There are large numbers of different breeds of rabbit from which to make a choice of pet. It may be noticed that whereas in most small pets the various colours are known as varieties, in rabbits they are known as breeds. What is the difference between a variety and a breed? The principal difference lies in body shape and size.
When two forms of animal differ clearly in shape or size, they are said to be different breeds. When two forms are of the same shape or size but of different colours, they are said to be different varieties. Thus, it is possible to have more than one colour or variety of a breed. This is so for the rabbit. A breed of animal comes into existence when enough breeders are prepared to recognise it.
Rabbit breeds are divided into two groups, fancy and fur. The distinction is arbitrary since all rabbits possess a pelt which can be used for fur coats (this is what “fur” means). The fancy breeds tend to be the older and have variable markings while the pelt producing breeds tend to be of more recent origin and to be more uniform (this is desirable for producing matching pelts).
For rabbits as pets, all breeds are suitable and which one is chosen is a matter of personal preference. There is sufficient choice, goodness knows, for size, shape and colour to suit all tastes. At the onset, thought should be given to the matter of size, since the smallest breeds are about three pounds while the largest may weigh 13 pounds or more.
The point to consider is that the latter can eat two or three times as much food as the former and require a hutch twice as large. People with limited accommodation should consider more seriously the smaller breeds.
The two smallest breeds are the Polish and the Netherland Dwarf. The Polish is neat in body, with white fur and pink or blue eyes. The dwarf is similar except for different body build and the fact that it can be obtained in a range of colours : black, blue, white, sable, smoke, chinchilla are only some of the more common.
Following upon these are a number of small-medium to medium sized breeds. For example, the popular Dutch and English. The Dutch has white markings on the head and on the forepart of the body. The ideal Dutch should have precise facial markings and a clear-cut as well as straight, division of the white and coloured portions in the middle of the body.
The English is the “spotted” rabbit, being white except for spots of colour on the head and body. The spots do not occur at random but are to be found on the sides of the body. The exhibition English has the spots running together to form blotches. From an exhibitor’s viewpoint, the Dutch and English are among the hardest rabbits to breed to perfection. The coloured fur in both breeds may be black, blue, chocolate or sandy-yellow.
Another breed in this size group is the Himalayan. This breed has pink eyes and white fur except for black ears, nose, feet and tail. Quite an attractive animal. The Tan rabbits are coloured black, blue, chocolate or lilac on the back, with rich tan colouring on the stomach. The Havana is a nice animal, too. This breed is one of the “selfs” (that is, the same colour all over), being a rich chocolate. The Silver is an unusual breed. These occur in several colours, the Grey and the Fawn being the most popular. The Silver is so called because the animal is evenly ticked with white hairs. The Grey is a ticked black while the Fawn is a ticked orange-yellow.
Coming to somewhat larger breeds, there is the Chinchilla, so called because the fur resembles that of the South American rodent whose pelt is used in the manufacture of expensive fur coats. The chinchilla is undoubtedly one of the more charming breeds. A bright silver-grey is probably the best description.
The Silver Fox is an off-shoot of the Chinchilla. This animal may be black, blue, chocolate or lilac on the back, with white belly fur and abundant white ticking along the sides. A real delight. There is also the Sable, a breed with rich dark sepia on the back, shading to lighter warm sepia on the sides. The beauty of this animal resides in the tone change of colour. Two varieties are known : the Siamese, where the shading extends into the belly and the Marten, where the belly fur is white and the sides are ticked low down with long white-tipped hairs.
The largest breeds are the California, Chinchilla Giganta, Beveren, New Zealand White and the Flemish Giant. The Californian and Chinchilla Giganta are larger editions of the Himalayan and Chinchilla, respectively. The Beveren is a self coloured breed, of which the blue and the white are the most majestic. Black and brown varieties also exist. The Flemish is a really old breed and is one of the largest, if not the largest. The colour is dark grey on the back, with white belly fur.
The Belgian Hare is unique in having exceptionally long thin legs and body, and a coat of deep rich yellow-tan. It is an old and handsome breed. Incidentally, the breed is a true rabbit and is not a domesticated wild hare or even a rabbit-hare hybrid.
The Rex breed is interesting because it has a short plush coat. The breed is known in many colours. In fact, it is possible to match all of the colours of the normal. It is usual to denote the Rex variety by the colour or breed which it duplicates. For instance, Black-rex, Blue-rex, Chinchilla-rex and so on. It is possible, however, to obtain a few Rexes for which there is no recognised normal coated breed. For instance, the Orange-rex, where the coat is a bright orange, quite unlike any normal breed, and the Lynx-rex, which is described as orange shot silver, a fascinating combination which has to be seen to be appreciated.
The Angora is the breed with the long hair and a properly cared for animal is a thing of beauty. However, the coat does require looking after, otherwise the long hair collects dirt and pieces of hay, mats and becomes a terrible mess. The art of keeping the Angora in tip-top condition is daily combing and brushing of the hair, beginning about five to six weeks of age. Any matting which is found must be carefully freed by teasing, never pulled out or cut off. The hutch will require more frequent cleaning than that for a normal haired rabbit. Plenty of hay must always be provided so that the fur (or wool, as it is called) does not come into contact with wet sawdust. The most common Angora is the pink eyed white but black-smokes, blue-smokes and other colours are known.
The Lop is a rabbit with extraordinary long ears. The breed is easy to keep, the only problem is that of preventing the ears from becoming dirty. The animal itself will keep them clean and it can be helped by making certain that the hutch floor is kept scrupulously clean. Should the ears become dirty, sponge them carefully with good quality soap and water, and dry them thoroughly, A good layer of hay on the floor will protect the ears from coming into contact with wet sawdust. Many colours are possible and the more common seem to be black, tortoiseshell and fawn.
Not all of the above breeds will be readily obtainable from a pet shop although some do make an effort to stock the more popular. Anyone who has set his or her mind on a definite breed should contact a specialist breeder. A visit to your local rabbit club may be rewarding; otherwise the fancy periodical “Fur and Feather” may give addresses of appropriate breeders.
If pet shops cannot be expected to keep all breeds, the converse is true, many shops have rabbits which belong to no breed—mongrels, as these are called. These make excellent pets although they may lack glamour. The situation is rather like dogs where the mongrel is looked down on, yet making a faithful pet. These rabbits may be of any colour; wild grey, black, blue, etc., many with odd spots or splashes of white on the nose, fore-head or fore-paws. No one should despise these animals for many have charm and their owners soon come to adore them. They are also less expensive !
It is easier to exhibit rabbits than most other rodents. Many large towns have clubs whose main function is to hold shows. If your area does not have a local club, many council fetes and agriculture exhibitions have sections for live-stock which include rabbits. Anyone who has the desire to show should visit one of these events to ascertain the procedure.
There is no need to worry whether or not your rabbit is of show quality, for most shows have a class for “pets” which are judged on condition and health, not mainly by show points. Even the greenish novice stands a chance in these classes. It will be appreciated that a tip-top show rabbit is expensive and is not likely to be found in a pet shop. A visit to a show, however, may awaken the desire to own one of these beautiful animals.
A regular travelling box is essential to despatch a rabbit by rail to a show some distance away. It is to be presumed that the exhibitor is no longer a novice by this time and has acquired the necessary knowledge to set about the job satisfactorily. Special arrangements have to be made for the despatch and collection of livestock by rail. These can be ascertained by inquiry at your nearest railway station. Notices of shows are regularly advertised in “Fur and Feather”, the periodical for the serious rabbit breeder.