Harlequin Rabbit

Catherine Gose, CVT

Catherine Gose, CVT

. Reviewed by Laurie Hess, DVM, DABVP
Updated Nov. 7, 2023
Harlequin rabbit

In This Article

General Care

Harlequin rabbits are bred for their unique color pattern instead of their fur type or body type like other rabbit breeds. They are nicknamed “The Clown of Rabbits” because their markings resemble the two-toned costumes worn by court jesters in the Middle Ages. The Harlequin rabbit's bicolor markings are ideally evenly split down the center of the face, and the pattern alternates between the head, ears, feet, and body. There are two main color variations:

  • Magpie Harlequin: white with another color (usually black)

  • Japanese Harlequin: orange with another color (usually black)

As one of the oldest domesticated rabbit breeds, Harlequin rabbits originated in France and were first shown in Paris in 1887. They were imported to England a few years later, and eventually brought to the U.S. during the 1920s. Today the breed is a relatively rare pet or show rabbit. Harlequin rabbits live an average of 5–10 years, and adults typically weigh between 6.5–9.5 pounds.

Caring for a Harlequin Rabbit

Harlequins are known to be gentle, playful, and friendly. This makes them good family pets in homes with children who understand calm and gentle handling. With minimal grooming needs, Harlequin rabbits are also good for beginner bunny pet parents.

Ideally, a Harlequin bunny’s cage or hutch should be a minimum of 3 feet long by 2 feet wide, with multiple levels to offer even more room.

Harlequin rabbits can be housed indoors or outdoors, as long as an outdoor hutch is protected from predators and extreme weather. That said, indoor rabbits are typically healthier because they have less exposure to infection from the environment and other animals. All rabbits should be brought inside when the outdoor temperature reaches above 80 F or falls below freezing.

Harlequin rabbits are energetic and social, so they also require a minimum of three to four hours of supervised playtime outside their cage every day in a secure, rabbit-proofed area.

Harlequin Rabbit Health Issues

Harlequin rabbits are generally healthy, but like all pet rabbits, they are prone to a few health issues. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to locate a veterinarian near you who treats rabbits in case medical attention is needed.

Dental Problems

Rabbit teeth grow continually throughout their entire lives. This growth is at a rate of about 3–4 inches per year, so a high fiber diet and lots of chew toys are vital to keep your rabbit’s teeth ground down.

Malocclusion (improper tooth alignment) is common in rabbits. This may result in overgrown teeth that form sharp points on their edges that can cause painful wounds inside the mouth. These wounds may, at minimum, cause your bunny to stop eating, but they can also become infected and form an abscess (pocket of infection).

Overgrown teeth can be treated by a veterinarian. Your rabbit will need to be sedated so the offending teeth can be trimmed or filed down. If an abscess is present, a deeper anesthetic may be used, the affected teeth will likely need to be surgically extracted, and the infected tissue will be removed.

Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Rabbits have sensitive respiratory systems, and URIs are fairly common. URIs in rabbits can be bacterial in origin or can result from a dental issue, since the roots of the upper teeth sit just below the nasal and sinus cavities.

URIs are typically treated with prescription antibiotics. Sometimes additional supportive care, like hand feeding, anti-inflammatory medication, or fluid replacement injections, are needed if your rabbit stops eating and drinking on their own. Signs of a URI include:

Upper respiratory infections in rabbits may be made less likely with proper care. For example, avoid pine or cedar bedding, as they contain fragrant oils that can irritate a rabbit's airway and may contribute to the development of secondary bacterial infections. Instead, consider a paper litter such as Carefresh® or Fresh News®. Good sanitation is important, as ammonia buildup from urine soiled litter can be a respiratory irritant, as well.


Ear mites are microscopic parasites that can live inside a rabbit’s ears. These mites can cause severe itching and scabbing of the outer ear (the part you see) and may contribute to the development of secondary bacterial  ear infections. Ear mites will often cause scabs and crusts on outside of the ears, as well as debris in the ear that resembles coffee grounds.

