Interesting Facts About the Runt of the Litter

Updated on May 23, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."


By Definition...

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.

Puppy Runt Care
Puppy Runt Care | Source

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.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      4 months ago

      I got my dog the day after she was born i was working for a breeder and got pick of the litter there were 6 puppies altogether but only 3 made it the mother wouldnt take care of the 2 smaller ones so we put then on a schedule with milk replacer and they went everywhere with us because we couldnt leave them there seeing the schedule was feeding every hour and we were gone hours on end the 2 smallest ones almost died but they are now 1 year old and mine is pregnant being the runt the breeder thought she was dead when born but i kept up hope and she started breathing am wiggled into my hand she is my baby

    • profile image

      Janet K. Billingsley 

      11 months ago

      I have a 3 year old male Standard Poodle and I am interested in the purchase of a female that the owner discloses is the runt of the liter. Are there specific issues to breeding with a former runt female?

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      I put a $200 deposit down on a American bulldog litter pick of the litter female. When the puppies were born there were four males and one female... The female is gorgeous red color but she is the smallest of the letter at Two weeks old. The breeder said I could have the deposit back. The mothers 107 pounds fathers hundred 120 pounds. I want 100 pound dog at least. What should I do? Please comment if you have and opinion.

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      21 months ago

      Talk with the breeder. This pup should still stay with mom and pups for another 3 weeks at a minimum if this is happening at 5 weeks. By then, the health issue may have cleared up.

    • profile image


      22 months ago

      I had a runt puppy that I adopted from a rescue centre after someone left it on the street to die with two others it was in a very bad condition unlike the other two the vets told us it was the runt and that it needed more care than the other two so we got the other adopted by our friend and we took the runt after a couple years the pups did grow up together and the runt ended up even more active than the other he is the same height so just because they are the runt doesn't mean they might have problems as they get older.

    • profile image


      22 months ago

      we have picked the smallest bitch from a litter of miniature schnauzer, at 5 weeks she is being hand fed as she wasn't getting to her mother, after a check at the vets she is on anti biotics as a precaution as her stomach is bloated, otherwise bright & alert should this put me off buying her??

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I had a raunt 3 weeks old he was a lot smaller and weaker I didn't know to keep him from the others liter mates they pushed him over and he died I read everything about a raunt but not to separate one I thought they need to stay together

    • profile image

      Susan Robinson 

      2 years ago

      We had a litter of 7 border collie pups, the tiny runt girl had a dreadful battle to survive. At 5 weeks we were told she had a heart murmur, then at 7 weeks it was slightly worse and we had a cardiologist do a Scan. Poor Rosie has pulmonary stenosis, she is staying home with her Mum and Dad and at the moment seems well, just a little wheezy at times. She has just going over 7 pounds in weight whereas her siblings will no doubt now be 14 pounds. She is such a beautiful little character who loves playing with her Mum Lottie

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago

      Patrick, gotta love those runts. And don't be surprised if that pup catches up a little later, it does happen sometimes!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      very informative article. We are actually about to adopt a blue nose pitbull runt and the vet already says he can tell by the size of her head she won't ever be as big as her siblings or Mom or Dad

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      2 years ago

      Suhail, glad you found this article on puppy runts informative, kind regards!

    • profile image

      Suhail and my dog K2 

      2 years ago

      Hi Adrienne,

      I would have never thought about runts so much except for this article.

      Very informative indeed!




    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)