Runts are star of the lit­ter to pet own­ers

Big heads on lit­tle bod­ies are at­trac­tive

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - Satur­day, Septem­ber 29, 2012 SUE MAN­NING

For pup­pies and kit­tens, size re­ally does mat­ter. Shel­ters say smaller an­i­mals get adopted faster, and an­i­mal ex­perts say the runt of a lit­ter tends to be bet­ter pro­tected by the mother. Pet own­ers-to-be tend to heap at­ten­tion on them, since they’re at­tracted to big heads on lit­tle bod­ies.

“Hu­mans are drawn to an­i­mals or be­ings of any kind whose pro­por­tion of eyes to head is large,” said Dr. Julie Mead­ows, a fac­ulty vet­eri­nar­ian at the Wil­liam R. Pritchard Ve­teri­nary Med­i­cal Teach­ing Hospi­tal at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis. “It’s why we all coo when we look” at ba­bies, whether they’re hu­man or an­i­mal.

For runts des­tined to be­come fam­ily pets, their size is their great­est risk be­fore birth — but also their great­est ap­peal af­ter birth.

“It’s the un­der­dog, un­der­cat thing,” said Gayle Guthrie, founder-di­rec­tor of Stray Love Foun­da­tion in Mag­no­lia Springs, Ala.

At Stray Love, smaller res­cue dogs are adopted five times faster than the larger ones. Mead­ows said that could be a re­sult of the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of so-called pocket pup­pies — teacup dogs bred to be small and stay small.

“Pet own­ers are look­ing for that re­ally cute runt equiv­a­lent, al­most like we are se­lect­ing for runted crea­tures be­cause we like those lit­tle things that can ride around in our purses and strollers and never weigh more than five pounds,” Mead­ows said.

A lit­ter has only one true runt, but not ev­ery lit­ter will have a runt. Lit­ter-bear­ing moth­ers have Y-shaped uteruses. Those at the cen­tre of the Y get the least amount of food and have the great­est chance of be­ing runts, while those clos­est to the mother’s blood sup­ply get the most nour­ish­ment and have the high­est birth weights, Mead­ows said.

When runts are born, “they have to fight harder be­cause they are small, weak, and oth­ers of­ten pick on them or push them away from their food source. All of these things tend to press on the mother in many of us to pro­tect them,” Guthrie said.

In most cases, if the runt of a lit­ter makes it to six to eight weeks, it will prob­a­bly sur­vive and likely grow close to full size, ex­perts said.

Ched­dar, the runted kit­ten of an aban­doned lit­ter that Kristin Rams­dell fos­tered for the Black and Orange Cat Foun­da­tion, now weighs more than seven pounds. He weighed less than half a pound when he was found in June 2011 with the rest of his eight-week-old lit­ter­mates.

At eight weeks, a kit­ten should weigh be­tween 1.5 and two pounds, Rams­dell said.

“I stayed up for three straight days with him, giv­ing him flu­ids and an­tibi­otics, warm­ing him with IV bags heated in the mi­crowave, us­ing a hu­mid­i­fier and watch­ing him round-the-clock. I didn’t think he would make it,” she said. Ched­dar and one of his sib­lings, Colby, have been adopted by a Philadel­phia fam­ily and are thriv­ing, Rams­dell said.

That spe­cial at­ten­tion re­quired to bring some runts to health can cre­ate a spe­cial bond. Cat owner Melissa Had­away took the runt of a lit­ter and its sis­ter to her home in Winder, Ga. She re­called how six years ago, An­nie, the runt, “was the lit­tlest and bravest. She fought very hard to get her share.”

Kathy Covey of the Cat Adoption Team in Sher­wood, Ore., said a kit­ten runt weighed 11 ounces when he ar­rived in Au­gust at six and half weeks old.

“His eyes and ears were too big for his face, he had a kid­ney in­fec­tion. He was on flu­ids, sy­ringe feed­ing, pain meds and an­tibi­otics. When you picked him up, you could feel each of his ribs. But he was a lover, snug­gling in to you when­ever you showed any af­fec­tion and purring the whole time,” she said.

Lit­tle Big Burger worked hard and gained a pound in two weeks, Covey said. He has to stay on an­tibi­otics for his kid­neys, but his prog­no­sis is im­prov­ing.

“He’s not giv­ing up, so I’m not,” she said.

Runts aren’t wel­comed ev­ery­where, though. Wil­bur, the clas­sic runted pig in the chil­dren’s book Char­lotte’s Web, was saved from slaugh­ter with the help of a spi­der, but an­i­mal agri­cul­ture and food pro­duc­ers in real life aren’t as for­giv­ing.

A pig farmer think­ing about Easter hams will prob­a­bly cull runts from his pens be­cause they will never reach the body size needed for meat pro­duc­tion, Mead­ows ex­plained.

Mead­ows also noted that in the wild, only the strong sur­vive. And runts likely won’t win sport­ing awards, since they won’t have the mus­cles or build needed for agility or show ring com­pe­ti­tion.

Even some an­i­mal wel­fare groups won’t cham­pion all runts to fam­i­lies. The Cat Adoption Team in Ore­gon wants to place as many kit­tens as pos­si­ble, but it will draw the line with some runts, said op­er­a­tions man­ager Kristi Brooks. “If there are a lot of ram­bunc­tious kids, we sug­gest that a big­ger kit­ten might fare bet­ter,” she said.

Black and Orange Cat Foun­da­tion/kristin Rams­dell

Ched­dar is three months old and weighs 1.5-pounds. In most cases, if a runted dog or cat makes it through six to eight weeks, it will likely sur­vive and will prob­a­bly get close to full size, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

Cat Adoption Team/nancy Puro

Lit­tle Big Burger, at six and half weeks old, weighed about 11 ounces.

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