Adopting your first pet rabbit
Rabbits make awesome pets. They are relatively easy to look after and can be trained to respond to commands (using a clicker), walk on a leash or even use a litter box like cats – making them a welcome (and fun) addition to any family home. They are affectionate animals and will acclimatize quickly and socialize well with other household pets.
Before adopting your pet rabbit, it’s good to have an idea of which breed is right for you. There are around 305 rabbit breeds around the world and rabbits can be found in over 70 countries across the world.
In this article, we review 11 different rabbit breeds for beginning rabbit owners to consider, focusing on health issues and specific breed features which define appearance and influence behavior.
1. Mini Rex
Weighing between 3.5 to 4.5 pounds, the Mini Rex makes a sensible choice for a potential pet owner wanting to adopt their first rabbit. The Mini Rex breed first appeared in the United States (in Florida) in 1984. The Rex breed first appeared in 19th century France.
The Mini Rex’s personality is calm and quiet and they don’t need a whole lot of grooming. The Mini Rex’s smaller size, plush coat and their tranquil and amiable personality has made them one of the more popular rabbit breeds in the United States for both pet owners and professional rabbit breeders.
Healthwise, the Mini Rex is predisposed to the usual rabbit health issues (teeth, hairballs, parasites, respiratory) but with no increased risk of malocclusion (misaligned teeth) found in many other rabbit breeds. The Mini Rex can be quite sensitive to the cold because of their short fur so be mindful of where you house them. Their lifespan is between 8 and 10 years.
These rabbits are short and compact in body size with fur measuring about ⅝ths of an inch with a shiny, lustrous appearance which may spring back when you pat them. The springiness of their fur is part of their genetic mutation.
The Mini Rex comes in a range of colors – black (brown-eyed), blue, castor, chinchilla, chocolate, Himalayan, lilac, opal, otter, red, silver marten, sable point, seal, tortoise, white (ruby-eyed or blue-eyed).
They can also come in broken colors (which is any combination of white and another color). In a broken color pattern you will see a balanced nose marking, eye markings with colored ears/tail and colored body patterns. Mini Rex’s can also be (delightfully) tri-color with combinations of: black and orange, lilac and fawn, chocolate and orange or blue and fawn.
2. Holland Lop
Unsurprisingly, the Holland Lop came from the Netherlands and they are one of the smallest lop-eared breeds around and typically weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. Holland Lops, as well as being small, have fine bone structure which seems at odds with their stocky appearance and short, stubby little legs.
They are compact and muscular and come in a wide range of different coat colors. But it is their lopped ears which defines their appearance and these typically measure around 4.7 inches in length.
They are a popular choice for pet owners and particularly good with young children. They are considered one of the most popular rabbit breeds in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Their lifespan ranges from 7 to 14 years and their temperament is affectionate, calm and they like lots of human interaction and cuddles.
But like with all pets, your children need to be guided in the appropriate care and handling of these little bunnies. In general, the Holland Lop are not high maintenance and their easy going personalities make it a dream getting them to settle into a new home.
Pet owners can expect to pay between $25 to $100 for a Holland Lop bunny from an accredited breeder. They are usually born in litter sizes of between three to five kittens. Before adoption though, you should always find a reputable breeder rather than just going straight to Craigslist.
The fur on a Holland Lop comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns with the most common being black tortoise. Other colors include chocolate, lilac, blue, black, chestnut and frosty. They can come in broken, tortoiseshell or tri-colored combinations.
There are even albino Holland Lops with white fur and red eyes. Holland Lops also can come in an unusual color called Agouti which blends color pigments delivering a dark orange shaded fur mutation. Agouti Holland Lops are very rare and they are produced because of the presence of a genetic mutation known as Agouti Signaling Protein or (ASIP) for short.
Holland Lops are very calm rabbits with intermittent periods of high energy. Even though traditionally Holland Lop bunnies are very calm and sociable, it’s really important to keep them occupied. Having a good selection of bunny chew toys is a good way to prevent them from becoming bored and chewing on electric cords, furniture or your shoes.
Their long lifespan may be attributable to the absence of the usual identified hereditary diseases which many exotic rabbit breeds are known for. However, they still are still prone to the usual rabbit health issues. This breed needs lots of physical stimulation and playtime.
You should encourage your child to take the time to groom them. Weekly brushing can prevent them getting intestinal blockages from fur balls from excessive self-grooming. You should also keep their nails short and regularly check their mouth for any overgrown or misaligned teeth.
