The domestic or European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, is descended from wild rabbits of Europe and northwestern Africa, where free-ranging Oryctolagus are still found. Rabbits have been domesticated for hundreds of years. Companion animals may be housed indoors as house rabbits or outdoors in hutches. Rabbits are also used as show animals, producers of meat and wool, and laboratory specimens.
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Rabbits come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. The American Rabbit Breeder Association currently recognizes 49 rabbit breeds, and the number listed by the British Rabbit Council is even higher.
Many house rabbits have several different breeds in their background. Even when these individuals are not mixed breeds, rabbits purchased at retail pet stores rarely meet breed standards.
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Colors or varieties
Rabbit breeds often come in many different colors or “varieties”. Examples recognized by the British Rabbit Council include (but are not limited to): agouti, beige, black, blue-cream, blue grey, blue point, bronze, champagne, chinchilla, chocolate, dark steel grey, fawn, gold, Havana, ivory, lilac, nutria, opal, pale grey, red, sable dark, seal point, smoke, tortoiseshell, wheaten, and yellow. Shown here, a Czech red rabbit.
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Dutch rabbits posses a short, relatively rounded, compact body type. The short, erect ears are not pointed and fairly broad at the base. The “blaze”, or marking along the face, is wedge shaped. The cheeks are round and the eyes are fairly large. The coat is short and glossy with a characteristic bicolor pattern. One of the most distinctive features of the Dutch rabbit is the “saddle”, a junction between white and colored fur on the back. This breed reaches a maximum body weight of 2.5 kg (5.5 lb). As a general rule, individuals tend to be friendly and outgoing and the Dutch rabbit is a popular pet rabbit breed.
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Rabbits come in a range of sizes. The adult Netherland dwarf rabbit weighs 1.134 kg (2.5 lb) or less. The body type is short and compact with a full chest, wide shoulders, and short, straight forelegs. The head is relatively large with round eyes and erect, well-furred ears that are relatively small, measuring approximately 5 cm (2 in) in length. The ears also tend to be slightly rounded at their tips. The Netherland dwarf rabbit also has a soft, short, dense coat.
Many dwarf rabbit breeds tend to have broad, wide heads that can be associated with an “underbite” and Class III dental malocclusion (Legendre 2002).
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There are many large rabbit breeds, including the Californian and New Zealand white, which are very popular for meat production and laboratory use.
The New Zealand white rabbit has a broad, rounded head, short neck, and well-rounded haunches and short, straight, thickset forelimbs. The large, well-furred ears are in proportion to the body and the eyes are pink in this albino breed. The coat should be very dense and thick. Body weight of the adult New Zealand white rabbit ranges between 4.08-5.4 kg (9-12 lb). The female rabbit or “doe” is larger. A small “dewlap” or fold of skin at the throat may be observed in does. This breed has a reputation for being easy going and gentle.
Examples of giant breed rabbits include the giant chinchilla and Flemish giant. The Flemish giant rabbit has a large, flat body with broad fore- and hindquarters. The head is large and full with erect ears. The coat is full and short. Female giant breed rabbits may have a small dewlap.
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“Bucks” or male giant breed rabbits weigh at least 5 kg (11 lb) and does weigh at least 5.4 kg (12 lb). There is no maximum weight. Shown here, a sandy Flemish giant male rabbit napping beside a Shetland sheepdog.
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Rabbits come in many different shapes. Giant breeds are “mandolin shaped” with broad shoulders that bloom into a wide set of hips.
Photo credit: Two Socks Rabbitry, posted with permission
Contrast the shape of the giant breed rabbit with the long, lean body type of the Belgian hare shown here.
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Many pet rabbits are normal fur breeds with a coat consisting of an undercoat and projecting guard hairs. The hair fibers of satin breeds produce a sheen. Shown here, a lionhead rabbit.
Photo credit: Curtis Kennington
The thick, luxurious, “velveteen” coat of the Rex rabbit is created by short guard hairs that do not appear above the level of the undercoat. Rex rabbits weigh a maximum of 4.8 kg (10.5 lb). Mini Rex rabbits weigh up to 2 kg (4.5 lb).
Rex rabbits tend to have rough and brittle or deformed claws, particularly on the forefeet. Rex rabbits also frequently develop pododermatitis because their feet are not as thickly furred. Proper preventive care and husbandry will minimize the risk of problems. Many Rex rabbits also have curled eyelashes and rabbits homozygous for the coat mutation known as French Rex have deformed eyelashes resulting in trichiasis or “ingrown eyelashes”. Constant irritation of the cornea by the deformed hairs can cause secondary keratitis or corneal inflammation (Donnelly 2011, Letard 1929).
Lop rabbits have soft, pliable ears that hang downwards. This distinctive ear carriage in seen in a number of breeds including the English lop (shown here), American fuzzy lop, miniature (mini) lop, and Holland lop.
Although a small amount of ear debris is normal in this breed, lop-eared rabbits can have a predisposition to skin disease (Snook 2013). Lops also have a higher risk of developing otitis media when compared to other rabbits (De Matos 2015).
The mini lop possesses a short, blocky, compact body type. It has a well-muscled body, a rounded rump, and little visible neck. The front legs are thick, short, and straight. In a show quality mini lop, the ears are broad, thick, well furred and rounded at the ends. The ears should be carried close to the cheeks creating a horseshoe outline when viewed from the front. The inside of the ears should not be visible from any angle when carried correctly. This breed weights approximately 1.5 kg (3.3 lb).
Like some dwarf breeds, mini lops are brachycephalic and can be predisposed to dental problems.
Photo credit: Dr. Lauren Thielen
House rabbits often live between 8-12 years. As in other species, giant breeds tend to live shorter lives than their smaller counterparts. Large breed rabbits can also suffer from a number of potentially painful health problems that are exacerbated by their size (Pulker 2011).
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Although many house rabbits are mixed breeds, with their own beauty and charm, rabbit breeds commonly seen in practice include Dutch, Rex, Netherland dwarf, lop, and New Zealand.
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