Breed profile of the Lionhead, one of the newest rabbit breeds, named for the mane of long hair standing up in a fringe around the head. They are small rabbits, lively and energetic but good-natured.
The Lionhead is one of the newest rabbit breeds and has been developed following a genetic mutation that causes the growth of a longer 'mane' of hair around the head. In nature, mutations occur quite frequently, and many breeds result from a mutation that is fixed through a selective breeding programme. The Lionhead gene is the first major mutation in rabbits since the Satin in 1932, and unlike other fur gene mutations it is dominant. This means that a Lionhead rabbit crossed with a normal rabbit will still pass on the 'mane' gene to some offspring, producing more Lionheads. There are differing accounts of where the Lionhead mutation first occured; some sources say it originated in Belgium, as a result of crossing Swiss Fox with Belgian Dwarf rabbits to create a long-coated dwarf rabbit, with the progeny then bred with the Dwarf Angora. Other sources say the mutation simply occured in a litter of pure-bred Dwarf Angoras, with the dominant Lionhead gene spreading through the Dwarf Angora breed in Europe. An undesirable trait in the Dwarf Angora, attempts were made to set the gene in a new breed, 'Téte de Lion'. Whatever its origins, the Lionhead certainly originated in Europe, and the Dwarf Angora played an important role in its early development. Rabbits with the 'mane' gene were imported to Britain and bred with other small wool breeds and Dwarf breeds, to develop the Lionhead breed as we know it today. (The Netherland Dwarf has had a particularly strong influence in establishing the compact body shape and small ears of the breed standard, and also introducing a wide variety of colours). The Lionhead was officially recognised by the British Rabbit Council in 2002, in all known colours and patterns. Lionheads were imported to the United States around 2000, where the breed is under development but not yet recognised by the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
The Lionhead is a small rabbit, weighing around 1.3-1.7kg (3-3¾lbs).
Lionhead rabbits have a compact, medium build with a short, broad and well-rounded body. The head is broad, slightly rounded and close-set on the body, with short, upright ears.
Lionheads have soft, medium length hair on their body, with a 'mane' of soft wool, 5-7cm (2-3inch) long, standing up in a fringe around the head and extending to a 'bib' on the chest.
Breeding Lionheads true to the breed standard is not simple. Rabbits that inherit two dominant genes (MM) will have a double mane; baby double-maned rabbits have normal fur on the head and back extending to a vee shape at the tail, with bare flanks and belly. As they grow, the body develops normal fur, with a thick mane of longer wool right around the head, shoulders and chest and extending in a vee shape behind the neck. Many double-maned Lionheads have excessive fur on the flanks and some can develop tufts on the tips of the ears, these are considered a fault in the show standard. Rabbits inheriting one dominant gene and one recessive gene (Mm) will have a single mane; baby single-maned rabbits have normal fur, as they grow they develop longer wool around the head and ears which often thins by adulthood. Single-maned rabbits are usually hybrids, the result of crossing a double-maned rabbit with a normal rabbit. Crossing two single-maned rabbits results in some (MM) double-maned, some (Mm) single-maned rabbits and some rabbits inheriting two recessive genes (mm) will have normal fur. As double-maned rabbits often develop too much fur, and single-maned rabbits usually lose some of their mane in adulthood, breeding the ideal Lionhead is complex.
All colours found in other breeds are recognised in the UK, commonly White (red or blue-eyed), Black, Blue, Chocolate, Lilac, Siamese Sable, Siamese Smoke Pearl, Sable Point, Tortoiseshell, Agouti, Chestnut, Opal, Lynx, Chinchilla, Squirrel, Tan, Fox, Sable Marten, Smoke Pearl Marten, Silver Marten, Otter, Orange, Fawn, Steel, Butterfly.
The Lionhead breed is not yet recognised in the USA, but is undergoing development in many of the above colours, including Broken pattern.
Lionheads are generally good-natured rabbits, although lively and often timid. Gentleness and understanding are needed to win their trust and bring out the best in their personality. They can be quite outgoing and sociable and will thrive on attention. They are usually energetic, active and playful, and despite their small size, need plenty of space to run and play.
Lionheads are not generally recommended with children as they need experienced handling. They tend to be easily frightened and may become aggressive.
Some Lionheads may have a more skittish, or even aggressive nature. The Lionhead is a recent breed and still under development in many countries, temperament can vary quite a bit depending on the breeds used to develop each line.
Lionhead rabbits may be more prone than other breeds to dental disease, a potentially fatal condition that is often inherited.
Choose a rabbit with a good temperament and a low risk of hereditary teeth problems, from a reputable breeder or rescue centre.
Lionheads need some additional grooming, the longer 'wool' of the mane needs to be combed once a week to prevent matting, daily grooming is necessary during moult.
Lionheads are more at risk of developing hairballs, which can cause potentially fatal digestive problems.