Think you might want to breed dogs as a side hustle? Think twice.

Although it’s normal to pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a purebred dog — and a litter is likely to produce several animals — the expenses of breeding responsibly are so high that many professional breeders barely break even.

“There is no money to be made in responsible dog breeding,” says Debora Bean, a California breeder who has a side hustle making canine-oriented products to support her breeding habit.

Unfortunately, if you breed irresponsibly, you might make money. But you’d have to hate animals to play in that game.

Indeed, according to BreedingBusiness.com, there are only three ways to make money as a dog breeder: Breed more often; breed more cheaply; or elevate the quality of your bloodline, making it possible to charge more for each animal. 

Either of the first two options mean that you could be putting the health of your dog and its puppies at risk. Irresponsible breeding is why so-called “puppy mills” produce sick dogs with genetic woes, such as trick hips and chronic medical conditions, experts note. Breeding too often can also weaken your female and make her life miserable. If you want to breed healthy and happy dogs, it requires time, training, expertise, and attention — so much commitment that it’s tough to do it as a side hustle.

Why is responsible breeding so costly and time consuming? Start with the female dog. If she’s a healthy purebred, you probably paid anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for her. Although she may go into heat as early as 6 months, the American Kennel Club won’t even provide papers if you breed her before she’s at least eight months old. And breeding that soon is not recommended, since you’re more likely to have medical issues with an immature female, who is still growing herself. It’s best to wait until your female is at least 18 months to two-years old and has gone through several fertility cycles.

Naturally, you have all the expenses associated with raising a healthy dog during that period, including vaccinations, check-ups and food. But you also have some extraordinary costs. For instance, during each fertility cycle, your dog is likely to bleed (on your carpet and furniture) and need to be guarded from random males that are going to want to jump your fence and derail your purebred breeding program, so you can’t just keep her outside until she’s less messy. (As a dog breeder, you might as well just buy, rather than rent, the carpet cleaner. It’s okay. It’s a deductible business expense.)

And, if you want to get the best price for your puppies, you’d be wise to join the AKC and potentially start paying to show your dog. This step can also help you get educated about bloodlines and find an appropriate stud. Medical tests to ensure that you’re not breeding a genetically flawed line can cost several hundred dollars each. And, be sure to pay attention to your dog’s disposition before you decide to breed. Dispositions are inherited, according to the AKC. Never breed a biter.

When you finally find the right mate for your girl, you’ll need to pay a stud fee, The stud fee could amount to as much as you paid to buy your dog —or could involve giving the sire’s family a pup or two. Even arranging the day of the dog’s tryst could involve vet bills.

Why? Females are only fertile during a set period during her cycle. And this perfect time for romance may not be patently obvious to even a trained observer. “To catch the peak fertile period, a veterinarian may need to perform hormone tests or examine vaginal smears under a microscope,” the AKC advises. Not cheap.

Sometime before the babies arrive you need to build or buy a “whelping box,” too. Get your dog used to it before the blessed event, the AKC advises. Otherwise, she might have her puppies someplace inappropriate, like your closet. (So long, Jimmy Choos.) Figure on sacrificing a few towels, some carpet or a bathmat and possibly a heating pad or electric blanket to the effort, as well. You might want to have a veterinarian’s number on speed dial, just in case something goes amiss with the delivery.

Assuming the delivery is smooth, you’ll still need to spend money getting your pups checked for parasites and vaccinated before they’re weaned. In the meantime, the puppies’ mom is going to need some TLC and extra nutrition to keep her healthy. And you’re going to need to spend a lot of time picking up puppy poop  and buying soap for that carpet cleaner you wisely invested in.

But what if you have a male dog? That’s certainly cheaper and easier. But to make your stud attractive to other breeders, you should probably be showing your dog and winning awards. Naturally, that’s time consuming too.

If you don’t want to end up with a household of grown dogs, you’re also going to need to market those cute little canines. Ads on CraigsList and LetGo are free, of course. However, these sites are filled with bargain-hunters. That’s generally not the sort of buyer who is willing to pay a premium price for purebred puppies.

What about sites like PuppySpot and PuppyFind? We don’t recommend them. First, they market nationwide, which means you may have little or no chance to screen buyers. Secondly, you may have to ship your dog, which is not always legal. (There is a wide array of state and local laws related to shipping animals.) Sellers also complain that PuppySpot doesn’t necessarily charge you to list your dogs, but it marks-up the price of your dogs, sometimes dramatically, without providing any additional compensation to you.

PupLookUp is free to advertise, but may also present the shipping dilemma. The AKC may offer the best option, which is to list and sell your dogs through the AKC Marketplace, which charges $29 per 90 day listing, and sorts by zip code. (BTW, this is our top recommendation if you want to buy a purebred puppy, too. Though a handful of AKC breeders inspire complaints, the organization attempts to screen breeders and protect animals.)

However, if you don’t intend to breed or show dogs, California breeder Deborah Bean urges you to get your dog at a local animal shelter.

“If what you’re looking for is a wonderful pet, please consider adopting a dog from your local shelter,” she says. “Too many times people miss the obvious. There are wonderful dogs waiting to be adopted.”

 If you’ve been adding all the costs (and potential costs) of breeding in your head, you already know that breeding profit margins are likely to be slim. If anything goes wrong that requires expensive veterinary bills, you could to lose money.

So why breed at all? For the love of the dog.

“It’s a hobby, passion and a commitment,” says Joyce Weichsl, co-owner of Carousel Kooikerhondjes in Fair Oaks, Calif. “I love this breed of dogs. I bought my house to accommodate the dogs; I bought my car for them – I worked as a server for 40 years to support them. English Setters are not well known, but they are the most fabulous pet you can imagine.”