Cost Of A Litter

written & submitted by Mary Korevaar,
Glengate Reg’d, Canada

Recently on one of the Doberman newsgroups on the internet there was a discussion regarding the pricing of quality puppies from responsible breeders. The average pet owner, it seems, has no idea just how much time and expense an ethical breeder spends per litter. There was also much discussion about what expenses can or should be included in the price of a puppy. There is a lot of disagreement in that area. The following is meant to provide some kind of idea of the expenses involved in planning and breeding responsibly.

Obviously the first step for a responsible breeder is to have a good quality bitch – and hopefully we are in agreement that most good quality bitches do not come at bargain basement prices! By good quality, I mean that the bitch is from a known heritage (registered and pedigreed with many champion ancestors), has no disqualifying faults, is temperamentally stable and is healthy. This bitch should be able to finish the requirements of a championship herself, should be able to pass a Temperament Test, and must be health tested. Her ancestors would be researched by the breeder to learn about their conformational strengths and weaknesses, their temperaments, their longevity and causes of death, their health, their working ability, etc.

Disagreement comes when we discuss whether a puppy buyer is responsible to share in any of the costs associated with completing a championship and acquiring any obedience or temperament titles. While my own belief is that yes, a puppy buyer should share in *part* of this expense in order to acquire a puppy from a proven background, many do not. I am going to leave the costs involved in these pursuits out of the equation for the most part but want the average pet owner to understand what these costs are anyway. Just for information, a championship could cost anywhere from $100 (owner handled in only a few shows which is unlikely, but possible) to, well, the sky’s the limit! It can take even a good quality bitch a while to finish a championship in tough competition in certain areas against certain competitors and may well cost upwards of $1000 and probably more. I am not of the opinion that a potential puppy owner should share in any costs of actively campaigning a bitch – that is where the owner of the bitch chooses to continue to show many, many times after completing the championship. A Temperament Test costs about $30. A Canine Good Citizen test (while not an indicator of temperament really but more of manners/training and somewhat of stability) also costs about $30. A basic obedience title (Companion Dog) would probably include the cost of obedience classes ($200ish) plus the cost of entries. A CD could be earned in as little as 3 shows (less than $100) or as many as — well, as many as it takes.

My basic point is that it costs money to title dogs. Sometimes a lot of money.

There are people that don’t feel that conformation showing is important and they feel they don’t care if the parents of their puppy were shown. The fact of the matter is that conformation shows are supposed to be about proving that the dog conforms to the standard for the breed, that the dog is built properly to be able to do the job it was originally intended to do. For some reason, many don’t seem to see the connection between shows and their desire for a nice pet. But this translates to the pet owner as well. A dog that is built properly with the proper angles and the prescribed build ideally should have a better chance at good health. Good health of the joints and bones, proper room for the organs, the capability to be able to jump and run, paws and legs and joints that can absorb shock properly, etc. Good health starts with good conformation!

Not to mention that if no one bothered with how the Doberman or any other breed looked, it wouldn’t be long before we would no longer recognize the breeds we have come to expect.

Testing temperaments and working ability also translates to the pet owner. I think that everyone wants a stable pet that they can count on to not harm their family and friends. No one wants a dog, let alone a Doberman, that is afraid of its own shadow and possibly can’t be trusted. People usually want a Doberman that is easy to train and the titles of the parents, particularly in obedience, may give a good indication of trainability. Or maybe the pet owner is interested in having a dog they can do performance sports with – agility and/or flyball titles on the parents may indicate a heritability of these kinds of traits. Or maybe pet visitation at nursing homes, hospitals, or schools appeals to certain pet owners, so Therapy Dog titles on the parents may be of particular interest to that pet owner. Regardless of the interest of the average pet owner, titles on the parents may be indicative of the kind of temperament you can expect in your pet puppy.

I am a firm believer in health testing. My own bitches are health tested in the following areas – DNA von Willebrand’s disease test ($50 US at Genesearch), full thyroid panel ($80ish), heart exam with Dr. O’Grady (currently $60 the first year and $45 annually after that), cardiac Holter monitoring ($60 annually), Orthopedic Foundation for Animals hip and elbow ratings (about $100 for hip and elbow x-rays at the vet’s plus $30 US for the OFA evaluation), eye screening for inherited disease (with a Canine Eye Registration Foundation certified ophthalmologist which costs about $25 for the exam plus $10 US to register the results with CERF the first year, $7.50 per year after that), as well as liver and kidney panels ($50ish). Bitches should also have a thorough vet check prior to breeding and a brucellosis test ($80ish for both). As you can see, it is very easy to spend about $500 on a bitch’s health testing prior to breeding. And the responsible breeder keeps on testing throughout her life.