Ear mites are contagious to other animals and are more commonly seen in outdoor rabbits. Diagnosis is performed with a microscopic examination of the ear debris. Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate anti-parasitic medication. In addition to administering medication, it’s critical that you thoroughly disinfect all areas the rabbit has been in contact with so that the parasites don’t reinfect your bunny or any other rabbits in the house.

Cheyletiella (also known as “walking dandruff”) is another microscopic parasite that can live on a rabbit's skin. This mite is extremely itchy and can cause hair loss, sores, and secondary skin infections. Once confirmed with a microscopic analysis of a small skin sample, your veterinarian will prescribe anti-parasitic medication as well as antibiotics, if needed.

Cheyletiella can spread rapidly from one rabbit to another and is transmissible to people, plus treating the rabbit does not protect against future infection. Because of this, the rabbit's cage must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with a dilute bleach solution. Any porous items, such as wood hiding boxes or chew toys, should be thrown away along with all litter or bedding. Blankets and rugs should be washed in hot, soapy water or tossed as well.

Encephalitazoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) is an intracellular parasite that can cause kidney damage as well as severe nervous system issues. The spores are found in rabbit urine, and they are most commonly inhaled or ingested as a result of soiled bedding. Symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lack of stool production

  • Head tilt

  • Appearing off-balance

  • Eye twitching

  • Tremors or seizures

  • Partial paralysis

Many rabbits showing advanced signs of an E. cuniculi infection may suffer permanent neurological deficits; however, treatment can be more successful when started early. Some rabbits may require hospitalization to administer supplemental feedings, fluid injections, and medications including anti-inflammatories and anti-parasitic drugs. Thorough clean up and disinfection of any areas an infected rabbit has been are essential to prevent spread of infection to other rabbits.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis

A healthy rabbit's gastrointestinal (GI) system contains beneficial bacteria that help food digest and aid in the continuous movement of food through the digestive tract. When changes to the normal population of this bacteria occur, or if the rabbit stops eating because of other underlying issues, the motion stops, potentially causing life-threatening GI stasis. If you notice your rabbit is lethargic, not eating, and not passing stool or cecotropes (night stools), seek veterinary care right away.


Rabbits ingest hair as they groom themselves. They cannot vomit, but a healthy rabbit can usually digest the hair so it passes in stool. In rare cases, a large amount of ingested hair can get stuck and form an obstruction in the digestive tract, leading to signs of GI stasis.

A veterinarian will use imaging such as X-rays or an ultrasound to determine if a true obstruction is present, rather than a slowing down of food passage due to GI stasis. If there is a true physical obstruction is present, surgical intervention may be needed so the rabbit can recover.

What To Feed a Harlequin Rabbit

Hay is the main component of a rabbit's diet and should be available to them at all times. Adult rabbits should be fed Timothy hay in unlimited quantities, with a fresh pile of hay offered several times a day. Alfalfa hay is higher in fat, calcium, and protein than Timothy hay; it's better for young bunnies and lactating does.

Greens should be rinsed thoroughly before being fed to a rabbit. The general guideline is to feed 1 cup of dark leafy greens per 2 pounds of rabbit body weight daily. Certain greens (such as parsley, kale, and spinach) are higher in calcium and should be fed sparingly prevent calcium-based bladder stones from forming.

Favorite greens to offer your Harlequin rabbit include:

  • Fennel

  • Radicchio

  • Romain

  • Endive

  • Boston Bibb

  • Basil

  • Arugula

  • Butter lettuce

  • Cilantro

  • Escarole

  • Leafy carrot tops

  • Mint

Pellets provide essential vitamins and nutrients for a pet rabbit. A good rule of thumb is to feed ¼ cup of fortified pellets per 4–5 pounds of rabbit body weight daily. Rabbits tend to love eating pellets, but they should not be fed in excess, as they can contribute to the development of GI stasis if they are offered too much.