A diet rich in timothy hay can help prevent their teeth becoming overgrown or developing malocclusion issues. A healthy diet for your Holland Lop will include a balance of 70 percent hay and a 30 percent mixture of fruits, leafy greens, veggies, and pellets as well as an unlimited amount of fresh water.
The main health issues to watch out for in the Holland Lop include:
- Overgrown teeth or malocclusion – where the upper and lower teeth don’t match up properly. You can get this checked with your vet during the usual routine visit.
- Otitis media which is an inner ear infection caused by the buildup of dirt in your bunny’s ears. Untreated, this infection can spread to the respiratory tract causing more serious life threatening issues.
- Ear mites and other common parasites. Symptoms include your bunny shaking his ears from side to side more frequently than usual.
Sore hocks affecting their hind legs if standing in unsanitary (particularly urine-soaked) rabbit hutches or hutches with wire floors. Ensure their sleeping space is kept clean and hygienic.
- Hairballs from self-grooming and these can be diagnosed if your bunny has lost their appetite for no other apparent reason.
- The usual back issues that all rabbits face. (Rabbits have powerful hind legs and they can break their backs easily, particularly when startled or if they resist being handled by humans and jump away to escape).
In any of these cases, you should always consult your vet for specialist health advice but taking some simple steps (listed above) should help you to keep your Holland Lop healthy and live a long and happy life.
3. Dutch Lop
The Dutch Lop is a larger version of the Holland Lop and it was first developed in England. The main differences between the breeds are size and lifespan. The larger Dutch Lop requires more exercise time than the Holland Lop and during summer you can expect it to shed a lot.
Regular brushing is recommended with this breed.
While the Holland Lop weighs between 2 to 4 pounds, the larger Dutch Lop weighs between 4 to 5.5 pounds. The Dutch Lop has a smaller lifespan of between 5 to 8 years (compared to the Holland Lop’s expected lifespan of between 7 to 14 years). The Dutch Lop shares many of the personality characteristics and health issues of the Holland Lop. Their larger size and their docility may make them more suitable for a home with smaller children.
4. Dwarf Hotot
The Dwarf Hotot is a small breed of rabbit which has an entirely white coat and is notable for a circle of color around each eye – almost resembling eyeliner. These tiny bunnies weigh between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds and they are renowned for socializing well with their owners.
From a health perspective, this breed is prone to obesity so their feeding should be closely monitored. This breed also has a high risk of malocclusion – so you need to be checking their teeth regularly. You can expect your Dwarf Hotot to live anywhere from between 7 to 10 years.
This breed was first recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in 1983 and they are a very popular breed.
A larger version of the Dwarf Hotot (the Blanc de Hotot) first appeared in the early 1900s where breeders were trying to develop a large black-eyed white rabbit.
In the 1970s, breeders in both East and West Germany decided to start developing a smaller version of the Blanc de Hotot. One breeder crossed a ruby-eyed white Netherland Dwarf with a Blanc de Hotot. Another breeder crossed a black Netherland Dwarf to a Dutch rabbit and continued to breed until offspring were produced with the distinctive black eyebands. These two breeders then got together and bred the offspring they produced – by crossing the two strains – eventually producing the modern Dwarf Hotot.
The Dwarf Hotot breed is also affectionately referred to as “the eye of the fancy”. They have a compact body type with their heads neatly set high on their shoulders (but not as high as Netherland Dwarf). Their little ears pointing in an upright V shape and usually not longer than 2¾ inches in length. Notably, their eyes are encircled with narrow bands of black colored fur against a white background.
Dwarf Hotots are considered a fancy breed and are usually white with black eye bands but more recently there have been chocolate colored bunnies (with black eyebands). There are also rumors that American breeders are looking to develop blue-band Dwarf Hotots but there is no more information about this at present.
Their personality can be friendly and sociable but every now and then you might find a moody Dwarf Hotot. Generally speaking however they are friendly, affectionate and energetic and make great pets or even emotional support (service) animals.
5. Mini Lop
The Miniature Lop or Mini Lop is another breed sharing many characteristics with some of the rabbits listed above, especially the dwarf rabbit breeds. In breeding terms, the ideal Mini Lop could be described as being a “basketball with a head” as their body size is round and much bigger than their much smaller heads.
The Mini Lop is a very active rabbit prone to chewing items around your home and you should spread plenty of pet toys around your home to prevent them nibbling power cords or other undesirable (but delicious) rabbit chewing targets.
Mini Lops weigh between 4.5 to 6 pounds. They are very curious and affectionate pets and they love cuddles. They have standard rabbit health issues and their lifespan is between 5 to 10 years.
