Is It Good to Pick the Runt of the Litter?

By John Martin - May 12, 2021

English Cocker Spaniel feeding her litter

Finally, after a lot of deliberation, you have decided to bring home a new puppy. And, while you’re choosing a puppy from a new litter, you may notice that one of the puppies is a lot smaller than the rest. The smallest puppy in the litter is called the runt of the litter. Runts are typically smaller and weaker compared to the rest of the puppies in the litter. The often-asked question is, is it is good to pick the runt of the litter? In this article, we have discussed everything to know about the runt of the litter so that you can decide if picking one is ok.

What Is a Runt?

The common misconception about a runt is that it is a cute puppy that is much smaller than the others in the litter. However, according to a breeder, a runt puppy is essentially the puppy or several puppies whose weight is unusually very low, much lower than the healthy level for the particular breed. This puppy is usually called the runt of the litter.

If the newborn puppy’s weight is not normal, then it can develop health problems later on, which is why it is best to be informed if you plan to pick the runt of the litter.

Why Do Litters Have Runts?

Usually, there are common misconceptions of why there are runts in a litter, including:

  • A common myth is that runts are usually conceived much later compared to their siblings, which means that they are born prematurely.
  • The other common myth is that runts develop in the center of the mother’s uterus, which causes them to be undernourished. In reality, puppies constantly move around in their mother’s womb and get an equal amount of nourishment.

The actual reasons for why there are runts in the litter are:

  • The main reason is because of poor implantation in the mother’s uterus.
  • If one of the parents is not in the best of health, there is a greater chance that the overall litter is weaker, which will almost always result in a runt. This can also occur if the female is very young or has had previous health problems.
  • Congenital defects can harm the puppy’s growth in the womb and when the puppy is born, sometimes the defects can be seen visibly, while other times they may be undetected.

What Happens to Runts After They Are Born?

All newborn puppies depend on their mother entirely, at least for the first 3 weeks to survive. But the runt of the litter is disadvantaged and will require the help of the breeder in order to survive. Depending on the number of puppies in the litter, it can be quite difficult for all of them to receive the same amount of attention from their mom, especially during feeding times. All the puppies in the litter scramble to get their nutrition from their mom, but the runt being small and weak is likely to get pushed away by the stronger puppies.

It is extremely important for the breeder to step in at such times and help the runt. Without the breeder’s help, the mother is most likely to give up on the runt, especially if she has a large litter. It is a good idea to have the runt feeding closest to the tail of the mother because the milk is richest and most nutritious here.

Runt Health Problems

Being the weakest of the litter, usually, the runt is more prone to health problems compared to its siblings. However, this does not necessarily mean that a runt cannot have a long and healthy life. If the runt is taken care of properly, it can live a good life just like any other dog.

It is extremely important that when the runt is trying to survive amongst the other puppies that it gets its mother’s milk. The mother’s milk has vital antibodies that protect the puppies until they receive their vaccinations and their immune system develops. If the runt misses this important stage and does not get its mother’s milk, its bodies will become weaker and it will be vulnerable to infection and illnesses that can kill it easily.

The first challenge that the runt faces when it’s born is the hazard of hypothermia and dehydration. Both of these can kill the runt, so it is extremely important that the runt is kept warm and also receives sufficient mother’s milk to keep it hydrated.

To Pick a Runt or Not?

When you visit the breeder, it is a good idea to observe the litter and see how the runt interacts with its mother and siblings and this will give you an understanding of the puppy. A better interaction will show that the runt has not been rejected and have had some type of support.

Speak with the breeder and ask if the runt has been checked by a vet. Don’t make any decision before the runt is checked by the vet. This is an important factor in your decision to pick the runt or not. However, despite being checked by a vet, the runt could develop health issues later on.

However, if the breeder is reputable and responsible, they will give you a detailed explanation of the kind of care the runt was given after its birth. And, if the runt was given adequate care and has passed the required health checks, then it is as good as any other pup. The key is to focus on the runt’s health instead of looking at a cheap buy.

Related: Puppy Acne 101

Caring for the Runt of the Litter

If you have finally made a decision to pick the runt of the litter, then you should also know how to care for it properly. Because the runt is smaller and weaker and faces several challenges due to this, you need to give it extra attention and time. The runt can suffer from various issues such as dehydration, hypothermia and infection. So, here are some tips to ensure that your runt gets proper care.

