By the vague definition, a “runt” simply means the smallest or weakest in a group. When looking for a new furry pal to bring into the family, most people tend to look at a litter of puppies and ignore the cute little runt of the litter. This is usually because they assume the puppy, being smaller and weaker, is less playful and more susceptible to sickness.
In reality, there is no universal definition of what constitutes the runt of the litter. Although a runt is usually physically smaller in size than the rest of their siblings, this does not necessarily mean they are weaker or sicker at the start of life. Also, a puppy being smaller than the rest of his/her brothers and sisters doesn’t necessarily mean they are the runt. This is where the catch comes in. We’ll get to that later.
Why Does a Runt in the Litter Occur?
Runts are born because of the fact that mama dogs, like most animals, have a Y-shaped uterus. By luck, the puppies in utero who are closest to the blood are able to obtain higher levels of nutrients, while the babies in the mid-section of the uterus receive less. This is why all the puppies in a litter differ in size, at least by a little bit, with the puppy who probably received the least amount of sustenance being the runt. There has never been a recorded case of there being more than one runt in a single litter.
Is Getting a Runt a Good Idea?
Now back to the catch; Because runts are indeed tinier than their puppy siblings, they are unlucky in that they have to live with certain disadvantages. To start, at the beginning of their life, runts struggle to compete with their siblings for milk from mom, due to their small size. This can be dangerous, as the most important time frame for a newborn puppy to drink mama’s milk is within the first 48 hours when colostrum, (the antibody-rich milk for immune strength) content is high.
If the runt fails to get enough, or any colostrum in these first two days, they will have much weaker immune systems and definitely be more susceptible to sickness, or death. Due to this, the caregiver will need to provide the pup with a natural puppy formula that contains naturally occurring microbes.
Secondly, the runt of the litter is sadly sometimes ignored by the mama dog for natural selection reasons. In other words, she decides that the healthy pups are more important to sustain, as they are more likely to survive. All of this means that runt puppies, being so fragile and more prone to sickness, need extra tender loving care, especially if they do end up coming down with a mild to severe illness.
Deciding to take a runt of the litter home is not a bad idea if the right steps are taken to ensure they stay healthy. In fact, there are a lot of stories of people bringing home a runt puppy, only to see them thrive later in life and in some instances grow to be huge!
Raising a Runt Puppy
The first step that should be taken when a runt is born is to help them get milk from mom. Since they will have more trouble getting to the milk than the other puppies will, you may need to assist them. In addition, being weaker, once on the nipple, they may not be able to get as much milk out as their siblings. You can help them with this by allowing one of the bigger pups to nurse first, getting the milk to flow, and then gently taking them off to let the runt nurse with ease. Another tip is to place the runt at the lowest teats, closest to the mama dog’s tail, as these produce the most milk.
Secondly, it is important to get the runt a checkup with a veterinarian to make sure they do not have a genetic abnormality or congenital defect that may be preventing them from growing. If all is well, and your little runt is simply underweight, it is crucial to weigh them daily to be sure they are catching up on weight gain. Sometimes, a veterinarian may recommend a supplement to help them along.
All puppies, especially runts, require lots of warmth during the first weeks of life. It is a good idea to place a warming lamp above their whelping box, which keeps the area situated at around 85 to 90 degrees Farenheight. (Try to look for one that does not emit radiation). Your runt puppy may need serious medical intervention from a vet if they are failing to gain weight or if they feel cool to the touch, even with all warmth provided.
Lastly, if you keep the runt together with the rest of his puppy family, it is vital to keep a close eye on their interactions, as the bigger, chunkier puppies can easily hurt the smaller runt when playing or roughhousing.