Rabbit Breed Identification. Learn how to effectively identify a rabbit breed in this special rabbit breed identification tutorial article.
If you bought your bunny from a breeder of show rabbits, you probably already know what rabbit breed he is. But if you bought him from a pet store, this review can help put you track down his heritage.
Fur Type First
Start by identifying what type of fur your rabbit has. Is it long or short? If it’s over two inches in length, your rabbit has “wool.” This greatly limits the possibilities. Tiny bunnies that have wool are usually American Fuzzy Lops or Jersey Woolies. Larger bunnies with longer wool are angoras.
Does your rabbit have very short fur, just over a half inch in length? Is it extremely soft to the touch? If so, check out the Rex breeds. If your rabbit has wool around its ears and normal length fur on the body, it’s probably a Lionhead. “Normal” rabbit fur is between 1 and 1 ½ inches in length. Breeds such as the Holland Lop, Netherland Dwarf, Mini Lop, and Flemish Giant have slightly longer and thicker “normal” coats than breeds such as Polish, Dutch, Californian, and New Zealand.
Step Two: Shape
Does your rabbit have ears that flop by the side of its head? If so, it’s a lop of some kind. Does it have unusually short, thick, round ears? Look at the Netherland Dwarf. Most rabbits have a fairly round body shape, with or without a small dip around the shoulders. Any other body type can be a clue as to your rabbit’s heritage. Does it have especially long legs with a snaky body carried high in an arch? If so, check out breeds like English Spot and Tan. Does it have a very long but heavy body, with flat shoulders? Consider a Flemish Giant or another semi-arch breed.
Step Three: Size
If your rabbit weighs between two and four pounds at maturity, it’s probably dwarf breed of some type, such as the Polish, Holland Lop, Netherland Dwarf, Mini Rex, or Britannia Petite. Himalayans are also around four pounds, though they are not dwarfs. Breeds that weigh five to seven pounds include the Dutch, Mini Lop, and Havana. The next size up is the “commercial” type. This is a large group that includes breeds weighing eight to twelve pounds, such as the New Zealand, Satin, Californian, and Champagne d’Argent. Any rabbit over twelve pounds is considered a giant. Giant breeds include the Flemish, Giant Chinchilla, and French Lop.
However, size can be misleading when it comes to trying to rabbit breed identification. Show quality dwarf rabbits weigh as little as two pounds, but they produce offspring that don’t have the dwarf gene and weigh four or five pounds when full grown. When two rabbits of different breeds are mated, the offspring can vary widely in size and weight.
Step Four: Color
Some breeds of rabbits have distinctive color patterns, such as the Himalayan, Dutch, Californian, Checkered Giant, Tan, and English Spot. However, color is not conclusive evidence of a rabbit’s breed. For example, not every purebred will turn out with the correct color pattern. For example, two correctly-patterned English Spots will produce fully solid-colored offspring. Also, the English Spot pattern can be found in many different breeds under the name of “broken colored.” Likewise, a Himalayan or Dutch-colored rabbit may not be a Himalayan or a Dutch at all, since similar colors are found in other breeds. If you are doing a Breed ID competition where you know that all the rabbits are of show quality, then color can be very helpful. If you are trying to identify the breed of a rabbit you see in the pet store, color can be misleading.
Reality Check: Popularity and Mixed Rabbit Breeds
Sometimes new rabbit owners will look up rabbit breeds online and come away convinced that they just purchased a purebred bunny, say a Beveren, from the pet store. It’s possible that they did, but since Beveren is a very rare breed, it’s not likely. The rabbit is much more likely to be a blue New Zealand or Flemish Giant, since those breeds are more popular than the Beveren. The most popular breeds for pets are the Netherland Dwarf, Holland Lop, Dutch, and Mini Rex. For commercial purposes, New Zealands, Californians, Satins, Silver Fox, and American Chinchillas are most common. Don’t forget that a large percentage of both pets and meat rabbits are of mixed heritage, and it would be essentially impossible to make a good guess as to their lineage. After only a few generations of mixed breeding, rabbits can bear virtually no resemblance to their purebred grandparents.
If you are a youth breeder (under 19) and enjoy identifying rabbit breeds, you can compete with other kids in Breed ID contests hosted by the ARBA and your local 4-H clubs. Check out our store for a book called “The Youth Rabbit Project Study Guide” that includes extensive Breed ID tips. Here’s the link: http://rabbitbreeders.us/rabbit-books-for-sale.