State and federal taxes must be paid, as well as local sales tax requirements depending on the jurisdiction.

Office Expenses

It’s challenging to rear a litter of puppies without using a computer in the 21st century.  Software, printer, and internet connections are just some of the additional costs.  Sure, there are plenty of breeders with only a smartphone. Still, they may also need to spend considerable time in their local library using a real computer.  Office supplies such as paper, folders, and pens are just one of the costs.  Computer repair, phone charges, fax, and office furniture must also be maintained.  Many breeders do not even think about office expenses when adding up what it costs to rear a litter.

Professional Fees

As with any business, you can't do it alone.  At one point, you will need to enlist the help of professionals.  In this case, as a breeder, you are likely to need of veterinarians and veterinary specialists.  You will likely need the help of accountants and attorneys.  None of these professionals are cheap but their help will keep you in business.  For puppy buyers, it is important to understand that breeders nowadays are not those local farmers down the street with a stray litter.  They are professionals that should have a business mindset and the need for professional help.

Continuing Education

If this article is beginning to sound more like a spread sheet or a tax form, you are right.  The business of breeding is just that, a business.  Those breeders that take it seriously will invest in books and other publications as well as continuing education.  As of this writing, there is not a college degree that I am aware of that one may obtain in dog breeding.  With that said, though, this field does require a considerable amount of knowledge.  Most people decide to breed because they have some knowledge of the field, but still require additional courses, whether they are formal or not in the ins and outs of breeding and neonatal care.

Preparing for Mating

X-ray of Pregnant female dogCanine X-ray of the uterus; this girl is having 3 puppies

Many breeders will use progesterone testing every other day until the female is at the peak of fertility to assure optimal timing and successful mating.  After 25 days, an ultrasound will detect fetal heartbeats. Still, the actual number of puppies can not be determined until a week before delivery with x-rays.  These measures will assure you of the maximal number of puppies per litter, though none of them are required.

During pregnancy, a high maintenance diet is recommended along with supplements.  This all adds to the cost.

Delivery or Whelping

Assuming that the pregnancy was uneventful and the girl or bitch can whelp naturally, there will be the cost of whelping supplies.  If a C-section is warranted, the price can start at $2000.

The Cost of Whelping a litter of Puppies

Neonatal care can be labor-intensive.  The cost of caring for a litter can add up, especially when you consider that most breeders of small dogs will keep their puppies from 8 to 12 weeks.  During this time, the puppies will need wormings and vaccinations.  They will also need additional supplements and puppy food. Puppy pens, pee pads, toys, chews, water and food bowls, and other accessories will help puppies become socialized and well-adjusted.

Excellent breeders will also arrange for puppy well-visits from the veterinarian, and many will also need a health certificate.  Some puppies will also require dewclaw removal and tail docking.  (Shih Tzu dogs are never tail docked) Microchipping is another option that professional breeders will cover for their puppy parents.

A puppy is eating from a big bowl of food.The cost of whelping a litter of puppies needs to take into consideration the cost of raising puppies for the first 8 to 12 weeks of life.

Advertising, Registration, and Other Fees

Breeders cannot keep all the puppies they raise, so they need to find suitable homes for their babies.  Advertising fees can add up.  Nowadays, many breeders rely on the internet to sell their puppies.  This means that they must also maintain their own website.  

AKC Registration paperwork needs to be ordered, and that adds to the cost.   Costs associated with photography and videography should also be included. 

The cost of service internet providers to maintain and upkeep a blog can also be expensive.  Breeders who require assistance with their website may pay a premium for a virtual assistant or someone willing to keep and post to the site regularly.  Many might also rely on assistants to help maintain their social media presence.

Labor/Payroll Expenses

Large-scale breeders will hire assistants to help with some of the work.  Most small breeders, however, do all the work themselves.

