Interesting Facts and Myths About the Runt of the Litter


When we think bout the runts of the litter,  we often have doubts whether they can survive as well as other puppies.

If you want to find the answers to these and many other questions about runts, you should eep pon reading.

But, first, let’s answer the question of what it means to be the runt of the litter.

The word “runt” has the meaning “smallest or weakest of the litter.”

The word “litter” means a number of young animals born to one animal all at once or it can be said multiple births from an animal.

The combination “runt of the litter” then means the smallest or the weakest of all the siblings born at once.

The Term “Runt” Lacks a Universal Meaning

The term “Runt” still does not have a universal meaning, as it cannot be determined whether this categorization is based purely on the size or on the fact that the exact puppy is weaker than the others.

Furthermore, the discussion about whether runts are all small puppies or they must be sick to qualify as a runt.

We can conclude that the parameters of what qualifies a puppy as a runt are unclear and subject to personal interpretation, so no consensus is made on what makes a runt.

Common Myths About Runts

If you look for information about runts on the Internet, you may come across several inaccuracies.

Two of the most frequent misconceptions are that runts are puppies that were positioned in the middle of the uterus or those who were born from the eggs that were fertilized last.

The puppy in the middle of the uterus will be the runt.

False. This belief comes from the fact that the uterus of a dog is shaped like the letter “Y.”

So, some people consider that if a puppy was located in the middle positions, it was farthest away from the nutritious blood supply which is essential for normal development.

We have to mention that this theory is untrue, being that puppies in the uterus constantly move around and change positions.

The puppy that’s conceived last will be the runt.

False. Another theory is that runts are those puppies who were born from the eggs that were fertilized last, which is also false, taking into consideration that mother dog’s eggs are all fertilized at the same time or very close to it.

So What Makes a Runt a Runt?

We decided to include the belief of veterinary theriogenologists, a board-certified veterinarian.

This is a person who specializes in animal reproduction, and one of the most respected is Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz.

Runts Are Pups With Comparatively Poor Implantation Sites

Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz has written a book, The Dog Breeder’s Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management, in which she explains that runts are those puppies who had poor placentation.

She proves that both above-mentioned beliefs are false and that runts are not weak puppies due to the fact that they were conceived last or positioned in the middle of the uterus.

Actually, they had a poor implantation site while the other pups had a better one, causing them to become runts.

The same claim was mentioned by Myra Savant-Harris in the book Canine Reproduction and Whelping: A Dog Breeder’s Guide.

She states that runts are not premature, but they are puppies with a “poor implantation site in the uterus.”

Runts Tend to Have Some Disadvantages

Having in mind the fact that runts are both smaller and weaker than all the other puppies, they must have some disadvantages.

Their main disadvantage is that they cannot compete for the milk that their mother dog provides them as strong as the other puppies.

Being that the other puppies are stronger than the runt, getting their nutrition from the mother is quite a trouble for them.

They Struggle With Nursing

Veterinarians claim that the first 48 hours are the most important in the life of a puppy and getting proper nutrition determines whether puppies will survive, being that this is the period when a mother dog produces special milk known as colostrum.

This milk is rich in maternal antibodies and provides the maternal immunity needed for the future life of a puppy.

If a puppy did not get this milk, it loses all its benefits, which may lead to a weak immune system and vulnerability to illness.

The owner has to pay special attention to this, and if a puppy cannot get to the milk, he/she must provide a commercial puppy-milk replacer, rich with naturally occurring microbial.

They Are Often Ignored by Their Mothers

Unfortunately, runts’ disadvantage is that there are occasions when they are ignored by the mother dog.

This is due to the fact that she notices that the puppy is small or weak, thus focusing on the healthier pups.

Veterinarians believe that this is a form of natural selection, or better to say, the survival of the strongest.

They Are Prone to Ailments

Due to the fact that they struggle with nursing, runts become prone to health ailments which can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.

Nevertheless, if the owner provides them with appropriate care and nutrition, runts can thrive just as well as any other puppy.

With Tender Loving Care, They Have a Chance

Runts typically have a hard time surviving in the wild.

But, in a domestic setting, this is not the case, as they can be given proper care, which they lack in the wild.

If the owner provides the runts with enough love and food, they may not only survive but also manage to live happy and healthy lives just like all the other puppies.

In the majority of cases, helping these little puppies and watching them grow bigger and stronger is considered a rewarding experience for pet owners and caretakers.

Being that runts are small and weak, their mothers may ignore them, and do not nurse them once they are born.

If this is the case, human intervention is necessary so that the puppy can survive.

What puppy owners need to do in this situation is to free the runt from the amniotic sac, massage their bodies to increase circulation, clear their airways of fluids, and sever the umbilical cord.

Puppy owners have to help the runt stay warm, clean, and well-fed.

Runts Should Be Checked Out Thoroughly

Once they are born, runts have to be monitored carefully and checked out by a vet.

He/she will determine if there is the presence of some underlying abnormality or another health issue.

The owner has to check the daily weight of all the puppies, paying particular attention to the runt.

If you are a new puppy owner, we highly suggest that you should take your puppy to a health check by a veterinarian.

This is especially important if you bring a runt puppy.

Possible causes that unable a puppy to grow and become stronger include the presence of a liver shunt, a heavy parasite load, heart defects, and cleft palates, just to name a few.

You must pay special attention to breeders who label runts as “teacup” or “micro” puppies so as to earn more money on them, as they sell them for a premium.

Runts Shouldn’t Sell for a Higher or Lower Price

There were instances when prospective puppy owners wanted to pay a lower price for runts just because they do not develop as well as other pups.

This should not be the case.

The fact is that if the pup is healthy, there is no reason to pay less for it.

Actually, healthy runts catch up quickly and even outgrow their siblings.

Do not get angry if a breeder is not willing to lower the prices for his/her runt.

Beware of Shady Breeders

Special attention should be paid to those breeders who offer “teacup” puppies or “micro” puppies.

Sometimes, they just try to sell runts for a premium.

A trustworthy breeder would sell runts at the same price as the other pups, being that they are neither more nor less valuable than any other pup in a litter.

Famous Runts in Pop Culture

Pop culture is full of characters who were runts of the litter, and this is due to the fact that these poor puppies inspired authors and movie makers worldwide.

We will mention some of them.

Wilbur, the protagonist pig of Charlotte’s Web, was a runt of the litter that was supposed to be killed.

However, he does not only survive but manages to become famous, with the help of a spider who works diligently to save him.

Babe is another piglet runt of the litter, that was supposed to become Christmas dinner, but it suddenly turns into a hero.

Clifford the Big Red Dog is a runt who grows to be 25 feet tall and gets into trouble because of his size.

There are also many other examples of famous runts who have inspired the imagination of writers and filmmakers, such as:

  • Shade the bat from Silverwing
  • Fiver from Watership Down
  • Goliath II from Disney’s movie of the same name
  • Ruth from Anne McCaffrey’s novel The White Dragon
  • Jock from the real story Jock of the Bushveld by Sir James Percy FitzPatrick
  • Cadpig in Dodie Smith’s novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians

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