Lionhead bunnies are invariably cute, if admittedly somewhat strange looking. Like kittens, they come in a variety of colors and patterns. The color varieties that are currently recognized for show purposes are summarized here, as is the background of this unusual breed. Caring for one of these little animals is not much different from caring for most other rabbit breeds, with the exception that lionhead bunnies require a great deal of extra grooming if they are to remain both attractive and healthy.
Lionhead Rabbit Background
The lionhead rabbit is one of the newer breeds of rabbits. The breed will be making its first appearance in American Rabbit Breeders Association (ABRA) show competitions starting in 2014. The lionhead will then become the 48th official rabbit breed to be recognized by ABRA. The lionhead is already recognized in England – and has been for some time. The breed originated in Belgium with a cross being made between a miniature Swiss Fox and a Belgian dwarf.
This little rabbit is cute, but it is cute in a somewhat strange looking way. When you first see one, you will immediately understand where it got its name. It has a mane like that of a lion. On some of these bunnies, the mane is rather regal looking, as you would expect a lion’s mane to be. On others, the mane looks more like hair has been taken from another animal and has then been glued onto the bunny’s neck and chest, and not always glued on all that carefully. The lionhead is a bit smaller than the typical rabbit. Most of them weigh 3 pounds or less. Their ears are also significantly shorter than the ears of most other species of rabbits.
The Lionhead Standard
Although a picture is worth a thousand words, and you really have to look at a few images to see what these miniature lions really look like, the ABRA Lionhead Standard provides what you need to know, should you wish to enter one in a sanctioned competition, as well as of course what features they should not exhibit in order to qualify. At present, there are eight Certificate of Development (COD) varieties in the United States. The COD process is a process that is followed when presenting the breed to the ABRA Standard Committee for recognition. A COD breed, of which there are eight as of 2014, is not yet a recognized variety, but is the next closest thing.
There is currently a fair amount of lionhead breeding activity going on among many breeders. Some of these breeders are crossing existing lionhead varieties with other breeds, such as the Florida White, the Holland Lop, and the Polish. It is likely then that the number of recognized varieties will continue to grow as some of these breeders pursue CODs.
Single Mane, Double Mane, or No Mane at All
Depending upon its genetic makeup, a lionhead will have either a single mane or a double mane. Not too much is made of this in competitions however since the difference between a single-mane rabbit and a double-mane rabbit is only noticeable when a lionhead is very young. Because genetics is involved, specifically mane genes, whether a lionhead has a single mane or a double mane depends upon whether it has inherited one copy of the mane gene or two copies. Some lionheads do not inherit even a single mane gene copy and consequently will not grow a mane. While technically they are still lionheads since they came from the same litter as those that are sporting manes, they would most likely bring much less on the market and certainly would come nowhere near meeting one of the lionhead standards.
It’s also possible for a lionhead to lose its mane as it grows older, and many do just that. Some lose their manes completely. Others end up with a mane that is noticeably thinner than was the case when they were younger. If these ‘mane-less’ rabbits are used for breeding however, they would still be carrying either one or two copies of a mane gene and would be capable of producing offspring with full manes.
Standards for the Eight COD Varieties
Whether or not you intend to show your lionhead, if you have paid a decent price for one, it is at least nice to know whether or not it would qualify for competition. It’s also helpful to know what the eight standard breed colors are if you are looking for a recognized variety. If the bunny you select hasn’t been bred with competition in mind, its colors will probably vary somewhat from the standards and may be of importance only to you. Most likely, the colors of a bunny that does not meet one of the standards will not be quite as uniform, or your jet-black lionhead might sport a few white hairs here and there or have a toenail that is of a different color compared to that of its neighbor. Those white hairs might be grounds for disqualification in competition but have absolutely nothing to do as far as the cuteness or personality of the bunny is concerned.
The accepted colorations of the eight COD varieties are as follows:
Black – The surface color of the bunny is jet black, while the under-color of the coat may be a dark slate blue. The eyes are brown. Scattered white hairs and an under-color that is judged to be too light are grounds for disqualification.
Chocolate – The surface color is medium chocolate. The under-color is a dull gray. The eyes are brown, as are the toenails.
Pointed White – The body color is pure white; the points can be black, blue, chocolate, or lilac. The eyes of this variety are pink and the toenails must ‘show color.’
Sable Point – The points are brown, the body color is creamy white, and the under-color is almost pure white. In competitions, the greater the contrast is between the body color and the point color, the better as far as judging is concerned.
Seal – This variety features a rich sepia brown – almost black – body color on the back or saddle, shading to a lighter color towards the extremities. A Seal lionhead must have uniformly brown toenails. The general rule for all of the different varieties is that the toenails must be of a uniform color, regardless of what the preferred color is supposed to be.
