Interestingly, the Dutch rabbit is not named for the breed’s origin, but rather for the rabbits’ unique color pattern known as “Dutch markings.” Dutch rabbits are easily recognized by a characteristic white blaze on the face and chest, as well as white saddle markings around the shoulders.
Adult Dutch bunnies reach a weight of 3.5–5.5 pounds and live an average of 5–10 years. Dutch rabbits may also be referred to as Hollander or Brabander rabbits. In addition to their striking appearance, Dutch rabbits are intelligent and friendly, which makes them one of the top 10 most popular pet rabbit breeds in the world.
Dutch rabbits are descendants of the Petit Brabancon, which was a rabbit bred in Belgium since the fifteenth century. In the 1830s, this Belgian rabbit was imported to England, where the breed was developed into the Dutch rabbit we know today. Dutch rabbits arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900s and were officially recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in 1910.
Caring for a Dutch Rabbit
Even as a smaller breed, Dutch rabbits need plenty of room to exercise and play. Typically, a cage at least 24 x 24 inches is sufficient—as long as the rabbit gets several hours of supervised time outside the cage every day.
Dutch rabbits can be housed inside or outside. If you’re keeping your bunny in a hutch outside, make sure the hutch secured against predators and protected from the weather. If temperatures are below freezing or above 80 F, it’s best to bring your rabbit inside.
With their short hair coat, Dutch rabbits have minimal grooming requirements in comparison with some other breeds. They are typically smart, friendly, and patient. Most Dutch rabbits are easily trained and can learn to play fetch, do tricks, come when called, and even run agility courses! All of these traits and more make them good pets for first-time rabbit parents and in households with children that understand calm, gentle handling and are supervised.
Dutch Rabbit Health Issues
Pet insurance for rabbits is always a good idea to help manage the cost of medical expenses that may arise throughout their life. If you have a female Dutch rabbit, it is highly recommended to have pet insurance for her, as all female rabbits are prone to developing uterine cancer if they are not spayed. Female rabbits ideally should be spayed after 5–6 months of age to prevent the occurrence of this potentially fatal cancer.
Uterine cancer that affects female Dutch rabbits is likely to spread to other organs, commonly the lungs and the liver. As a cancerous tumor grows, the affected tissue dies because the tumor outgrows the blood supply. This dead tissue can lead to a septic (blood borne) infection in the body, which can quickly become fatal if untreated.
Uterine cancer can be prevented by spaying your female Dutch rabbit. If she is not spayed, monitor your Dutch doe closely for the following signs of potential uterine cancer and seek veterinary care immediately if any are noticed:
• Decreased fertility/inability to conceive
• Small litter size
• Bloody urine (hematuria) or vaginal discharge
• Lack of appetite (anorexia)
• Swollen abdomen
• Respiratory distress
Dutch rabbits have a relatively small head for their body size and a slightly longer lower jaw, so they may be genetically predisposed to developing mal-alignment of their upper and lower teeth. A rabbit's teeth grow continuously throughout their life at a rate of about 3–4 inches per year, so if they don't line up correctly, or if the rabbit doesn't get enough fibrous hay to chew, they can overgrow.
Overgrown teeth can develop sharp points that may cause painful lacerations to the tongue and cheeks and prevent a rabbit from eating. Many dental issues can be prevented by providing plenty of hay and chew toys to keep rabbits’ teeth worn down. Recommended products include:
Seek veterinary care right away if you notice your rabbit exhibiting:
Decreased stool production
Pawing at the mouth
Swelling on the face
Your veterinarian will likely sedate the rabbit and can file or trim the sharp points of the teeth. X-rays can also be taken of the skull and the teeth to look for abscesses (pockets of infection) below the gumline. If evidence of a tooth root abscess is found, then the rabbit will need to be anesthetized so the affected teeth can be surgically extracted and the abscess removed.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
Rabbits have very delicate respiratory systems. The roots of their teeth sit just below the sinus cavity; if they have a dental infection, it can also affect the rabbit’s sinuses. If untreated, sinus infections can potentially spread through the bloodstream into the lungs, leading to pneumonia. If your rabbit develops any of the following signs suggestive of a respiratory tract infection, see a veterinarian right away:
Increased respiratory effort
Lack of appetite
Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis
Healthy rabbits have normal bacteria in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract that help maintain normal digestive tract motility. If these normal bacteria change, or the rabbit stops eating because of other underlying issues, GI stasis (a slowing down of the normal passage of food through the GI tract) can occur. This is a life-threatening condition, so if you notice your rabbit stops eating, stops passing stool, or becomes lethargic, seek veterinary care right away.
GI stasis can usually be treated with early intervention. Often, rabbits experiencing this condition will need prescription medications to increase GI motility and allow the restoration of normal digestive bacteria. Many rabbits will also need fluid therapy injections to stay hydrated and nutritional support through syringe feeding until they feel well enough to eat on their own again.
Rabbits keep themselves very clean by grooming, and they ingest hair as they do so. Because rabbits cannot vomit, any hair they swallow needs to be digested and passed in their stool. Very rarely, a hairball may form and block the passage of food through the digestive tract, leading to signs of GI stasis. Hairball obstructions may require surgical removal so the rabbit can recover. If your rabbit has ingested a large amount of hair and is showing signs of stasis, your veterinarian will likely take X-rays or do a sonogram (ultrasound) to help determine whether surgery is indicated.