Ensure It Gets Its Mother’s Milk

Keep the runt with the breeder for as long as possible and ensure that the breeder is giving the puppy priority at each of the feeding times. As discussed earlier, the mother’s milk is the most important for the runt because it contains essential antibodies that can help to prevent diseases and infections. Avoid taking the runt home until it is completely weaned off its mother’s milk. And, at home, make sure to feed your puppy special puppy formula that has been recommended by the vet. Avoid cow, human or other milk because these do not have sufficient nutrients for your runt.

Keep It Warm and Hydrated

When you take the runt home, it is very important to keep it well hydrated. You can do this by bottle feeding your runt with puppy formula that your vet recommends. There are even some formulas that are specially meant for runts. This will provide your runt nutrition, as well as keep them hydrated.

Runts also need to be kept warm as they cannot do it themselves in the beginning. Create a cozy area for your pup with soft blankets. You can also use an electric heating pad under the blankets to provide warmth continuously.

Regular Check Ups

Make sure that you take your runt to the vet for regular check ups. This will ensure that your runt is healthy and also help you determine if you need to start any vaccinations earlier.

Do Runts of the Litter Grow Normally?

While runts start off much smaller and weaker compared to the other pups in the litter, this does not necessarily mean that they will remain small. If the runt is healthy, then it is likely to grow up to their regular breed size as soon as they begin eating solid food, as long as it does not develop any health issues.

It is quite common to see people choosing runts hoping that they will remain small in size. However, the size of the dog should not be judged when it is a puppy, whether it is a runt or not. If you’re looking for a small-sized dog, then it is advisable to go in for a small breed.

Are Runts Unhealthy?

Most often, people assume that runts are always unhealthy. However, this is not always the case. While it is true that some runts may be unhealthy, especially if they have been rejected a lot by their mother or have not received vital support after birth, they will probably be too unhealthy to survive. However, if the runt was cared for properly by the breeder after its birth, it is quite normal that the runt will be healthy and will live a healthy life.

Generally, runts are underweight. However, if the runt’s weight falls to less than 25% of what it should be for its breed and age, then this increases the risk of the runt dying. So, it is extremely important for the runt to get maximum nourishment and be examined by the vet properly.

Are Runts More Difficult to Train?

As long as your runt of the litter is healthy and is making good progress in terms of its size, weight and general well being, there will be no problem in the ability to train your dog. However, any puppy, whether it is a runt or not needs plenty of dedication, consistency and patience to train them. Your runt can be trained just like a regular pup. The key is the breed of dog you’re getting. This makes all the difference in its training. While some breeds are smart and extremely easy to train, others can be quite a challenge.

Does a Runt Live Longer?

Well, not really. If a runt gets through the critical stages, then it can typically live a normal, healthy and full life like any other dog. There is no scientific research to show that runts live longer than normal dogs. The life expectancy of the dog is determined by its breed, diet, exercise, health issues and overall well being.

Is a Runt Cheaper to Buy?

If you’re picking a runt of the litter, the price of the runt should be the same as any other puppy in the litter. If a breeder is quoting a cheaper price for the runt, then this should be a red flag. First of all, the runt should definitely not be more expensive than other pups. However, some unethical breeders may charge you more quoting the excuse that they have had to pay a lot of vet bills for the runt. Usually, health check ups are factored into the cost of the puppies and must be the same for the runt too.

And, if the breeder is charging less for the runt, then it could either mean that the breeder feels that the runt is not worth the price or the breeder knows that something is wrong with the runt, which is a cause for concern and you must confirm that the runt’s health is good before you actually pay the breeder. A good idea would be to have the runt checked by a vet first so that you don’t end up making a mistake.

Are Runts More Aggressive?

When the runt is with its mother and siblings, in order to survive, it may have to fight and there is a chance that the runt may carry this behavior into adulthood too. However, this is not the case always as the breeder will step in and support the runt and help it to survive. And, this takes away the need to fight for survival. Also, most often, the runts who are sufficiently healthy and grow into adults become normal dogs very quickly and are not more aggressive compared to other pups.

The trait of aggressiveness usually is inherited by dogs from their parents and this is not a trait of being a runt. Dogs also become aggressive because of how they are raised by their owners. So, in short, runts aren’t likely to be more aggressive than the other pups in the litter.

In conclusion, the answer to the question, is it good to pick the runt of the litter? Is that it is perfectly ok to pick the runt as long as it is healthy and received the care after it was born. And, before you finally make your final decision, make sure that the runt has been checked by a vet.