There are many factors that can influence a person’s decision about which pet to pick. When looking for a kitten, it might be tempting to go for the largest and most robust baby in the bunch. As most cat lovers know, kittens are born in litters of anywhere from two to six. And within each litter, there is usually one kitten that is noticeably smaller than the others. This smallest kitten is often referred to as the runt of the litter cat.
In fact, the runt of a litter could possess some interesting traits and characteristics that could make it the perfect addition to your family. As long as it is healthy.
How Can You Identify a Runt?
Before we get into the surprising facts and trivia about runt kittens, let’s start by defining the term. The simplest way to describe a true runt of the litter cat is any recently born kitten that is smaller in size and weaker than the other newborn kittens. There is often a runt in large litters and there are a few reasons as to why this occurs.
- The first is that they are born small. When they are developing in their mother’s womb they may be at the “end of the line” so speak in the placenta and the last to receive the nutrient-rich blood. They may also have a genetic defect which means they are not growing as well in the womb.
- Another reason is that they are just not as strong as their larger littermates. Because of that size disparity, it’s often difficult for the runt to make its way to the mother cat’s nipple to feed. This can result in less mother’s milk, fewer nutrients, and less warmth than a mother typically provides her other healthy kittens. Resulting in a lower body temperature and a smaller size.
- The kittens with the highest birth weights often exert their strength by pushing the runt away and securing more motherly attention for themselves. Furthermore, the mother might decide to shun a runt entirely, leaving the small animal to fend for itself. As a result, runts can remain small and face serious negative health issues unless pet owners intervene.
- The last and most serious issue is that they may have a birth defect. While some genetic defects can be treated such as a mild cleft palate. There are others that are very serious and can be fatal such as underdeveloped organs, hydrocephalus, and some heart defects.
1. From Surviving to Thriving
The first fascinating fact about the runt of a litter is that these animals often overcome serious adversities. In addition to dealing with low birth weights and an inability to reach its mother, a runt kitten is usually born with some potentially devastating complications.
Unfortunately, this means that the runt often doesn’t survive to adulthood. Many others, however, not only find a way to keep fighting but grow into a healthy normal cats. In some cases, the mother is able to give a runt extra attention and help nurse it along.
For most of these struggling kittens though, it is the intervention of a loving pet parent or the qualified staff at an animal shelter that can mean the difference between life and death. With enough special attention and nutrient-rich cat food. It’s quite common for even the weakest kitten to shed its image as a runt and develop into a healthy cat.
2. There’s Usually Just One Runt
Not every litter of kittens has a discernible runt. Of those that do, however, it’s rare to identify more than one. Cats that give birth to large litters are likely to have smaller kittens overall. This doesn’t mean that they are all runts, though.
To be classified as a runt kitten, the animal must be significantly smaller and weaker than others in the same litter. If there are only moderate differences in the sizes of the siblings, it’s likely that the litter either doesn’t have a runt or the smallest kitten simply didn’t survive.
There are some instances where the entire there is a whole litter of runts. A big litter of small kittens is often due to the mother giving birth prematurely or the whole litter having birth defects.
3. Some kitten Runts Meet a Tragic End
As seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom, weaker kittens are considerably less likely to make it to adulthood than their larger and stronger counterparts. In a significant portion of these cases, the cause of death can be attributed to a lack of nourishment or an underlying health abnormality.
Sadly, a runt can often die because of the actions of its mother. Cats, as with a number of other mammals, have been observed eating a runt shortly after its birth. While this might seem unthinkable, it actually serves an important function.
Devouring a weak baby that is unlikely to survive anyway allows the mother to devote her attention to the other kittens. In the end, a cat is motivated by an inherent drive to see as many kittens as possible survive. To ensure there are plenty of resources for the bigger babies in the litter. A mother cat must sometimes take the drastic step of getting a runt out of the way.
4. Bravery Through Adversity
We’ve all heard stories about people who have overcome enormous odds to become successful despite their physical, mental, or emotional setbacks. The same is often true for animals that experience serious hurdles early in their lives.
For the runt of the litter cat, life begins with an incredible disadvantage. Instead of depending on a mother that might turn away from it or siblings that push it aside, these weak animals are often left to fight for their survival. This instinct can be observed in adult cats even after they make it through the touch-and-go months after birth.
When observing the appearance of two fully grown cats, it might be impossible to determine which one was born a runt. After spending some time focused on their behaviors, however, chances are the one with a more fearless personality was the one that made it through a difficult period after its birth.
5. A kitten Runt Might Become Your Closest Companion
Small, weak kittens often beat the odds because someone took a special interest in them and provided the proper care. Sometimes this closeness between a human and a runt can create a lifelong bond that will never be broken.
It makes sense that an otherwise defenseless animal would begin to see its source of nourishment and affection as an integral part of its life. This means that the kitten could become a bit clingy at times. But runts can be among the most big-hearted animals of all.
The commitment required to nurse an underdeveloped kitten through this difficult period will probably take its toll on any person who has not experienced such a relationship before. When that runt becomes a healthy cat that enjoys cuddling up and spending quality time with its owner. It’s sure to be worth all that hard work and sacrifice.
6. Runt of the litter cats are Very Popular at the Pound
The deck is clearly stacked against any kitten born as the runt of the litter. Nevertheless, there are some possible perks to being the smallest of the bunch. For cats that end up at an animal shelter, for example, the key to getting adopted seems to hinge on the cuteness factor.
Since many people are hard-wired to respond enthusiastically to the smallest furry friends, evidence shows that runts are among the most likely animals to quickly find a stable home. Bringing home a tiny kitten will likely bring a smile to the faces of everyone in the family. Whether in person or through photos on social media, it seems that almost all animal lovers want to be a part of any story that involves raising a runt into a fully formed and flourishing feline.
7. Unique Cats Have Unique Needs
It stands to reason that an underdeveloped runt needs plenty of loving care. If you’re inclined to adopt one of these pets as a kitten, be sure to get some specific advice regarding how much and how often to feed it. In addition to supplying its nutritional needs, don’t forget to provide the sweet talk, understanding attitude, and frequent petting that will show the new addition to the family that it is welcomed and safe.
Those runts that are not adopted until they are adults, on the other hand, sometimes come with their own needs and challenges. Be patient with these cats, since they might not have had an opportunity to learn the survival skills and positive behaviors that typical kittens obtain during the development process.
Although runts tend to come with at least a little bit of baggage, they are often among the most lovable and affectionate cats around. If you’re in the market for a kitten or adult feline, why not consider a runt?
Dr. Elly has always loved animals, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian. After studying hard in veterinary school, she practiced in several different countries before moving to North Carolina with her husband and young family. She currently works part time as a veterinarian while caring for her 4 busy children and writing this blog. Dr. Elly genuinely cares about the welfare of her patients. She currently has three dogs, two cats, 5 chickens and 2 rabbits (yes a bit of a zoo!)