What is the Runt of a Cat Litter

Being the runt of a cat litter is not the best position for a kitten.  The mother intuitively is aware of which kitten is the weakest kitten and she seems to ignore it by favoring the rest of the litter.

What is the Runt of the Cat Litter? The runt of a cat litter is the kitten that is the weakness and that probably will not survive.  The mother cat along with the siblings will ignore and sometimes even push aside the runt so that they will be able to become relatively stronger.  In essence, this situation is the same as the survival of the fittest.  

Is there always a runt in a cat litter?

There is not always a runt cat one hundred percent of the time.  Nevertheless, the kittens are not going to end up being the same size all of the time.  There will be a few members of the litter that are relatively smaller than the rest.

Some scientists feel that there is a difference in the size of the kittens because the kittens that develop in the center of the uterus are supplied with fewer nutrients than the kittens that form closer to the blood support at the sides of the uterus.  It is as if the kittens in the center are being fed less even before they are born.

If the litter is relatively small, there is a chance that each kitten will be supplied with an adequate amount of nutrients which means that they could grow to be relatively the same size.

Another reason why a litter may not have a runt is that the eggs were fertilized by just one father.  With cats, the eggs present may be fertilized all at once, which means that there could be more than one father for a litter. The situation where there are multiple fathers for a litter means that the eggs were fertilized by multiple sets of sperm called superfecundation.

When there is just one father, the litter will all have some traits of the single father. They may end up being the same size because of similar genetics.

Besides genetics, there is another reason why a litter may not have a runt.  It could be that the mother noticed that a kitten or kittens probably would not survive very long because of birth defects and she decides that is best to end the life or lives.  There are cases when the mother would consume these potential weaklings so that the healthy kittens would have a better chance of surviving.

Do the Runts of Litters Always Health Issues?

It is not a given that the runt of the litter will have health problems.  Genetics may cause them to be prone to develop certain illnesses, but being hand-fed or placed in warmth may allow them to develop normally and to survive.

There is a chance that runts will become sickly because they are not able to compete adequately for the attention of the mother.  The siblings may push the runt aside during feeding sessions or even force them to sleep in areas where there is less warmth.  As a result, a malnourished kitten will develop illnesses or even die due to a fading syndrome that causes death in a runt.

Typically, a kitten will tend to fade healthwise due to lesser bodyweight which affects the overall health of the kitten.  If you were to take action and to pay more attention to a runt that is ill, it may survive to maturity.  You will need to see a vet since sometimes an intervention involving shots of glucose may be needed to increase its body weight.

Also, the vet will determine if the kitten should be put down or euthanized.  It would be cruel to allow a kitten to survive that had severe congenital problems which can cause a lot of suffering for a kitten.

Besides general congenital problems, a smaller kitten may be prone to infection by parasites.  When a kitten receives an adequate supply of milk from its mother, it is receiving a strong dose of colostrum.  This is extremely important during the first three days when the mother is able to provide antibodies through its milk to its young.

Antibodies had been built up within the body of the mother over its lifetime of being exposed to different elements that can cause health problems.

In many cases, although a runt may have to deal with more problems such as having harmful parasites, if they survive over 4 weeks or so, they will start to become healthy kittens. They may even grow to a size that matches their stronger siblings.

Is it Possible the Runt of Litter or Cats will End up Surviving?

I feel that it depends on how they are treated health-wise and how much will power allows them to fight for space during the mother cat’s feeding sessions.  In other words, even if the runt is dealing with less than optimal genetics, they may still survive.

Even though a runt may end up surviving for a couple of months, they may still have trouble becoming adopted in a pet shop.  Studies have proven that runts are harder to sell versus regular kittens.  Pet shops find it easier to sell stronger healthy animals.

Can There Be More than One Runt in a Litter?

If a cat has a relatively large litter, it is possible that more than one kitten will be relatively smaller than the rest. This does not mean that there are two runts, a runt is always the cat that is the most ostracized in the litter.  So, no, you cannot technically have more than one runt.

The oxford dictionary states that it is always the weakest, smallest member of a litter.

How to Keep Care of the Runt of the Cat Litter

Being that there will be a runt in a litter, what is the best course of action to ensure that it survives?  It is likely that the siblings will harm it or that the mother will just ignore it since they are assuming that it is just going to hold back the development of the litter as a whole.  Just because the other cats push it aside, that does not mean that you should do the same.  It has the right to survive, just as do the other members of the litter.

Here are some tactics that you can use to turn the runt into a non-runt and to help it to survive to maturity:

  1. If you notice that the smallest kitten is not getting a fair chance to suckle on a teat, you could actually hold it against one so that it can feed.  It could be that there is not enough room for it at feeding time since the larger and more nourished kittens are nudging it aside and bullying it.
  2. You could also feed it using a pet nursing bottle (click to view one for newborn kittens that is available on Amazon) filled with kitten replacement milk (a good choice on the replacement milk is made by PetAg).  It is best to fed a runt kitten every 2 hours, just like a human baby.
  3. Some people are concerned that they cannot use tap water with a milk replacement.  I read that it is fine.  The message was from a kitten rescue person that has fed numerous runts.
  4. Also, you need to cuddle and pet it so that it will not become depressed.  Massaging the runt gently will help with its circulation and frame of mind.
  5. A mother cat usually licks the kitten to stimulate it to urinate which helps to remove impurities.  To substitute for this, use a rag that is moist and warm.
  6. Taking the litter to the vet will allow you to learn how to take care of the runt.  Vets are able to ensure the weakest cat has a good chance of surviving. They may even provide injections that will provide certain illnesses that runts are prone to developing.
  7. Even before the litter is born, get some colostrum from the vet so that all kittens will be able to receive it during the first 24 hours.

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