The Lionhead rabbit is a new and increasingly popular breed, distinguished by his mane around its head, similar to that of wild lions (hence its name). We will explore his origin, physical characteristics, color variety and special care.
There is no official version of the origins of this breed, but the one that holds the most strength is that in Belgium, by the 1930s, breeders were looking for a long-fured dwarf rabbit.
For this they crossed a miniature Swiss Fox rabbit with a Belgian (Netherland Dwarf), and from a spontaneous genetic mutation in one of the litters of the rabbits, a notorious peculiarity arose: the distribution of a dense and bold fur around the head and the neck, similar to the mane of a male lion.
Swiss Fox rabbit
Netherland Dwarf rabbit
These spontaneous mutations usually happen in nature and many breeds are born from them, later perpetuated through a program of selective breeding (which was what happened to the Lionhead rabbit). His mutation has been one of the most important in the history of rabbit´s breeds, known as the gene of the mane.
Later he was taken to England, where he was crossed with other woolly and dwarf breeds, developing what today is known as the European Lionhead.
In 1998, the Lionhead rabbit was first discussed at the meeting of the British Rabbit Council’s (BRC) standard breed committee, and from the year 2000 several rabbits were taken in a variety of colors to the Bradford Championship Show in the United Kingdom. The great breakthrough was achieved on May 1st, 2002, when the BRC officially accepted the Lionhead in all the colors that are recognized in other breeds of rabbits.
This breed was imported for the first time from England to the United States in the year 2000 by Joanne Staler, of the state of Minnesota; later he was joined by other breeders to work on the development of the American Lionhead.
In 2001 the American club of the Lionhead rabbit was organized, beginning to take popularity in North America, although his recognition as a breed in this country took a while. Arden Wetzel and Gail Gibbons were the first breeders to introduce the Lionhead rabbit to the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders’ Association) convention for recognition, but were unsuccessful. For a rabbit breed to pass it needs to go through a long process, having to fulfill a list of criteria divided into several categories, such as color, weight, body, mane and ears. In the case of the Lionhead, the rule requires among other things to have a short and compact body, erect ears and dense mane in the form of a full circle around the head. ARBA’s official recognition as a breed in the United States came in February 2014, thanks in large part to the efforts of Theresa Mueller and Cheryl Rafoth, two rabbit breeders who had been working together for the previous 4 years to reach the objective.
Now that we know his history, let’s see a summary of his characteristics.
Scientific name: Oryctolagus cuniculus.
Life expectancy: 8-9 years.
Weight: 1.3 kg – 1.7 kg.
Body: short and compact, well rounded, wide chest. The tail is straight and well covered with fur.
Fur: dense and of medium length.
Legs: Front legs are short and straight.
Head: large and oval, wide front and long muzzle. The male´s head is wider than the female´s.
Eyes: round, shiny and protruding.
Neck: poorly visible.
Ears: erect, long and covered with fur. Size 5.5 – 7.5 cm.
Head and ears
The most important feature of the Lionhead rabbit is his mane, which is between 5 -7 cm in length.
The gene of the mane is designated with the letter “M” and his size depends on the genetic composition. Two possible combinations can occur: 1) he inherits a single dominant gene (Mm), in which case he will have a simple mane, or 2) he inherits the 2 dominant genes of the mane (MM), in which case he will produce a double mane.
The simple mane is usually thin, light and disappears in the adult stage, leaving a lock between the ears. It is usually derived from a cross of a Lionhead rabbit with another breed.
By contrast, the double mane is thick, woolly and abundant, surrounding the head and the chin; it extends in a V-shape behind the neck, falling in a fringe around the head, with more fur on the chest, forming a bib.
Today professional Lionhead breeders only use double-mane rabbits in their breeding program, in order to obtain the texture and density required by the current standard.
Variety of colors of the Lionhead rabbit
The Lionhead rabbit exists in many different colors and varieties. The British Council of Rabbits recognizes all colors in the Lionhead that have been officially approved in other rabbit breeds (images below): agouti, black, blue, butterfly, chestnut, chinchilla, chocolate, fawn, fox, lilac, lynx, opal, orange, otter, sable marten, sable point, siamese sable, smoke pearl, silver marten, squirrel, steel, tan, tortoiseshell, and white (the latter with blue or ruby eyes).
Bi colors (white and another color) and tri (white and other 2 colors), as well as several other nuances, also apply.
Lionhead rabbit – orange color
Agouti pattern – 3 bands of different color on each fur shaft
Black butterfly pattern – characterized by a line that runs along the spine, as well as spots on the nose, cheeks and sides
Medium sable color
Dark sable color
Broken (stained): combination of white color as base, along with stains of another color
Colors in the United States
Less variety of colors have been accepted in the United States, due to the short time that this breed has been approved in the country. The ARBA recognizes the Lionhead breed in the following colors: 1) turtle pattern: the name comes from a pattern very similar to that of a turtle. The varieties of colors accepted in here are lila, white, black and blue; 2) White color with ruby eyes.
Lionhead rabbit – white with ruby eyes
A presentation process for the approval of other colors is currently under development.
This breed requires more attention than short-fured rabbits due to their mane. He should be brushed several times a week to avoid tangles and knots, paying particular attention to the area around the eyes, since not removing dead fur could affect their visibility. Brushing should include all parts of the rabbit: head, back, belly and limbs.
It is advisable to check the back daily near the anus to ensure that this area is completely clean and free of fecal matter or urine, otherwise he could attract flies. Sometimes they lay eggs in the dirty fur, later becoming larvae and causing painful wounds that hide in the skin. If you notice white spots on the fur, remove them immediately using a wet cotton, as they could be fly eggs.
Like all rabbits, the Lionhead rabbit’s teeth are in continuous growth throughout their life, which can cause dental problems. Their teeth should be checked regularly by an experienced veterinarian to detect signs of overgrowth in time and include a good quality diet rich in fiber and hay, which helps to grind teeth and control their growth.
Rabbits who suffer from this problem usually stop eating, lose weight, have bad breath, drool and have a damp chin. It is of great importance that these problems be treated quickly before complications arise, such as infections, severe pain or ulcers in the cheek or tongue.
This breed is at greater risk of developing fur balls (solid fur masses that deposit in the stomach or intestine) due to their abundant fur. What usually happens is that when he cleans himself with the tongue, he ingests small amounts of fur that pass through the digestive system and exit through the excrements, but a dangerous situation occurs if he ingests a quantity greater than normal, since the balls of fur can cause an intestinal obstruction.
There are a couple of measures for avoiding this problem: 1) brush him a minimum of 3 times a week to eliminate dead fur, so that he cannot swallow it, and 2) give him malt, which is a gelatinous substance that helps the traffic of this fur and prevents it from remaining in the intestine.
Being long-fured, the Lionhead rabbit is especially sensitive to high temperatures. To avoid a heat stroke he should be kept in places that are ventilated, fresh or in the shade, preferably under a tree. Also remember to keep cold water close for 24 hours a day and change it several times to prevent him from getting hot.
It can be said that the Lionhead rabbit is a relatively new breed and his popularity is growing as foam due to his beauty and attractive mane. Like all breeds, they need special care to keep them healthy and happy, and now that you know what they are, you might consider adopting one to incorporate into your family.