Cheyletiella, or “walking dandruff,” is a skin mite that can cause intense itching, potentially leading to hair loss and infected sores on a rabbit's skin. A veterinarian diagnoses this parasite with a microscopic examination of a skin sample. The rabbit can then be treated with prescription anti-parasitic medication and antibiotics.
Cheyletiella can infect people, so good sanitation is a must. If your rabbit has been diagnosed with Cheyletiella, the cage and accessories need to be cleaned and disinfected with a dilute bleach solution. Any porous items like wood chew toys or shelters should be thrown away, and all blankets washed in hot, soapy water.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) is a small sporulating parasite that can cause kidney damage and severe neurological problems in rabbits. The spores live in rabbit urine and can be ingested or inhaled from soiled bedding. Good sanitation will help prevent a rabbit from becoming infected.
Affected rabbits may experience:
Loss of balance
With early intervention, treatment may be attempted with prescription dewormers, anti-inflammatory medications, and nutritional support. Rabbits showing advanced signs of the disease may require hospitalization, and rabbits may suffer permanent neurological damage if they survive.
What To Feed a Dutch Rabbit
Hay: Most of a rabbit’s daily diet should be fiber in the form of hay. Eating fibrous hay helps keep a rabbit’s teeth worn down and maintains a healthy digestive system. Timothy hay is best for most adult rabbits. Alfalfa hay is higher in fat, calcium, and protein, so it is suitable for young bunnies and lactating does. Every rabbit should have an unlimited supply of fresh hay at all times.
Greens: Rabbits love dark leafy greens! Most rabbits do well with 1 cup of greens per 2 pounds of body weight daily. Below is a list of some of a rabbit's favorites. Wash all produce before feeding, and feed high-calcium greens (parsley, kale, and spinach) sparingly to avoid the formation of calcium-containing bladder stones.
- Leafy carrot tops
- Butter lettuce
- Boston bibb
Vegetables: It is widely known that rabbits love carrots, but a less commonly known fact is that carrots are high in carbohydrates—so they should be fed sparingly. Better daily vegetable options include bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini. Each rabbit can have approximately 1 tablespoon of fresh vegetables per 2 pounds of body weight daily.
Fruits: Fruit is best offered as a treat; too much fruit has a large amount of carbohydrates in it which can affect the rabbit’s normal population of GI bacteria, causing diarrhea and possible GI stasis. The general rule for offering fruit is 1–2 tablespoons per 5 pounds of body weight once or twice a week.
Pellets: While they should not be the bulk of a rabbit's diet, pellets are necessary to provide a rabbit with essential vitamins and minerals. A good rule of thumb is to feed ¼ cup of fortified pellets per 4–5 pounds of rabbit body weight every day.
Water: Fresh water should always be available. Hanging water bottles are easier to keep clean, but some rabbits prefer drinking out of water bowls. It may be best to offer both until your rabbit's preference is known.
Treats: Treats high in fat and sugar should be avoided. Instead, consider the following healthier options as an occasional treat:
Dutch Rabbit Temperament and Behavior
Dutch rabbits are a smaller breed that can be skittish or wary at first, so it’s always best to let them approach you on their terms before attempting to handle them or pick them up. Once they get to know and trust you, Dutch rabbits are generally friendly and affectionate. Their gentle and easygoing personalities make Dutch rabbits good pets for adults and children alike. However, children should always be supervised to prevent accidents and injuries to them or to the rabbit.
Dutch rabbits are clever and intelligent. With a proper rewards system and plenty of practice, your Dutch rabbit can learn to play games, do tricks, and come when their name is called. They are usually easy to litter train as well.
Dutch Rabbit Grooming Guide
Dutch rabbits have relatively short hair, yet they still shed, so brushing them once or twice a week is recommended. Rabbits typically go through major sheds in the spring and fall, so more frequent brushing may be needed during those periods. Rabbit nails grow continuously and should be trimmed with appropriate small animal nail clippers every one or two months to keep them short and avoid them catching their nails on fabric, carpet, etc.
Like other rabbits, Dutch rabbits can develop bacterial ear infections or ear mites that need to be treated by a veterinarian.. In some cases, your veterinarian my recommend regular ear cleaning with a rabbit-safe ear cleaner. Rabbits, in general, do not like being submerged in water, so bathing should be avoided. If your rabbit needs to be cleaned, consider spot washing with a wet cloth or pet-safe grooming wipes.
Considerations for Pet Parents
Dutch rabbits make wonderful pets and are suitable for single owners or families. They are a bit shy at first, but once Dutch rabbits get to know you, they are great companions! This breed is fairly easy to care for, but they are prone to a few health issues, so regular veterinary checkups are important to catch early signs of illness.
Dutch Rabbit FAQs
Is a Dutch rabbit a good pet?
Yes! Dutch rabbits can be good pets when proper housing, diet, and grooming requirements are met.
Are Dutch rabbits hard to take care of?
Dutch rabbits are fairly easy to care for compared with other rabbit breeds, making them a smart option for beginner rabbit owners.
Are Dutch rabbits cuddly?
Once they become comfortable in their environment, most Dutch rabbits will enjoy being cuddled and receiving affection.
Are Dutch rabbits easy to train?
With practice and consistency, a Dutch rabbit can be trained to use a litter box, do simple tricks, and play games like fetch.
Featured Image: Getty/NikonShutterman
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