Vegetables are another favorite rabbit treat. Carrots are certainly a favorite for rabbits, but they are high in carbohydrates, and feeding your bun too many can disrupt their regular digestion. Instead, consider offering just the leafy carrot top or other vegetables such as zucchini, Brussels sprouts, and bell pepper for daily feeding, offering carrots only as an occasional treat. Offer approximately 1 tablespoon of fresh, washed vegetables per 2 pounds of rabbit body weight daily.

Fruit should be offered as an occasional treat, as it’s also high in carbohydrates and can contribute to obesity, GI stasis, and diarrhea. Feed no more than 1–2 tablespoons of fruit per 5 pounds of rabbit body weight once or twice a week.

Treats are always appreciated but should be given very sparingly. Avoid treats that contain a lot of sugar, fat, and artificial coloring. Instead, consider low-fat, high-fiber options.

Water should always be available to your Harlequin and changed daily or as needed to keep it clean and fresh. Some rabbits prefer drinking from water bottles over water bowls, so offer both initially until the rabbit's preference is known.

Harlequin Rabbit Temperament and Behavior

Harlequin rabbits are friendly, playful, and social animals that thrive when they get lots of interaction with their family members. Like other pet bunnies, Harlequins need several hours of supervised time outside of their cage to get exercise and release excess energy. Rabbits that do not get enough social interaction may develop undesirable behaviors like biting, scratching, or kicking when handled.

Rabbits are intelligent and clever overall, and the Harlequin is no exception. Harlequins can be litter trained and may also enjoy learning tricks or playing games like fetch.

As one of the more easygoing breeds, Harlequin rabbits are good for first-time rabbit parents and in homes with children who understand calm and gentle handling. Interactions between rabbits and children should always be supervised to avoid accidents and injuries.

Harlequin Rabbit Grooming Guide

A Harlequin rabbit's grooming needs are fairly minimal when compared to longer-haired bunnies, so brushing them once or twice a week is usually sufficient. Rabbits experience a major shedding twice a year in the spring and fall, so brushing more frequently during those times may be necessary to avoid hairballs, which can lead to GI stasis or obstruction.

In addition to regular brushing, a rabbit's toenails typically need to be trimmed every four to six weeks. Their toenails grow continuously throughout their lives, and keeping them trimmed may help prevent health issues and injuries.

Rabbits, in general, do not like to be submerged in water, so bathing is often a traumatic experience for them. If your rabbit is dirty and needs to be cleaned, spot clean using a washcloth or rabbit-safe grooming wipes.

Considerations for Pet Parents

Harlequin rabbits are not only stunning to look at, but also have outgoing and friendly personalities that make them wonderful pets. They are typically a hearty rabbit breed and have minimal grooming needs. With a proper high-fiber diet and plenty of social interaction, Harlequin rabbits can live long and happy lives in a household with a single person—or with many people—to give them attention.

Harlequin Rabbit FAQs

Is a Harlequin rabbit a good pet?

Yes! Harlequin rabbits are social and outgoing which makes them great pets for any household.

Are Harlequin rabbits hard to take care of?

Compared with some other rabbit breeds, Harlequins are fairly easy to care for. They have minimal grooming needs, and their friendly and inquisitive nature makes them less skittish than other smaller breeds of rabbits.

Are Harlequin rabbits cuddly?

Rabbits, in general, do not like to be picked up and held. But once a Harlequin rabbit gets to know you, they will gladly spend time sitting with you and enjoying petting and cuddling. When picking up any rabbit, be sure to hold them close to your body, and support their hind ends, so they don’t kick and break their backs.

Are Harlequin Rabbits easy to train?

With plenty of practice and a proper reward system, Harlequin rabbits can be litter trained and will typically also enjoy playing games and learning basic tricks.

How high can a Harlequin rabbit jump?

A Harlequin bunny can jump as high as 3 feet or more.

Featured Image: LadyElizabeth/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Catherine Gose, CVT


Catherine Gose, CVT

Veterinarian Technician

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