If you're in the market for a big bunny, the Flemish giant is the rabbit for you. It's the largest purebred rabbit recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. It's also known as a "gentle giant" because of its good disposition. Due to its size, the Flemish giant requires larger living quarters and more food than the average bunny.
Originally called the Patagonian rabbit, the ancestors of these big buns might have arrived on European shores from its native South America via Dutch trading ships during the 1600s. A similarly-sized rabbit remains in Patagonia, at the southern end of South America. However, this rabbit still lives in the wild. The European Flemish giant developed in Flanders, where it derived its name. By the late 19th century, these large rabbits were imported to England for meat. Breeders there improved the rabbits, aiming for color and a more attractive appearance. By the turn of the 20th century, the Flemish giant was well-established in the United States.
At maturity, Flemish giants usually weigh between 15 and 17 pounds. However, it's not uncommon for them to weigh 20 pounds or more, with a length of 2.5 feet. Although the American Rabbit Breeders Association lists maximum weights for most of the rabbit breeds under its jurisdiction, there's no maximum for the Flemish giant. This rabbit also is large-boned, so although these bunnies are quite large at maturity, they shouldn't appear fat. While males have larger heads, the females have the dewlap common to all female bunnies.
While the gray Flemish giant is the best-known, breed standards allow for seven different colors. These are black, white, blue, light gray, sandy, steel and fawn. Whatever the shade, the fur should be thick and glossy, indicating a healthy rabbit. The fur also should be evenly colored.
While the breed still is raised for meat and fur, they also make very good companion rabbits. Raised correctly, they are friendly and sweet. Flemish giants make good indoor rabbits, as they are easily house-trained. As with any house rabbit, bunny-proof your home so your pet can't chew wires or gnaw on unacceptable items. A well-cared for Flemish giant can share your life for eight to 10 years. Your pet needs a constant supply of fresh, clean water, as well as access to good quality grass or timothy hay. You also can feed your rabbit pelleted rabbit food along with his hay, along with small amounts of fruits and veggies for treats. Rabbits teeth grow continuously, so the hay not only provides nutrition but fiber, which keeps the teeth worn down, avoiding dental diseases. Ask your vet about how much food you should give your rabbit daily. Because of your rabbit's size, purchase the largest cage or hutch available for your rabbit's home. It should be at least 2 feet tall, with a floor size of at least 30 by 48 inches. Part of the floor area should be wood, so that your rabbit isn't on wire all the time. Use wood shavings or straw for bedding, cleaning the cage daily.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.