Skip to Content

Runt Of The Cat Litter

Runt Of The Cat Litter may earn a small commission when you use one of the links on this page to purchase.

Do you think your cat is a bit different when it comes to their size and personality? Is it much smaller and feistier? Maybe you also share a bond like no other?

Well unless they’re a munchkin cat, then there might be a different reason behind their small size. Your cat could possibly be the runt of the litter!

What is the runt of the cat litter? Runt kittens are distinguished by their low birth weight and in some cases deformities. Malnourished, weak, and usually pushed around by their stronger siblings, runts find it harder to reach their mother for food and warmth. Runts could also face motherly rejection.

If some of that sounds familiar then you might want to read further and see if your tiny kitty isn’t only cute, but it also might be a brave little warrior.

Let’s get to it!

What Is A Runt?

There are many species of animals that give birth to multiple offspring and cats can give birth to 5-7 kittens, oftentimes more than once a year. To ensure a healthy and successful birth, cat mothers need good conditions. An experienced cat mother, that has food and shelter and is overall healthy should be able to produce healthy kittens. Of course, most cats don’t have these conditions and even if they did there are many more factors that could lead to sickly kittens overall or to the birth of a runt kitten.

Fading Kitten Syndrome

Because cats give birth to multiple children and they reproduce so often, it’s statistically more likely for one of the litters to have a runt. This is also sometimes referred to as the fading kitten syndrome, which is when the kitten that is born isn’t strong enough to survive and might even die if not monitored. Here are some advice on how to cure fading kitten syndrome at home.

So, what is the cause of fading kitten syndrome? Well according to Ellen Carozza, a licensed veterinary technician and a fading kitten expert from NOVA Cat Clinic in Arlington, Virginia it could be, “environmental factors, congenital defects, parasites, bacterial or viral infections, and even human error in hand-raising kittens.”

If a kitten shows symptoms like lack of movement, nursing as well as sleeping separately from the litter, and crying, then most likely it’s a runt. Hypothermia and dehydration are the first issues these kittens face, as they’re too far away from their mother to keep warm and fed.

There are vets that support the idea that this major size difference between normal kittens and runts comes from the position the embryo takes up in the mother’s womb. Their position seems to relate to the nutrients they’ll get as they develop. It’s also believed that the lastborn kitten is usually the runt.

Is There Always A Runt In A Cat Litter?

Runt Of The Cat Litter

Every birth is different and as mentioned before there are many factors that determine how healthy and well developed the offspring will be. If a mother cat is taken care of, meaning she has enough food to support the pregnancy and she has no illnesses, then it’s quite possible that all her litter will be the same size and healthy.

Can There Be More Than One Runt In A Litter?

Not all cat litters have a runt, but when they do then there’s usually only one. As mentioned before, one possible explanation for the birth of runts is the mother’s uterus. Kittens that are close to the mother’s blood supply get more nourishment and will have the highest birth weight. But usually, one kitten isn’t as lucky.

There are many factors that will affect the weight of all the kittens, and if the litter has more than one small-sized kitten this doesn’t mean they’re runts. Usually, when mother’s produce a large number of kittens, they’ll all be smaller in size. The size of the parents and their breed should also affect the type of offspring they’ll have. It’s quite common for all the kittens to vary in size to an extent, but it’s important to remember that a runt’s size is always very distinguishable.

It’s important to note that cats can be fertilized by multiple sets of sperm. So, there are cats that give birth to a litter that could be from more than one father and it’s something that happens often with stray cats. These different genetics between the neonatal kittens should also result in different weights and sizes.

If you’ve found a stray cat with new-born kitties and there’s no sign of a runt, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one in the first place. The truth can be quite sad and difficult to comprehend, especially when things come down to survival. If a mother notices that there’s a weak kitten among her offspring, that might not be able to survive, she’ll probably decide to end their life.

According to Tony Barthel a mammal curator, mother bears, felines, canids, primates, and many species of rodents, from rats to prairie dogs, have all been seen killing and eating their young. This is a survival mechanism that is there to guarantee that the rest of the kittens survive. In some cases, mothers in the wild will consume the weak offspring to avoid leaving a trail for predators and to offer nutrients to the rest of her litter.

See Also: Do Male Cats Kill Kittens, Or Is This Just A Myth?

Do Runt Kittens Stay Small?

Runt Of The Cat Litter

For a kitten to be healthy, it must have enough nutrients that will help them develop at the right speed. Healthy kittens with proper care and nourishment should be gaining weight as they grow. According to Veterinary Centres of America, they gain about 100g per week during their first six months of life.

However, the runt of the cat litter is usually weaker and might not be able to develop properly. The runt kitten might have congenital defects, which are abnormalities of structure, function, or metabolism. Some abnormalities aren’t always visible, but some signs can be detected, like the decreased nursing ability. If these defects are serious and non-treatable then chances are that these kittens won’t survive at all.

Of course, there are many runts who manage to survive, especially with the attention they get from people. With proper care from you or the shelter and in some cases their mother, these kittens will live and thrive.

