Interesting Facts About the Runt of the Litter
A Runt is a small, weak puppy.
First of all, let's learn something more about what truly it means to be the “puppy runt of the litter." The word "runt" means “smallest or weakest of the litter." A litter is simply considered a number of young animals born to an animal all at once or, in other words, multiple births from an animal. So, the term “puppy runt of the litter” is used to depict the smallest or the weakest of all the siblings in the litter.
Pop culture is stocked with an abundance of characters who were runts of the litter who have inspired authors and movie makers worldwide.
For instance, Wilbur, the protagonist pig ob Charlotte's Web, was a runt of the litter destined for slaughter. He remarkably not only survives, but manages to become famous, courtesy of a spider who works tirelessly to save him.
Babe, another piglet, was also the runt of the litter, also risks becoming Christmas dinner. But he is miraculously turned into a hero, and is even entered in a sheep herding competition.
Clifford the big red dog is a runt who not only survives but thrives so much that he grows to be 25 feet tall, though sometimes he managed to get into trouble because of his size.
Other examples of famous runts who have inspired the imagination of novelists, cartoonists and filmmakers, include Shade the bat from Silverwing, Fiver from Watership Down, Goliath II from the Disney Disney Production movie, Ruth from Anne McCaffrey's novel the White Dragon, Jock, in the real story "Jock of the Bushveld " by author Sir James Percy FitzPatrick," Cadpig, in Dodie Smith's novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and many more.
But back to reality, what is the actual definition of the runt of the litter?
The Term Lacks a Universal Meaning
While runts are often portrayed as the smallest pups in the litter, there is still no clear cut definition of exactly what a runt is. Is a runt just based on size? Or is it just a matter of a puppy being weaker than the others? Are runts just small or do they also have act sickly to qualify as a runt? It seems like the parameters of what qualifies a puppy as a runt is blurry and subject to personal interpretation.
Even among veterinarians, there doesn't seem to be an agreement as to what constitutes a runt and the term seems to be used loosely. With this, there is a quote by veterinarian Dr. Ron Hines that perfectly matches this scenario:
There is really no agreement among veterinarians – or anyone else for that matter - as to what constitutes a runt.— Dr. Ron Hines
Runts Tend to Have Some Disadvantages...
Since runts are smaller or weaker than the rest of the squad of puppies, they for sure have several disadvantages, but one of the main disadvantages is that the runt has a harder time competing for the milk that their mother dog provides them. The other pups or puppies are stronger than the runt so the runt has a hard time getting Its nutrition from mother.
Getting nutrition in the first 48 hours of life is very important as this is when mother dog produces special milk known as colostrum, which is rich in maternal antibodies and provides maternal immunity. Failure to reap these benefits of this milk, may lead to a weak immune system and vulnerability for illness. If a puppy is reluctant to nurse, caregivers should provide a commercial puppy milk replacer that is rich with naturally occurring microbials.
Another disadvantage for the runt is that sometimes the runt is ignored by mother dog because she detects the puppy is small or weak and naturally tends to focus on the healthier pups. This is a form of natural selection, in other words, it is survival of the fittest.
On top of struggling to nurse, runts often also struggle with health ailments which can range from mild to severe and life-threatening.
With Tender Loving Care, They Have a Chance
Runts have a hard time surviving in the wild, only because they are weak and small. Generally, runts in the wild cannot last more than their infancy so the survival struggle for them in the wild is real. In a domestic setting though, things are quite different. When given proper care, runts not only survive, but they may also manage to thrive and live their happy lives just as the other non-runt puppies. Many caretakers confess that helping out these little fellows and watching them grow bigger and stronger is a very rewarding experience!
What kind of help do runts need? Many need help from the get-go. As mentioned, because runts are small and weak, mother dog might ignore them. Mother dog may be reluctant to nurse them or she may just simply reject them straight off the bat right when they are born.
This means that human intervention may be necessary in order to help the puppy survive. Puppy owners may, therefore, have to roll up their sleeves to free the runt from the amniotic sac, massage their teeny bodies to increase circulation, clear their airways from fluids and severe the umbilical cord. Puppy owners may also need to provide assistance to help the puppy runt stay warm, clean, and well-fed.
There Are Some Inaccuracies About Why Runts are Runts
There are several inaccuracies populating the web as to what causes a runt to be a runt. One misconception states that runts are simply puppies that were positioned in the middle of the uterus or the ones who came from the eggs which were fertilized or conceived last.
The theory that the runt is positioned in the middle is based on the fact that the uterus of a dog is shaped like the letter "Y." The belief is that being in the middle makes the runt to be positioned furthest away from the nutritious blood supply, necessary for the normal development. This theory is untrue. When puppies are in the uterus they move around and they are changing positions constantly.
The other theory that states that runts are conceived last is also quite unfounded, considering that mother dog's eggs are conceived at the same time or very close to it. All pups are ultimately the same age.
Veterinary Theriogenologists Clear Things up
A Veterinary Theriogenologist is a board-certified veterinarian who specialized in animal reproduction. These respected professionals have made reproduction their area of specialty. One of the most respected is Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz.
In her book, The Dog Breeder’s Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management Dr. Kustritz explains that runts are simply puppies who had poor placentation. Runts, therefore, are not weak because they were conceived last or happened to be positioned in the middle of the uterus, they just had the misfortune of having a poor implantation site while the other pups had better one.
"What accounts for runts is not being fertilized later than the other eggs, it is their placement within the uterine horn, " says Myra Savant-Harris in the book Canine Reproduction and Whelping: A Dog Breeder's Guide. She also says that runts are not premature puppies, but that they are just simply puppies who had a "poor implantation site in the uterus," just as large puppies are not overdue pups, but simply pups who had a great implantation site.
Runt pups most likely are the same age as their littermates but had poor placentation.— Margaret V. Root Kustritz
Runts Should Be Checked Out Thoroughly
Upon being born, runts should be monitored carefully and checked out by a vet to determine whether there may be the presence of some underlying congenital abnormality or other health problem that is preventing the pup from blooming as the other pups. Breeders should take a daily weight of all the puppies to keep track of growth, paying particular attention to the runt.
Upon being adopted in a new home, all new puppy owners are advised to have their puppy undergo a health check by a veterinarian, but this is even more imperative when bringing a runt puppy home. Arrangements should have been put in place in advance with the breeder as to who pays for these veterinary services and what shall be reimbursed should the pup be found with a health ailment.
Possible causes that may prevent a pup from flourishing may include the presence of a liver shunt, a heavy parasite load, heart defects, and cleft palates, just to name a few.
The runts of the litter can have heart defects and other congenital problems including umbilical hernias that the breeder might not disclose to you so it's a good idea to have your veterinarian do a complete examination of the puppy before you agree to buy the pup (or have a refund if there is a congenital problem).— Dr. Jan
Runts Shouldn't Demand a Higher or Lower Price
Often times, perspective puppy owners expect to pay a lower price because a puppy is slower to develop compared to the other pups; however, as long as the pup is healthy, there really should be no reason to. Many runts catch up quickly and it's not unheard of for some to even outgrow their siblings! Hence, why often breeders are unwilling to lower their price in the case of a runt unless there is something wrong in the health department.
A word of caution is needed with breeders of so-called "teacup" puppies or "micro" puppies who try to sell runts for a premium making them appear as valuable and highly in demand. A breeder would normally sell runts at the same price as the other pups knowing that they are not more valuable nor less valuable, nonetheless.
The small size does not necessarily mean that the runt of the litter will not be a good pet if all other health issues are within expected limits.— Dr. Robert L. Ridgway
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.