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Can the Runt of the Litter be a Good Pet?

Runt of the litter; tiny chihuahua puppy held in her hands

A reader from Michigan recently asked whether he should adopt the runt of the litter of pups for a family pet. We put the question to some of our subscribers and got a wide range of answers, some based on science and others based on personal experience:

“My family got their first pet when I was probably six years old. I remember going to see the puppies a few weeks before they were weaned and falling in love with the smallest pup in the group. I just  was mesmerized by his tiny size and his determination to squeeze out his siblings in order to get to his mother and nurse. My mom and dad were doubtful, but I insisted that he was the one I wanted. I guess even at that age, I was rooting for the underdog. At any rate, we took the runt of the litter home and he lived to be nearly 20 years old. He was bright, energetic and totally devoted to me. I never regretted that decision.”                – Becca L., Pet owner

” Investing in a dog who is the runt of the litter can be problematic, particularly if the runt is substantially smaller than her siblings. In some cases, the runt will never completely catch up size-wise and may be a bit too submissive. These aren’t desirable traits in show dogs or performance dogs, so I’d steer clear if there is a noticable difference.”               – Rick, breeder in California

“I would take any runt puppy I was considering to a veterinarian for a complete check-up. Sometimes the runt is fine, but these dogs can end up with physical ailments due to not getting enough nutrition either in the womb or when being nosed out of the way when nursing.  Part of this is a temperament question. Is the runt scared or hesitant? This wouldn’t be a good fit for a family with young children who might be too rough when playing with him. You don’t want a fearful dog nipping at people. On the other hand, if the runt has a relaxed, easy-going personality, he may be a great fit. I choose more on temperament than on physical size.”       –  Brad, Owner of 3 dogs

“It depends on why the dog is the runt of the litter. Is it because she’s so passive that she doesn’t push her way to the food/her mother for nursing? Then the dog may continue to be passive and will probably be shy. On the other hand, if you want a gentle, quiet dog, a runt may be the perfect fit for you.”             -Louise, Owner of 1 dog & 3 cats


“I adopted the runt of the litter a few years ago and soon regretted it. When he was with his litter mates, he would wait until they’d finished nursing before he would feed himself. It seemed kind of charming and cool at the time, but I quickly found out that he was so hesitant that he would let my other dog eat all his own food, then eat his. I ended up having to feed them in two different rooms with the door closed between them just so my newly required runt would eat any food at all. I tried taking him to a socialization class, but he was so skittish that we never finished the course – he bit another dog’s owner and the trainer told us that the runt is often “highly reactive” in group situations. I was always worried that he would bite someone else, so I gave him to my uncle, who lives on a farm with lots of space for roaming and no other dogs. It’s quiet and peaceful there, so the dog’s skittishness isn’t as much of an issue.”     –   Hugh  L, Owner


“If the runt of the litter is in good health, you should choose based on each puppy’s personality rather than on size. Sometimes the runt ends up being the biggest dog. His or her personality and the way he interacts with other animals and people is much more important. Does the dog run up to people, eager to play? Does she hang back and try to hide when there’s a lot of noise and excitement?  Try playing with the runt of the litter both when he or she is alone and when his or her siblings are around. Some dogs that are the runt of the litter have totally different personalities once they are the focus of your undivided attention.”                       – Sammi, Pet Owner


“The runt of the litter has a somewhat higher incidence of health issues such as a heart defect or an umbilical hernia. A small hernia is easily fixed with minor surgery, but a heart defect may mean a shorter life span. A complete physical evaluation is a good idea before putting your money down on a runt. You may have to pay for the extra trip to the veterinarian, but it will be worth your peace of mind.”      – Todd, veterinarian



If you’re considering the runt of the litter for your next pet, do some research into the breed/type of dog and visit with the dog on at least two occasions to watch how she acts. If you have questions about her size and overall health, a check-up by a veterinarian is essential. If there is a health issue that has an impact on the dog’s size, talk to a vet about how much this will cost to treat and how much time and effort will be needed to socialize and train the dog. If there aren’t any health problems and the puppy is outgoing and playful, the runt could be the ideal pet for your family. 

Volhard Dog Training offers an excellent guide to personality testing for puppies.





  1. Rhonda

    January 17, 2018 2:25 pm

    We chose the runt from a litter of golden retrievers and he grew to be one of the biggest, lived to be 14.

  2. Angela

    September 10, 2018 3:04 pm

    My runt of litter is a Silver Lab that is one year old now at 91 lbs! I socialized him early on but to this day he is very possessive of his food and bones. Cannot get thru that barrier still. Otherwise he is healthy and sweet big teddy bear. We worked through all the skittish fear issues…Best looking out of the litter and best temperment dog ever!!!

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