Breeders are on call 24/7.  Litters are rarely born during regular business hours but often come in the wee hours of the night.  If there is a problem with one or more puppies,  breeders will need to either tube or bottle feed the ailing puppies by hand every two to three hours around the clock to keep them alive.

Add in the number of hours that breeders spend caring for the puppies and their adult dogs. Maintaining and repairing their home or kennel and the day-to-cleaning tasks add up quickly, so most breeders do not even earn a minimum wage.

The Net Cost of Puppies

Puppy prices must be determined not so much by what is required to raise a litter but rather by averaging out the cost of breeding in general.  That is the topic of another day and one that many prospective breeders will find helpful.  Please check back as that article is in the works.

A young Shih Tzu puppy lying on a blanketThe Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies

Cost of Whelping a Litter:  Information For Puppy Buyers

If you think the breeder you have chosen may be charging too much, just ask.  They may be, but if they cannot give you a good reason why their puppies are so expensive, you must decide whether you still want to work with that breeder or go elsewhere. 

Typically puppies purchased with full AKC Registration rights are more expensive than those that come with limited rights. But what is the difference?

Most puppies are sold with limited AKC registration.  This just means that both of the puppy’s parents were AKC registered dogs, but the buyer is not given breeding rights.  Breeders, on the other hand, purchase a puppy with full rights.  The puppy, once grown, can sire or whelp a litter, and their offspring are eligible for registration.

Please be aware that you might find someone willing to sell you a puppy for a very low fee.  if you find someone who seems to be charging too little, it could be a puppy scam.  Investigate and then run, don’t walk away before you give them your hard-earned money.

Suppose the breeder is doing all the right things, such as genetic testing, socialization, high-quality vet care, and providing the best food and supplements. In that case, the price might be well worth it in the long run.

Some breeders will charge more under certain circumstances:

  • The mother required a C-section
  • One or more of the puppies required more intensive care
  • The breeder spent more money on breeding stock
  • They think their puppies are worth more.
  • Both parents are champions or grand champions.

None of these reasons for charging more is legitimate, at least in my opinion, with one exception.  Let’s look at each one individually.

The Mother Required a C-Section:  Add that to the Cost of Whelping a Litter

There are some breeds where scheduled C-sections are routine.  If, for example, you breed bulldogs, you can expect that most if not all of your litters will be done under C-section.  Other breeds will require the occasional caesarian section for several different reasons.  Reputable breeders will consider this as a cost of doing business and not charge more.

One or More of the Puppies Requires More Intensive Care

Again, small birth weight puppies or those that fail to thrive may require more intensive care than the average puppy.  Good breeders take this in stride and do not charge more.  Puppies that are much smaller than the average weight for their breed should not command a higher price. You will see these types of puppies advertised as a teacup or imperial or miniature.  This is unethical.

The Breeder Spent More on Breeding Stock

Puppy buyers need to understand that there are two different prices for puppies eligible for AKC registration paperwork.  Full and Limited.  This was explained above.

Some inexperienced or greedy breeders will assume that their dogs are worth more because they had to pay more for the parents.  It is also possible that amateur breeders will fall victim and spend more than they should.  If this happens, then these novices just believe their dogs are worth more than they are and will try to recoup their expenses on you.

Breeders Think Their Puppies Demand a Higher Price than Others

This is similar to the excuse above.  This often happens when novice or greedy breeders produce a puppy that has unusual colorings or markings.  In some breeds, specific colors or perfect symmetry are prized in the show ring.  If you are purchasing a puppy with show potential, you may likely pay more, which is acceptable. 

If, however, all you want is a family pet, there is no reason to pay extra for a special color. In some circles, you might see this referred to as kennel blindness, or the inability to see faults within the breeder's own line.

Both Parents are Champions or Grand champions

This is one reason why breeders will charge more and, in my opinion, the only legitimate reason. If you want to win in a dog sport, you need to start with the “right stuff.” There are never any guarantees, but buying from a show breeder with many championships under her belt increases your odds. 

