There are more than 60 breeds of rabbit ranging in size from dwarf to giant, varying in colour, appearance, lifespan and temperament. Breed standards and colours vary between countries.
There are many different breeds of rabbit throughout the world and most are bred in a number of varieties and colours. Some breeds are found in almost every country where there are rabbit fanciers while some are virtually unknown outside their country of origin. Many breeds have also been developed to quite different breed standards in various countries and may even be known by different names. This section covers the main breeds found in Britain and America, and we have tried to remain as international as possible in the breed profiles.
Rabbits range in size from the dwarf breeds, weighing around 1kg (2lbs) to the giant breeds, weighing around 6-7kg (13-16lbs).
In general, the smaller breeds are longer-lived, with most dwarf and small rabbits, up to around 2.5kg (5½lbs), living on average 8-12 years. Medium sized breeds generally live around 6-8 years and the large and giant breeds tend to have the shortest lifespan at around 5-6 years. Although lifespan is largely genetic, general health obviously has a great influence. Rabbits with ideal living conditions, suitable diet, routine healthcare and vaccinations are likely to live well into natural old age. Neutering is important, particularly for female rabbits, with spayed does likely to live several years longer than unspayed or breeding does. Potentially, rabbits can exceed the average lifespan of their breed by several years, for example, some Netherland Dwarfs reach 14-16 years and some Giants have been known to live 7-8 years.
Different breeds of rabbit not only vary in size and appearance but can also have quite different characters. Smaller breeds tend to be livelier and more highly-strung than the larger breeds, which are generally more placid and even-tempered. A lively nature means a rabbit will be very active and alert, although this can also lead to being fairly unmanageable. A calm nature means a rabbit will be quite placid, laid-back and generally less active, some large breeds tend almost to laziness and are more prone to being overweight. It is difficult to give a definitive character assessment for each breed as temperament can vary: temperament is largely inherited, so a breeder of a generally lively breed can create a line of very calm rabbits through strict selection of breeding stock; conversely, highly-strung or aggressive rabbits can be bred from a normally placid breed, if temperamental stock are selected for breeding. In the breed profiles, we have tried to give a middle point or average character for each breed, however it is worth bearing in mind that an individual rabbits breeding and line of descent can have a significant influence on temperament. Many other factors such as environment, handling, whether the rabbit is neutered or spayed etc. can also influence a rabbits general disposition.
Different breeds of rabbit have quite different appearances, varying in size, body type, build, hair type and length, ear length and shape etc. Some breeds have arched bodies with a very rounded curve to their back and hindquarters, others have long, slightly sloping backs. Some breeds are very slender and slight in build, while others are broad, solid and substantially built. Many breeds are distinctive for a particular feature, such as lop ears; for their hair type, e.g. rex, angora and lionhead; or for their patterned coat, e.g. Himalayan and Dutch. Pure-bred or pedigree rabbits are bred to conform to their breed standard; the ideal set out for body type, shape and weight, fur type and colour. The detail of the breed standard can vary from one country to another, with differences in size, body shape and accepted coat colours quite common. The individual breed profiles we give here provide a basic description of general appearance and where possible, any major differences between breed standards in the UK and the USA. If you wish to show or breed from your rabbit, detailed breed standards are available from the British Rabbit Council in the UK and the American Rabbit Breeders Association in the USA.
Rabbits have been bred in a wide variety of colours and patterns. Most breeds have several colours, although a few, such as the Chinchilla are only bred in one colour. Some breeds, such as the Netherland Dwarf, have been bred in just about every colour found in all other breeds. Rabbit colours are divided into types: self, shaded self, agouti, tan, shaded tan, and other colours, patterns and markings. Self-coloured rabbits are the same colour all over, e.g. black; while shaded self colours, e.g. siamese, sealpoint have one colour that varies in shade over the body. Agouti patterned rabbits, e.g. chinchilla, have three different colour bands along the length of each hair. The undercolour next to the skin is usually darker, with a lighter band of colour in the midsection of the hair, and dark tips to the hair, called ticking. The undersides and belly are usually light-coloured, while the ears and other parts of the body may be laced with black hairs. Tan-patterened rabbits have two different colour bands along each hair, with an undercolour and a top colour, while shaded tan-patterns have two colours that vary in shade across the body. There are a number of other colours, including those with distinctive markings, e.g. Himalayan, Butterfly and Broken.
Some breeds will have special requirements, such as the extra care required for long hair. Breeds with a reputation for a tricky temperament or those that are prone to health problems will require special consideration when choosing a rabbit.