Siamese Sable – The Siamese Sable is quite similar to the Seal except for the head that is darker and the flanks, belly, and underside of the tail that are of a much lighter sepia color.
Smoke Pearl – The upper portion and head of this variety features a rich smoke-gray color, while the flanks and underside are more of a pearl gray. The points of the Smoke Pearl do not have to be of the same color. However, all of the front toenails should match one another, as should all of the rear toenails.
Smoke Pearl Point – The nose, ears, feet, and tail of this variety are of a rich smoke-gray color, while the rest of the body is more of a creamy color, with the upper body being a darker shade than that of the lower body. A Smoke Pearl Point can be disqualified if the underside of its tail is white or if its toenails are white.
Getting Your Own Lionhead Rabbit
When it comes to being pets, rabbits sometimes get what might be considered the short end of the stick. It’s not all that often that people purchase a pet dog purely on an impulse. Most people are aware that when you purchase a dog for a pet, there’s a certain amount of commitment involved, perhaps a significant amount. Cats require a little less care, and a kitten is more apt to be purchased on an impulse than a puppy is, plus the fact that kittens are often given away for free.
People often buy a rabbit for one of two reasons. First, bunnies are cute. Second, it’s Easter. There’s not always a commitment made to keep a rabbit as a pet for the long term when first purchasing one. Consequently, one of the best places to find a pet rabbit is at a shelter. This applies to the lionhead rabbit as well. As surprising as this may seem and as cute as a lionhead can be, a fair number of them are abandoned. It would probably be even worse except the lionhead is generally somewhat expensive, especially if you are looking for one of the COD varieties, which tend to be rather scarce. The best places to get your pet lionhead would be either from a shelter or from a reputable breeder. In both cases, you are likely to get a healthy rabbit – something that is not always the case when purchasing a rabbit from a pet store, especially around Easter time.
Care and Housing
A standard rabbit cage or hutch will usually be fine for a lionhead because of its smaller size. Even if you have a fairly large cage, it is not good for a rabbit to spend all of its time there. It either needs an outdoor run or should be kept in a room where it is not apt to create much damage when it is let out to run about, which should be fairly. Like most rabbits, the creed of the lionhead seems to be ‘if it’s not moving, chew on it.’
Grooming is essential, especially because of the mane that your lionhead will probably chew on at times. Either that or another lionhead will. Even without ingesting part of its mane from time to time, a rabbit will swallow fur while grooming itself. Rabbits, like cats, can get hairballs, but unlike cats, they are not particularly good at coughing them up. If fact, if the lionhead grooms its own mane, as it is apt to do, the potential problem is not necessarily that of hairballs, but of wool balls, which can be even harder on the digestive system. A wool ball can become a wool block in the intestines, which could prove to be fatal.
The other reason for grooming your pet is that its mane is quite likely to become matted or tangled if you don’t. A lionhead with a tangled or matted mane can lose some of its cuteness. It’s recommended that lionhead bunnies be groomed at least three times a week, with special attention being paid to the mane.
When deciding what to feed your lionhead, you need to be aware of the fact that this breed has a more sensitive digestive system than the wild rabbits you see in the woods and fields. You can give these little rabbits commercial rabbit food as long as you feed it in small amounts at a time. You can also give your bunny occasional pieces of fruits or vegetables, but this should not be attempted until a bunny is at least 4 months old. You need to be a little careful when giving your little pet fruit to avoid giving it diarrhea. A more natural food you can give your pet to eat is Timothy hay. You don’t have to worry about serving sizes when hay is its primary food source, plus the fact that eating hay helps to keep the rabbit’s teeth healthy. Water is best provided by means of a water bottle – the drip type. If water is provided in a bowl, it will quickly become dirty. In addition, your pet’s wet whiskers and mane will tend to attract dirt.
If you put a small litter box in your lionhead’s cage, it will quickly learn to use it. These little rabbits tend to find one spot to perform their toilet duties. You may have to move the litter box once or twice while the bunny is making the final choice for its preferred place to relieve itself. Once it has, it will always visit that place. Cat litter will work just fine. Wood shavings will also, but never use cedar shavings or the shavings of any other aromatic wood as respiratory problems could result.
Don’t forget to add a few toys. Toilet paper rollers or small cardboard boxes make ideal toys for these animals as they like to play.
Your lionhead rabbit will be happier if it has a companion as they are social animals. If your pets are spayed and/or neutered, they will tend to be healthier. Insofar as your commitment is concerned, the typical life span of lionhead bunnies is between seven and ten years.