How To Tell If Your Cat Is A Runt

Since most cats vary in size and weight, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll spot the difference in their adulthood. If you didn’t know your cat’s siblings when they were born it’s hard to know if your kitty is a runt or not. So, what are the clues that can tell you if your sweet fur baby is the runt of the cat litter?

Runt Kitten Characteristics

Small size: The most obvious sign that your kitten is a runt is its size of course. It’s no wonder that the word runt has been used to hint at someone’s weakness and small physique. Having the lowest birth weight, these kittens are usually malnourished and may find it impossible to open their eyes. Their size could also become a disadvantage when it comes to feeding and keeping close to their mother for warmth since their stronger siblings will push them aside.

Weaknesses: The next step to identifying a runt in the litter are the signs of weakness. Some are so feeble that unlike their littermates they don’t move during the initial days. The runt of the litter will find it difficult to move or stand up for themselves. What’s worse is that the mother will most likely spot the weakest offspring and will reject it to save the others.

Disabilities: Malnourishment doesn’t only affect a kitten’s size, but also its physical development. In many cases, runts have undeveloped organs, deformities like a crooked cleft palate and hernia. It’s also not uncommon to find a runt kitten born with bodily disabilities such as hip dysplasia, crooked legs, a smaller number of paws. Some of these disabilities are visible and could be fixed if treated in time.

Inability or difficulty to have food: A runt kitten might also be too weak to grasp and suckle the mother’s nipple. According to the Shelter Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “kittens that seem too weak to nurse may be hypothermic or have an underlying medical issue.”

This inability to nurse, along with the larger and dominating littermates that push the runt away, may leave the tiny kitten without food and eventually dying. If a runt is born around humans or in a shelter, their chances of survival are greater since they can get the care, they lack by being fed with a bottle or syringe.

Runt of The Cat Litter Personality

Runt Of The Cat Litter

There are those who believe that the runts of a cat litter are special. In a way this is true because let’s admit it, anyone who survives against all odds is special. A personality is usually affected by many factors, so what makes the runt of the litter so wonderfully unique?

While most runts are born weak and lack the development to thrive like their siblings. This pushes them to try twice as much to reach their mother for food and warmth and some of them do. These obstacles and different treatment from their siblings and cat mother may result in a go-getting personality.

If you’ve been the guardian of your kitty ever since they were little, then it’s quite possible you had to tend to their basic needs like feeding them and keeping them protected and warm. In other words, you had to replace their mother. This close interaction is bound to create a special and deep bond between you. You might find that you’re your kitten’s favorite human.

Is It Bad To Get The Runt Of The Litter?

Life as a runt might be more difficult especially at the start, and it might seem intimidating to a new owner, but this doesn’t mean it will always be like that. Because of their size, runts of a litter are often times very noticeable and while this feature might not be so appealing to their mother, there are many people who’d gladly adopt one. So, what happens once you decide on the little fella from the litter?

Do The Runts Of Litter Have Health Issues?

Just because a kitten is the runt of the litter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have health problems. Certain unfortunate genetics and illnesses passed down by the mother could occur in any cat. But if a runt is taken good care of, by being fed properly, kept warm, and made feel safe, chances are they will develop normally.

A malnourished kitten is more likely to develop illnesses. A vet should easily determine if that is the case, and they could treat some of the less dangerous issues. A specialist should also be able to determine if it would be better if the kitten is euthanized, to stop any sort of unnecessary suffering.

It also seems that these kittens are prone to infections by parasites. This happens when a kitten doesn’t have a proper supply of milk, especially for the first three days. The mother’s milk provides the kittens with antibodies and a strong dose of colostrum. In this case, humans have the opportunity to step in and save a small life against tall odds.

Is It Possible That The Runt Will Survive?

Often times the survival of a runt is determined by the state of their health when they were born and the first few weeks after. If a kitten is too malnourished or it suffers from some defect, the chances are quite slim. A runt kitten in the wild would have even fewer chances of surviving, but in the right hands and conditions, the runt of the cat litter could quite possibly make it.

It’s believed that the most stubborn and feisty ones have greater chances since they’d have to put more effort into reaching the food source, by overcoming their stronger siblings. This might affect their personality and turn them into more persistent individuals.

Do People Adopt The Runt Of The Cat Litter?

Heck yeah, they do! There are shelters claiming that smaller animals, whether it’s a cat or a dog are adopted quicker. According to Dr. Julie Meadows, “Humans are drawn to animals or beings of any kind whose proportion of eyes to head is large.” It’s the reason why we get all excited when it comes to babies, human or animal, she points out.

So it seems that while a runt’s life is at risk when they’re born, their size also becomes their greatest strength. “It’s the underdog, undercat thing,” explained Gayle Guthrie, founder-director of Stray Love Foundation in Magnolia Springs, Ala. According to Guthrie, these tiny kittens in need usually bring out the motherly-fatherly instinct in all of us.

Just look at this little ball of fur!

How To Care For Runt Cats

A Runt Kitten

As we discussed above, runts are the smallest and usually underdeveloped kittens in a litter. So, if you’re a cat owner who adopted or found a runt, the most important task would be to monitor their weight gain closely. If they’re still with their mother, then try to guide them to her nipple. The mother might reject an unhealthy or unresponsive kitten, so it would be your responsibility to provide them with milk formula.

