Both white domestic rabbits, the New Zealand white and the Florida white are closely related -- the Florida white has New Zealand white ancestry. The main difference is size, and this means the breeds have slightly different care requirements. Both make good pets if you have the time, but the Florida white requires less space.
New Zealand whites are an older breed, originating in the USA in about 1917. They were bred from rabbits imported from, or at least believed to be from, New Zealand, hence the name. Throughout this part of their history, they were bred for meat, fur and as a test subject in laboratories. Although New Zealand whites later gained some popularity as a pet, they are still raised for meat and laboratory use. Florida whites were bred in the 1960s, a mixture of a particularly small New Zealand white, an albino American Dutch and a white Polish rabbit. The breed was not originally intended to be a pet rabbit either -- they were meant to be a smaller, more convenient meat and laboratory animal.
Weighing in at a hefty 10 pounds or more, New Zealands are considerably larger than Florida whites, which average 4 to 5 pounds. Both breeds are normally white with pink eyes but occasionally appear in other colors. They have the same typical rabbit ears -- not lop and not especially short. In terms of personality, both breeds tend to be calm. New Zealand whites in particular have a reputation for being sweet-natured and easy to handle. Individual rabbit personalities vary enormously, though; some rabbits can be very demanding. It’s nearly impossible to predict how a juvenile will turn out, even if he or she is neutered/spayed early.
Probably because of their history as meat rabbits, both these breeds are hardy and tolerant with no special care requirements. New Zealand White need more space. As indoor rabbits, they -- rabbits should always be kept in pairs -- need the largest rabbit cage available, at least 6 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet, as the sleeping area and the run of at least one large room. If your local pet store doesn’t stock a large-enough cage, consider a purpose-built one. Florida whites will be happy with an average-size indoor rabbit cage, but they also need access to a bunny-proofed room. Grooming and dietary needs are the same as for any other short-haired rabbit. They do have thick coats, so daily brushing will become essential at shedding times.
Many, if not most, of the rabbits in animal sanctuaries are mixed breeds; sometimes even experts can’t guess what mix a rabbit might be. A white rabbit with normal ears could be a Florida white or New Zealand, but he also could be a combination of many others -- white is not an unusual color for domestic rabbits. Ex-laboratory and ex-farm rabbits, on the other hand, will normally be a single breed; in this case, size should tell you which one. If you are adopting juvenile bunnies of unknown parentage, make sure you can provide enough space for the largest breeds, as you’ll have no guarantee the new arrivals will stay small.
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.