In addition, some of these tests should be performed annually. While a vWD DNA test is good for life, routine heart testing, routine eye exams, routine liver & kidney panels, and routine thyroid checks should be done throughout the bitch’s life as all are subject to change. A responsible breeder will keep you up to date throughout the dam’s life about her annual testing results – this will help you to know what to possibly expect or to look for in your puppy. The testing does not necessarily stop once the litter is born.

As previously mentioned, the breeder is spending oodles of time and money researching stud dogs to complement the bitch. The breeder is attending shows ($) to see these dogs, is staying current with the breed magazines ($), is attending seminars ($), is maintaining memberships in breed clubs to keep abreast of important breed news ($), is calling other breeders nationwide in the pursuit of more information ($), is purchasing books on canine genetics and breed specific books ($), they are donating time and money to health research and rescue efforts ($) etc. All of these things also go into the making of a great puppy.

When the breeder finds a great stud dog they will have to pay a stud fee ranging anywhere from $500 to $1800 (and sometimes in US funds!). Ideally, this great stud dog will have the same degree of health testing completed, will also be a conformation champion and will also be temperament tested and from healthy, beautiful, long lived ancestors. This great stud dog may not be in the breeder’s area and flights may be necessary to get the bitch to the stud dog and back – this will likely add another $600 minimum to the costs. Not to mention that the breeder may lose a couple of days of work getting the bitch to the airport and picking her up again.  Perhaps the stud dog is close enough to drive to, but the trip may still be thousands of miles – that means days lost at work, hotel/motel expenses as well as fuel and food costs.

The breeder is probably going to find it necessary to do a bit o
f advertising ($) to let people know there are puppies expected. This may be inexpensive (the local newspaper) or costly (national breed or all-breed magazines). Some of this advertising is to find responsible homes, some of it is to let the fancy know of your endeavours.

The breeder is also going to need to build (or purchase) a whelping box.

While this box may last them for many years, it will cost some upkeep over time in re-painting and refurbishing as needed. The breeder will be amassing towels, blankets, carpet and newspapers for the whelping box.

Other supplies that may need to be purchased include: garbage bags (at least 100, probably more), rubber/latex gloves, puppy dishes, puppy collars, puppy toys, syringes, nursing kits and Esbilac (just in case, and Esbilac, a puppy formula, is about $7 a can), lots of disinfectant and bleach, extra mop heads, sponges, possibly a heat lamp, heating pad, hot water bottle, possibly an extra ex-pen or two, a puppy scale, puppy food, worming medication, cropping supplies (posts, tape, etc), extra laundry detergent, paper towels (lots and lots!), etc. While some of these supplies will be used over and over again (e.g. puppy scale or dishes), some will need to be purchased fresh for each litter. Either way, there are supply costs.

While waiting delivery of the pups, the breeder is getting their contracts and puppy kits in order. Puppy kits for the new owners may include binders of info and pictures, copies of health info, food samples, a toy, etc. Putting together a nice kit costs about $15 each or so.

The breeder is making and returning long distance phone calls ($) to the potential owners keeping them up to date on what is happening. They are spending their spare time meeting with and screening potential owners to find the best homes for their puppies.

The bitch requires extra food in the last half of her pregnancy. Her food requirement pretty much doubles in the end stages of pregnancy. Many breeders also switch the bitch to a puppy formula for the extra nourishment. Extra food means extra dollars. Once the puppies arrive, her food requirements will possibly triple whilst nursing her litter.

The actual delivery of puppies may go relatively smoothly with little or no expense or it literally could be a nightmare of emergency trips to the vet with a possible costly c-section needed in the middle of a Sunday night. Either way, the breeder must be prepared. They must always remember that the delivery of the puppies might possibly cost $1000 or more. The miracle of birth is not always an easy or inexpensive one. Puppies get stuck, uterine inertia sets in, exhaustion happens, bitches lose strength, puppies come backwards, etc Many bitches need oxytocin administered to get the delivery going, some need x-rays to determine number of puppies left, some need c-sections, some bitches die. Many will require antibiotics possibly after intervention during whelping. At the very least, many breeders do take their bitch to the vet for a check-up directly after whelping. Whelping may be relatively inexpensive or it could mean a giant vet bill.

After all the money that the breeder has already paid out to get to this point, they may only have 3 puppies! Or less! Or more. Which is better? Well, a few puppies will not help to cover expenses. More puppies will mean more expenses. The breeder can’t win this one!

Regardless of how many puppies there are, there are more expenses ahead.

A large litter may require supplemental feeding – we already discussed the price of a puppy formula such as Esbilac. The time involved is substantial on the breeder’s part. The breeder will probably suffer more lost time from work at this point or have to use up vacation hours.

The breeder will have to see to the docking of the Doberman puppies’ tails within a few days of birth. At this time, it is normal for the dewclaws to be removed as well. Some breeders have learned to do this all themselves and have the equipment necessary for it. My own preference is for a vet to do the procedures and, in my experience, the cost has been about $15 per puppy. The real cost to the breeder, though, often at this time is in
sleep deprivation! Many bitches do not cope well with stitches in their puppies’ tails. Many breeders find it necessary to camp out 24 hours per day with the bitch to keep an eye on puppy tails. Many breeders are camping out sleeping next to the whelping box for the first couple of weeks anyway. From personal experience, it is exhausting!