This breed is smart and they are naturally clean animals. You can actually house train them to use a litter box. You can also train them to respond to voice commands using a clicker
Their small size makes them great for small apartments but if you take them outdoors for exercise, make sure you keep a close watch on them as their size makes them more vulnerable to larger predators.
The Mini Lop breed was discovered by Bob Herschbach in 1972 at a German National Rabbit Show in Essen, Germany. These first lops were named Klein Widder and they originated from the German Big Lop and the small Chinchilla. Both breeds came originally in Agouti and white colors.
Mini Lops come in many colors with patterns either broken or solid in the following variations:
- Agouti – chinchilla, chestnut agouti or opal
- Broken — white with colored spots or patterns and can be tri-colored.
- Ticket — steel gene and ticking.
- Shaded — shaded markings
- Wideband — cream, red, orange, fawn.
- Self — solid colors; black, chocolate, blue, ruby, lilac, and white.
A Mini Lop is a great addition to your home with their affectionate, smart and curious nature but they thrive best in calmer households with older children or adults. They can however show territorial traits or express their displeasure – by stamping their hind feet (as bunnies are prone to do) – particularly if a newcomer visits the family home.
They need to be exercised regularly. Their temperature regulation is good but you should never expose them to extremes of weather. Some Mini Lops can be prone to a “windy eye” (or corneal ulceration) if exposed to windy conditions outdoors – so be aware of this.
6. Mini Satin
Satin-furred rabbits first appeared in 1934 in litters produced by Indiana breeder Walter Huey. Mini Satin rabbits are miniature versions of full sized Satins which were produced by breeding full sized satins with Netherland or even Polish Dwarf bunnies. They are considered a relatively rare breed and first appeared in the United States in the 1970s.
The Mini Satin comes in five colors: chinchilla, opal, red, siamese and white and they usually weigh between 3.5 to 4.5 pounds. Their ears stand upright. They are a calm and gentle breed but can be nervous around strangers. Their size and calm temperament makes them ideal for small apartments. They have the standard rabbit health issues and their lifespan is between 5 and 8 years.
Fun facts about their breed include the fact that, despite their color, Mini Satins, have a translucent hair shell. This is what gives them their “satin” appearing fur where air bubbles on their fur reflect the light giving an appearance of a shiny, satin fur. They come in a range of recognized colors including: black, blue, broken group, Californian, chinchilla, chocolate, copper, otter, red, Siamese, and white.
Mini Satins usually have litter sizes of between two to four kittens. This small breed should live inside to protect them from extremes of weather and predators. Responsible pet owners should ensure that they are exercised regularly – including on supervised outside excursions.
When buying a Mini Satin from a breeder you can expect to pay around $50. Their diets and health requirements are similar to most other rabbit breeds – taking into consideration their size and energy levels. Despite their shiny fur, they don’t need an excessive amount of grooming – a weekly brush should suffice. The more this delightful breed is handled and socialized, the more they will reward you with affection and loyalty.
7. Netherland Dwarf
The Netherland Dwarf rabbits are frequently compared to their close relative, the Holland Lop and they are one of the most widely raised breeds in the United States.
This breed weighs between 1.1 to 2.5 pounds and is considered one of the smallest rabbit breeds in existence. They make a great addition to your family home but it is recommended (because of their size and fragility) that they live indoors, safe from predators and harsh weather.
Like other small rabbit breeds, they do require regular exercise. Healthwise, they have a higher than usual risk of malocclusion. Their lifespan is usually between 7 to 10 years.
They are often confused with Polish Rabbit but the Polish Rabbit has much longer ears, a non-brachycephalic head and stubby compact bodies. Their tiny heads can make them look like baby bunnies even well after they reach maturity.
Some of the first Netherland Dwarf rabbits to be bred in the 1970s and 1980s had fearful or aggressive temperaments. This was because of breeding experiments where breeders were combining wild rabbits with other breeds. Other breeding errors resulted in dwarf rabbits which had two copies of the dwarfism gene resulting in them developing digestive problems and rarely living for a few days after birth.
As pets, Netherland Dwarfs are best suited for households with older children or adults. Their nervous temperament can make them skittish and while they might look cute with your small child, Netherland Dwarfs are not fond of being picked up or cuddled like other bunnies. They also have a higher than usual risk of malocclusion than other breeds.