Feed your kitten quality food and ask your vet for the perfect portion sizes. Food is essential, but so are petting and cuddling. Because the mother might be avoiding the runt of the litter, you’ll have to provide the kitten with love and affection in the form of soft massages. This study by Gourkow et al (2014) also supports the simple and obvious fact that that displays of affection keep our kitties happy and healthy.

Some vets suggest that as soon as a kitten is born, it should be rubbed with a towel to dry it and stimulate respiration. This might be necessary if the cat herself is an inexperienced mother or if she’s not tending to her children properly. It’s important that all the kittens stay warm because neonate kittens can’t regulate their body’s temperature, which might result in hypothermia. So, keep them warm with blankets and heating pads, but be careful not to overdo it!

If your cat is preparing to give birth, or you’ve got a little runt baby in your home, then a heating pad like this one on Amazon might help them stay warm.

There’s also a chance that you’ll have to assist your kitten with its toilet duty. The mother cat licks her kitten’s bottoms to stimulate urination. In your case, you will have to imitate the same action, by rubbing them with a moist rag instead.

In their early stages, runt kittens must be monitored closely. Make sure you’re in close contact with your vet and in case you don’t see any weight gain, then a vet visit is necessary. Kittens this size usually develop other issues that might be the cause of sudden death, so you have to be prepared for more issues along the way.

Caring for a runt baby might prove challenging and the cat parent should be prepared that they’ll have to tend to their kittens’ needs in order for them to thrive. But all this work will prove worthwhile once you see them grow and recognize the love you’ve given them, by giving it back, it might be a soft purring sound or a soft blink.

A Grown Runt Cat

If you’ve adopted your cat when they were much older it’s not easy to identify if it’s a runt, unless it’s characteristically small. Even in that case, you’ll have to make sure it has nothing to do with their breed. Take the Maine coon and the Norwegian Forest Cats, for instance as they’re considered the largest domestic cat breeds, and there are breeds that are known for being small. If you had the chance to compare your kitten to their littermates when they were born and saw that he was significantly smaller and weaker then this would also be a clear sign.

Because runt kittens are often neglected by their cat-family, they might not have the opportunity to learn some basic manners. When cats are in the wild, the environment is what shapes their character. For example, stray cats that aren’t used to human contact will avoid it and kittens usually learn this from their mothers. This means that a kitten’s mentor is usually the mother and its siblings. They teach the kitten how to interact with other cats and humans, what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Kittens separated early from their littermates, don’t learn when to stop biting or scratching, so this could result in more intense playtimes. The best way to help them unravel their personality and keep in check scratchy behaviors is by creating a safe space for them. It’s important to encourage traits, you find endearing and positive. Positive reinforcement by rewarding their good behavior is the only way to go and avoid any kind of negative association. There are studies suggesting that “positive reinforcement training with cats is a useful tool for improving the human-animal bond, treating behavior problems, and teaching novel tasks.”

Runt kittens or even grown cats might be more talkative, a trait they might have developed from their early abandoned years. You might even find them following you around and display signs of affection more often than the average cats. Of course, each cat is different and sometimes it all comes down to their personality.

Since cats can develop health issues as they grow, runts might be even more susceptible to them. So, don’t neglect the veterinary visits and keep an eye for signs of discomfort and pain. Cats that feel pain can usually be very vocal about it. But some cats might go the other way and grow silent. Purring could also be deceiving since cats purr when they’re both content and also in pain. A sudden and excessive kneading and biting of blankets could also be a sign of illness, as well as appetite loss or reduced toilet visits.

Lastly, make sure your runt kitty is getting good quality food that will prevent any possible health issues. We’ve even done revies on a few brands to make sure you know what’s out there.

Should You Adopt The Runt Of The Litter?

A runt might have to deal with many problems from the moment they’re born, but if they survive, they will most likely develop into healthy kittens. In some cases, they might even grow big enough to match their stronger littermates.

Even though the runt of the litter might not be their mother’s favorite, people tend to adopt these tiny fur babies specifically because of their size. In most cases, runts are considered cute specifically because of their size and small proportions. Since people tend to show more affection to anything that looks cute and squeezable, there’s a great chance that this display of affection could develop into a strong connection. After all, cats are quite capable of creating bonds.

Runt Of The Cat Litter

shelters work hard on keeping the little runts alive, and they seek people to take them into their homes. So, should you adopt one? Well, looking at their cute faces, I doubt anyone could say no, and I don’t think they should. All kittens deserve love, and the smallest ones might need it even more!

Closing thoughts

Yes, they are small and fragile. Yes, they need more care, but in many ways, a runt of the cat litter is no different from their bigger siblings.

Their needy first days will develop into a beautiful bond and who could possibly say no to these cute little faces and tiny little paws.

Just because a kitten was born less fortunate doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve love. And people who had the opportunity to share their homes with a runt cat will assure you that what they lack in demeanor they make up for with their big hearts!

So, was your cat the runt of the cat litter? Tells us what is so special about your small cat and what brought their little fluffiness into your home?

Read Next: Runt Of The Litter Pros And Cons