Domestic rabbits might not vary as much as dogs, but they still come in all sorts of sizes and colors. Ear form and size differs too, while body shape varies a little. The American Rabbit Breeders Association officially recognizes 47 different breeds, but there are others, along with a great number of varieties within the breeds. Your rabbit might not be a purebred, but you should still be able to form an idea of which breeds or sorts of breed she comes from. A comprehensive rabbit breed guidebook comes in handy.
The ancestor of all domestic rabbits is the European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). When trying to identify a rabbit’s breed, you might find it helpful to compare him to a picture of this animal, the archetypal rabbit, noting the ways in which he differs. A few pet rabbits are, in fact, genetically pretty close to the wild ones, because wild male rabbits sometimes manage to visit intact pet females kept outside. The resulting offspring -- basically the bunny equivalent of wolfdogs -- often, although not always, look very much like their fathers.
The Mighty Rabbit
Rabbit breeds run from giant to dwarf, with the classifications being based on adult weight rather than length. As long as your rabbit isn’t overweight or obese -- and if he was, your vet should have informed you during the initial check-up -- determine the category simply by popping him on the scales. Use large kitchen scales if the rabbit is small enough, or sensitive bathroom ones if he’s a bigger bunny. Dwarf breeds, such as the Holland lop and the mini rex, should weigh less than 4 pounds, although they are sometimes a bit heavier, which isn’t an issue unless you wish to show your pet. Giants, such as the Flemish giant, weigh over 12 pounds. In between are a large number of medium-sized bunnies, including the Florida white and the English spot.
Spots and Splotches
Some breeds are characterized by their coloration. Examples include the Dutch rabbit, which is normally piebald, and the various breeds of white rabbit, such as the New Zealand white. Other breeds come in a range of shades, from jet black to orange. Two- or multi-toned rabbits may have all kinds of splotches, spots and shading, although stripes of any sort are extremely rare.
Compare your rabbit’s ears to those of the wild rabbit archetype. If they are noticeably longer or shorter in proportion to the body, this might indicate certain breeds. For example, the Belgian hare has relatively elongated, hare-like ears, while the Netherland dwarf has extremely short ones. If the ears droop, your rabbit has at least some of a lop breed in him.
Wild rabbits have short hair, and so do many pet rabbits. Others have longer coats ranging from the thick extravagance of the angoras to the finer fluffiness of the lionhead. When choosing a rabbit, note that longhair rabbits, like longhair cats, need a lot of grooming, not just to prevent mats but also to help avoid potentially lethal hairballs. Some relatively shorthaired rabbits also have deceptively thick coats.
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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.