Netherland Dwarfs make excellent pets for adults and they love a quiet, stable home environment with lots of socializing and human contact. They are easy to train and their grooming requirements are minimal beyond a daily brushing. Take the time to bond with your Netherland Dwarf and they will reward you with trust, loyalty and a lifetime bond.
Parents of smaller children should instead choose larger rabbit breeds with a more relaxed disposition (such as the Californian Rabbit or maybe a full-sized Rex) rather than the nervous Netherland Dwarf which does not like to be picked up or held tightly by children.
When you are looking at bunnies to adopt, be aware that the breed quality ranges significantly and many baby bunnies in pet stores being sold as “Netherland Dwarfs” are really of mixed breeds and unconfirmed heritage. If you are after a genuine Netherland Dwarf, always find a reputable breeder.
They come in a variety of colors including: white (ruby-eyed or blue eyed); blue, black, chocolate, red, lilac, Siamese (sable or smoke), sealpoint, blue point, chocolate point, tortoiseshell, agouti/red agouti, cinnamon, opal, squirrel, lynx, tan, marten (sable or smoke), black otter, blue otter, chocolate otter, lilac otter, fox, orange, fawn, hotot, Himalayan, harlequin, magpie, broken or butterfly and mantle.
8. Britannia Petite
Another small rabbit breed suitable for pet owners living in apartments or smaller homes is the Polish Rabbit. Curiously the Polish rabbit didn’t originate from Poland but came from England where the breed is known as the Britannia Petite.
The Polish rabbit breed is a fancy exhibition breed known for their short ears which touch from the base to the tip. Polish rabbits come in black, blue, chocolate, broken, white (ruby-eyed or blue eyed). A ruby-eyed white (REW) is considered a true albino rabbit for this breed.
Polish rabbits weigh between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds and have a relatively short lifespan of between five to six years which will be longer if your bunny is spayed/neutered and kept safely indoors.
Because of their size it’s recommended that you keep them living indoors, taking them outside only for limited exercise and sunlight. You should also allow them to roam around for about five to six hours a day. They should not be placed in rabbit hutches with wire bases which can bruise their little feet.
Their diminutive size often has them confused with the Netherland Dwarf bunny however the Polish rabbit is a bit larger and their head is not as round as the Netherland Dwarf.
They make cuddly and affectionate pets and they have a calm nature. As with all smaller breeds, children should be educated on the safe handling of these little bunnies to avoid injury. Polish rabbits can be easily litter trained and you can also train them to walk with a harness with a leash if taking them outdoors.
As with any rabbit breed, you should always make sure you rabbit-proof your home before adopting this breed (or any rabbit) to avoid them nibbling on carpets, baseboards and particularly electrical cords.
Polish rabbits will require around ¼ cups of pellet feed every other day and unlimited fresh hay and fresh water – but base this feeding regimen upon the amount of exercise your bunny is getting. Similar to most smaller breeds of rabbits, Polish rabbits are vulnerable to extremes of weather but they will tolerate cold weather better than many other breeds.
Polish rabbits are susceptible to most of the usual rabbit health issues found in the smaller rabbit breeds particularly hairballs (from self-grooming) or ear mites (parasites). Exercising all the usual precautions with diet, exercise and care should ensure your Polish rabbit has a long and healthy life.
9. Lionhead Rabbit
Another petite rabbit breed which is slightly more unusual but still popular among pet owners is the Lionhead Rabbit. The Lionhead rabbit has a distinctive fluffy wool mane making it resemble a male lion.
These delightful rabbits come in a wide range of colors including: blue, white, black otter, tortoise, tan, blue otter, sable martin, chestnut, squirrel, chinchilla, sable point, chocolate, smoke pearl, fawn, Siamese sable, frosted pearl, red, golden, orange, lilac and opal.
Their demeanor is friendly and playful and they are quite social although can be quite timid and fearful. This can be overcome with gentle handling and daily interaction and socializing with all members of your household.
The Lionhead rabbit first appeared in France and Belgium and was reportedly produced by breeders who were trying to produce a long-coated dwarf rabbit by breeding a miniature Swiss Fox with a Netherland dwarf. The resulting offspring had the genetic mutation of the wooly mane around the head and flanks. Lionhead rabbits first started to become available in the United States in the late 1990s.
Lionhead rabbits weigh between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds and because of their long hair and manes they require a lot of grooming. Healthwise they have standard rabbit issues and their lifespan is between seven to ten years.
Lionheads can have a slightly flatter head (brachycephalic) and shorter faces than many other breeds. This can lead to potential respiratory and dental problems (malocclusion). Netherland Dwarfs are also more likely to have more brachycephalic heads because of the breed type.