Hopefully the bitch is not suffering from any problems such as mastitis, eclampsia, endometritis, etc requiring veterinary care and extra attention from the breeder for both the bitch and the puppies.

Again, more costly possibilities!

Probably there will be a bunch of long distance phone calls necessary after the birth of the litter to let people know the puppies are here. Pictures may be mailed out. Speaking of pictures, the breeder will probably take several rolls of pictures ($) of the puppies’ progress from birth onwards.

Within a couple of weeks of birth, the breeder will need to register the litter with the Canadian Kennel Club. For a CKC member, the cost is $13.50. For a non-member it is $27. If a breeder keeps putting this off past the age of 4 months, the prices are higher.

The breeder will usually start worming the puppies weekly or bi-weekly within a couple of weeks of birth, depending on the type of medication used and the vet’s advice.

The puppies will be ready to be weaned around 3 weeks of age or so which means they will soon start eating the breeder out of house and home! And the clean-up is extensive for weeks.

Hopefully all is going well with the puppies and they are developing normally and need no vet care or medication at this time. But it’s always a possibility.

I know that with my litters, there is always additional costs in hydro – winter litters require high heat (we have electric heat in the puppy room so we can crank it up as needed), summer litters require fans as they get bigger.

The puppies are going to require their first shots at 6 weeks. In my experience, this usually costs about $15 per puppy.

At 8 weeks, give or take, the puppies are going to require cropping. At this time, it is normal for breeders to also have the puppies microchipped or tattooed while the puppies are under the anesthetic – the CKC requires that the puppies be either microchipped or tattooed. My own experience has been that it costs about $180 per puppy for cropping and tattooing at the same time. Microchipping is more costly, again just my experience, but we have paid anywhere from about $42 – $55 per puppy for microchipping.   Or the breeder can do the microchipping themselves if they purchase the equipment to do so.

Well, the puppies may be going home soon (9 weeks or so). Hopefully there are responsible homes lined up for each puppy. But often times there is not, so puppy care, feeding and expense goes on for a couple or a few puppies. More advertising may be in order. The next set of shots is due at 10 weeks also. The puppies that have gone home to new families are frequently being brought back to the breeder for taping at this time usually at the expense of the breeder in time and posting supplies. Phone calls are being exchanged as the new owners are offered help and advice.

As per the CKC requirements, the individual puppies must be registered to the new owners by the breeder. If the transfer to the new owner is done at the same time as the individual registration, the cost to a CKC member/breeder is $11.50 per puppy, or $23 to the non-member/breeder. If this is put off for 4 months or more, the cost goes up. One good thing!! Invoking a CKC Non-Breeding Agreement on a puppy is completely free of charge! Reversing it later involves a fee, however.

Another topic of disagreement when discussing pupp
y prices is the time that breeders devote to each litter and whether they deserve any compensation for it. Many feel that, as a hobby, breeders are not entitled to any form of payment for their time. On the flipside, if breeders were compensated for the actual time involved in planning, breeding, producing and raising a litter no one would be able to afford a puppy! Time is one of those intangibles really – so much of it is eaten up by the process of breeding and raising a litter that it is virtually impossible to be compensated for it anyway. If, in fact, there is a little money left over after the actual expenses of a litter (and that is a rare event), I see no problem with the breeder claiming it as payment for time. If a breeder manages to make a small profit on one litter in five, for example, what is the harm? Chances are that small profit is going to be invested right back into the breed they love anyway.

In my conversations with people that are interested in breeding Dobermans, I advise that at the very least they are likely going to need approximately $5,000 set aside to cover expenses, both expected and unexpected. Depending on circumstance, that may be low or it may be high but in my experience it is average. That $5,000 figure does not include costs associated with achieving titles.

Breeders that are planning, producing and raising litters properly with due care and diligence are not likely to be making any profit doing so. Even when the average pet prices are reaching in the neighbourhood of $800 – $1000 these days. Sure, you can pay prices like these and not receive a puppy that has had all of the care and advantages listed above – the important thing is to ensure that anyone you decide to purchase from IS doing these things and that you are getting increased value for your money. These kinds of prices should buy the advantages above and should also give you a lasting relationship with the breeder. The price you pay should provide you with not only a history of your puppy but a future as well including (at least) yearly updates on the parents of your puppy and siblings too. It should provide you with a lifetime of advice and help with your puppy.

A true hobby breeder that cares about the breed and does not cut corners is not breeding for money.

While the above article contains my own opinions, I hope that it will be informative to people that feel they just want a nice pet Doberman. It costs no less to produce a great, healthy, beautiful pet than it does to produce the history-making show greats.

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