LOS ANGELES — For puppies and kittens, there's a precious truth about size.
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 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 5 pounds," Meadows said.
When runts are born, "they have to fight harder because they are small and 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 7 pounds. He weighed less than half a pound when he was found last year with this 8-week-old littermates. At 8 weeks, a kitten should weigh between 1.5 and 2 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," she said. Cheddar has been adopted by a family and is thriving.