Like all rabbits they need a varied diet and housing which gives them lots of room to exercise. They are best kept indoors but given outside time with exercise and sunlight. Because of their personality types it is suggested that you keep a pair of Lionheads to keep each other company or another breed of rabbit of a similar size and temperament. (When keeping pairs of rabbits always ensure that they are spayed/neutered unless you want to rapidly expand your household).
A fun fact about Lionhead rabbits is that they have different mane types. This is determined by their genetic makeup. They can be single maned or double maned which is easily spotted when they are newborns. As they mature, Lionhead rabbits can also gnaw on their manes – so that a double-maned Lionhead could appear to be a single maned Lionhead.
They make great pets but they can be timid or skittish around strangers. Having another bunny (ideally another Lionhead rabbit) to keep them company can remedy this along with gentle handling and early socialization in your household. They are a smart breed, easily litter trained and can be trained to respond to commands using clickers like most other rabbit breeds. Their exotic appearance makes them stand out from other small rabbit breeds.
10. Jersey Wooly
Another cool petite rabbit breed popular with pet owners is the Jersey Wooly which weighs between 1 and 3 pounds and comes in a wide range of recognized colors across five groups: Agouti, any other variety (AOV), self, shaded or tan pattern.
Jersey Wooly bunnies are known for their gentle and docile nature. They are not as active as many other rabbit breeds and their biggest health issue is wool block (ingesting hairballs from self-grooming). Responsible pet owners can easily overcome this by regular brushing and their coats are quite easy to maintain. Their lifespan is between 7 to 10 years.
They are small rabbits with a compact body type. They are also one of the few rabbit breeds specifically bred and designed for pet owners. The Jersey Wooly first appeared in the United States in 1984 and they were produced by breeders who crossed the Netherland Dwarf with the French Angora. Many pet owners have become so enamored of their Jersey Wooly pets that they end up showing these beautiful rabbits. Jersey Wooly rabbits as a result have become popular on the rabbit breeding show circuit in the United States.
Pet owners who adopt a Jersey Wooly should exercise the same care with feeding, exercise and housing as with any other small rabbit breed. Make sure they live indoors but get plenty of sunlight and outdoor exercise like other dwarf breeds to ensure that they enjoy a long and happy life.
11. Californian Rabbit
Rabbit enthusiasts wanting to adopt a bigger bunny should consider the Californian Rabbit also known as the California White. They only come in one color – white – with distinctive seal point markings on their ears and noses which can be black, charcoal, chocolate, blue or lilac.
You can expect to pay around $40 for a single baby Californian rabbit. If you purchase from a breeder (which we recommend) you can expect to pay a little more.
A California Rabbit will weigh anywhere from between 8 to 10.5 pounds and their lifespan is between five to ten years. Their docile and friendly nature makes them a sought after pet for many first time rabbit owners. They can be housed either indoors or in an outdoor hutch as long as they are protective from extreme weather conditions.
They were first bred in California in 1923 by George S West of Lynwood, California who had a herd of 300 genetically pure New Zealand Whites which he began crossing with Standard Chinchilla rabbits (known for their dense coats) as well as Himalayan rabbits – to produce the breed with their distinctive thick fur and the Californian markings.
These larger breeds need lots of time outside of their cages for exercise and for human interaction and socialization. They can be litter trained, clicker trained and also taught to walk using a rabbit harness. The main difference between this larger breed and the smaller breeds listed above is that Californian Rabbits can be safely kept in secure rabbit hutches outside in appropriate and temperate weather conditions.
Californian Rabbits share many of the same health issues as most other rabbits and will thrive on a high fiber diet complete with good quality timothy hay (to maintain dental health) along with supplemental pellets and delicious crunchy vegetables.
Bringing your rabbit home
Regardless of which rabbit breed you decide to bring home, all rabbits have similar needs for health and socialization across the board. The smaller breeds listed above will need to be kept indoors and out of inclement weather and safe from predators.
When adopting your first pet rabbit (regardless of breed), the list of breeders at RabbitBreeders.us is a good place to start your research.
Remember, that unless you want to become a breeder or show rabbits, you should always spay and neuter your rabbits – even if you only adopt one. Neutered pets are also more docile and calm, have longer lifespans (including a reduction in their cancer risk).
Responsible pet ownership starts by first deciding on which breed best suits your lifestyle, family arrangements, budget, home size and amount of time you can devote to their training and care. You should always consider the adoption of a rabbit (or any pet) as a lifetime commitment.