Is It Bad to Get the Runt of the Litter?

Is It Bad to Get the Runt of the Litter

It’s a question many aspiring puppy parents want to know: can you adopt a runt puppy? Or is it a bad idea? If you have similar concerns, this article is for you as my wife and I did indeed get the runt of the litter a year ago… was it bad? Here’s what we learned…

There is no right or wrong when considering if it’s bad getting the runt of the litter. It will only be a bad idea to get a runt puppy if they have underlying health issues, and weren’t cared for properly after birth. But if they are in good health and their personality suits your preferences, adopting the runt of the litter isn’t a bad idea.

Read on as I cover everything you need to know about adopting a runt puppy: the basics of what made them become a runt, what to consider before getting one, whether they can grow into a normal-sized puppy, and more.

How bad can the runt of the litter be?

There’s been a growing trend of more potential puppy parents adopting runt puppies. We did it… ours was the smallest of the lot, and nobody else wanted him.

But a year later, our runt of the litter is now a healthy size and weight, shows no aggressive tendencies, and is perfectly normal!

And going by the many testimonials online, some admit it’s one of the best decisions they’ve ever made. But for full disclosure, others have said it was regrettable one.

Perhaps that’s why most aspiring puppy owners with a soft spot for adorably tiny puppies often wonder whether getting a runt puppy is a bad or good idea.

But first things first, what exactly is a runt? And why do they end up in a litter?

bad to get runt of litter
The runt of the litter we got is on the left, he’s nearly as big as our other dog now.

A runt is simply a puppy born with abnormally low weight and size. They are the weakest in the litter and thus experience a couple of disadvantages over their normal-sized litter mates.

Adopting the runt of the litter isn’t a bad idea, if you’ve confirmed they have no underlying health issues and that their personality appeals to you.

It’s a decision that requires careful consideration — don’t too quick to get yourself a runt puppy. Otherwise, you may bring home a puppy with a host of ailments, and it will just be vet bills after bills for you.

Not all dog litters have runts. But for those that do, the runt puppy may be because of any of the following reasons:

A dysfunctional placenta

When a dog is pregnant, the placenta forms in her uterus. This organ, which acts more like a nutrient source, connects with the puppy’s umbilical cord.

It is from the placenta that the puppies in the womb receive (through the umbilical cord) the necessary nutrients and oxygen to grow.

If the placenta in the pregnant dog’s uterus doesn’t grow to full size or gets damaged due to a health condition, some puppies will miss out on adequate nourishment as the lucky ones thrive. The former will be born as runts.

Runts that survived in the womb without enough oxygen or nutrition can also be born with defects such as heart abnormalities.

A malnourished pregnant dog

Pregnant dogs must be on a high-quality diet throughout their pregnancy journey.

If a pregnant dog doesn’t feed well, the nutrients flowing to their placenta won’t be enough to cater to all the puppies in the womb. Those that don’t feed enough will be born as runts.

Pregnant dog or sire with underlying health conditions

If the female or male dog involved in breeding have any genetic health issues, this will affect the growth of some puppies in the womb.

The inherited condition will also interfere with the runt’s normal development after birth.

Finding out about the runt’s health status

Not all runt puppies have underlying medical problems. There are those whose only main problem is low birth weight.

But some runts have different health issues hidden in their tiny bodies

The only sure way to know if the runt you’re eyeing is in good health is to engage your breeder and a vet. Any reputable breeder must have their runt’s health records.

They should also be working closely with a licensed vet to help the runt pull through.

Make sure the breeder verifies the following:

  • Whether the runt has undergone any genetic tests and screening for non-hereditary conditions (and what the results say)
  • Whether the runt’s parents were screened for health problems before breeding (and the records show nothing was amiss)
  • Whether the runt’s vaccination protocol is up to date. Runt puppies have a more delicate immune system. Missing any vaccination can affect their health throughout puppyhood.

It’s often advisable to chat with the breeder’s vet for more clarity on the runt’s health. And most importantly, make sure the runt puppy undergoes a full health check before you buy it.

When a licensed vet vouches for the runt’s good health, you’ll be sure you aren’t making a huge mistake getting yourself the runt.

The level of care the runt of the litter recieved

Runt puppies have it rough once they’re out of their mother’s womb. They often have to work a little harder to feed and get their mother’s warmth.

Without round-the-clock attention from the breeder, a runt may not suckle enough — which is a huge problem given its low weight.

The bigger puppies in the litter usually shove the runt out of the way during feeding time. If a runt doesn’t drink the mother’s antibodies-rich breastmilk as required, their immunity will suffer. They may not survive.

And if they do survive, the low weight and weight-related health problems will persist as they continue getting older.

The breeder should constantly help the runt to latch onto the mother’s teats. If this tactic fails, they should bottle-feed the runt with a high-quality milk replacer enriched with colostrum.

When a runt born with no health issues feeds well, they have a good chance of catching up with the rest size-wise and growing into a healthy puppy!

That’s why when you adopt a healthy runt, you must ensure the following:

  • You’re giving them a puppy milk formula approved by your vet. And when they start weaning, consult your vet on what solid foods to feed them.
  • Their sleeping area is warm enough since runt puppies tend to lose body heat faster. This puts them at risk of hypothermia, which is potentially fatal as it can affect their blood flow, breathing, and immune system.
  • Always take them for frequent vet checkups so you can know whether they are attaining the expected growth milestones.

Experts say a newborn puppy should add at least 5-10% of its birth weight every day.

So if you notice very minimal-to-no weight change a few weeks after the runt’s birth (after going through the breeder’s records), take it as a sign that they didn’t feed properly.

And because of this, they may develop health problems later.

Get a feel of the runt’s personality

Sometimes, runts don’t get as much affection from their mothers as the other littermates do.

Some mother dogs tend to completely reject the runt and give all their love and warmth to the other puppies. This rejection may lead to a runt developing a fearful temperament.

If you adopt a healthy runt with such a personality, you will need to put extra effort into socialization. This may be quite a challenge if you’re a first-time puppy parent.

You can have a better idea of a runt’s personality by taking the time to observe them as you visit the breeder. Try playing with the runt both when they are alone and as they hang around their mother and siblings.

By paying attention to how the runt interacts with you and everyone else, you’ll know whether or not their personality suits your preferences.

Related Questions

Why you shouldn’t get the runt of the litter

As mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t get the runt of the litter if they have an underlying medical condition. Their health demands might overwhelm you.

Is the runt of the litter harder to train?

Not really. As with all other puppies, training a runt also requires patience and commitment. The training may be hard or easy depending on the runt’s or normal-sized puppy’s breed or personality,

Are runts in dog litter bad?

The short answer is, not always. As mentioned earlier, not all runts in the litter have underlying health issues.

Do runts grow to normal size?

Yes, that’s right. Runts that have no underlying medical issues and are fed properly grow to normal size.


To conclude, it’s not bad to get the runt of the litter if they are fit and healthy. But sometimes you won’t know until you get them home, have vet checks.

But we did get the runt of the litter. He’s now as big as our other dog and is perfectly fine!

You might also like…

Runt photo in header via

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

Recent Posts