Often puppies from these arrangements are co-owned by you and the breeder or a group of people. Understand what you are getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

Cost of Whelping a Litter:  Information For Breeders

For anyone reading this article interested in starting a breeding business, I do not want to discourage you in any way.  There are many ways to save money and thus make more profit.  Here is a list that might help you get started.

  1. Choose to work with only one breed or two at the most.
  2. Find a mentor that can help you along the way.
  3. Read as much as you can about the breed, genetics, puppies, and the health concerns of your breed. Study the breed standard and history.  Become an expert on your breed.
  4. Purchase quality equipment and tools that will last through many breedings.
  5. Learn to give your own vaccines, wormings, dewclaw removals, and other simple veterinary procedures.
  6. Choose puppies for breeding purposes based on sound health, conformation, and temperament.  Do not fall victim to breeding dogs with unusual colors or sizes (either too small or too large)
  7. Learn to take your own photographs or videos.
  8. Learn how to groom your own dogs.
  9. Learn how to train your adult dogs.  (Many good breeding dogs have been rehomed because the breeder did not take the time to train)
  10. Learn how to host your own website, do simple web design and basic coding.
  11. Establish your own social media presence with a schedule you can maintain yourself.
  12. Save on essentials.  Choose reusable products over those you use once and discard.  
  13. Make organization and record-keeping your priority.
  14. Shop around for the best deals on products you use daily.
  15. Think of yourself as a business. 

Breeders Need to Think of Themselves as a Business

If you are a breeder you are running a business.  Use sound business principles to guide your practice.  Here is just a few to ponder.

  • Time is Money
  • Investigate the 80-20 rule
  • If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
  • Look at breeding in the long run (Most businesses fail within the first 5 years;  make yours last)
  • Find a good accountant that can help minimize your tax burden
  • Choose a breed that is acceptable in your jurisdiction and one you love.
  • Develop an excellent reputation:  Exceed your customers wildest expectations
  • Set up and maintain a simple accounting/bookkeeping system
  • Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link if you have employees or family members that help you.
  • Concentrate on the solution to any problems you encounter.
  • Remember, everyone has been through this before you.  Relax, breathe, regroup, and begin again.
  • If you truly believe your puppies are worth more than anyone else's in your are, be prepared to offer more than anyone else. This can be tricky unless you do your due diligence.

Conclusions for The True Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies

Whelping a litter of puppies is expensive, so you should expect to be fairly compensated if you are a breeder.  If you are a puppy buyer, you should expect to pay a fair price.  Here is a breakdown of some of the costs associated with a litter that I have personally encountered in the last couple of years.

Cost of a Female Puppy: $2000

Cost of a Male Puppy:  $1500

Progesterone Testing:  $150 each

Ultrasound $250

X-rays $150

Vet Visits:  $50

Puppy Food:  $50 per bag, Milk Replacer $10-40, Supplements $15

C-Section:  $2500

Care of a Puppy $2000 (ultimate death)

Whelping Supplies $300

Microscope $450, Scale $50, Stethoscope $50,  Oxygen concentrator, warmer $1000  Whelping Boxes $400, AI $40

Grooming:  Each dog $70

Training Classes $125 per dog per session

Tax accountant $1500 per year

Total Veterinary fees per year for general practice veterinarian $3500

Total Veterinary costs for specialty vets $5000

Do the Math

Most small breed dogs such as the Shih Tzu can have between 2 and 6 puppies, with the average being 4.  Some smaller breeds have even fewer puppies per litter.  Breeders juggle their puppy prices based on the number of puppies in the litter.  If you are looking for a rare breed that only produces a small litter, the cost of a puppy could be much more. 

A Black and White Shih Tzu Puppy being held in one handThe True Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies: Pin for Future Reference

Last Words:  True Cost of Whelping a Litter of Puppies

Breeders need to be compensated for their hard work, and puppy buyers need to feel they are getting a good deal. 

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.