Lionhead rabbits are the product of breeding a Swiss Fox rabbit with a Netherland Dwarf rabbit. The result was a genetic mutation known as “the mane gene,” which causes long, wooly fur to grow specifically around the rabbit’s head.
Aptly named for their thick manes, Lionhead rabbits come in two varieties:
Single maned Lionheads have a mane encircling the head when young, but it may be wispy and usually diminishes as they age.
Double maned Lionheads keep their thick mane for life and can even have longer fur around their flanks and back legs.
The difference between a single maned and double maned Lionhead rabbit is noticeable at birth, as a double maned rabbit will have a distinctive “V” mark on their back.
Originally developed in France and Belgium, Lionhead rabbits came to the United States in the late 1990s. The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) officially recognized the breed in 2013. As one of the smaller rabbit breeds, adult Lionheads are 8–10 inches long and weigh between 2.5–3.75 pounds. They have relatively short ears (2–3.5 inches long), a compact upright body, and a high head mount. The typical Lionhead rabbit lifespan is 7–9 years.
Caring for a Lionhead Rabbit
Lionhead rabbits are intelligent, good-natured, energetic, and very social. They thrive in the company of other rabbits, so having more than one bunny is ideal to satisfy their social needs. Lionheads also typically form close bonds with their people and gladly accept as much attention as they can get! They make great pets and are even good with young children who understand gentle and calm handling.
With their characteristic mane, Lionhead bunnies require more grooming than other short-haired rabbit breeds to keep them healthy. Additionally, plenty of hay and chew toys are necessary for all rabbits because they are prone to health complications from overgrown teeth.
Lionheads are smaller rabbits, but they still need plenty of space to release energy and exercise. The cage should be a minimum of 18 x 24 inches and tall, enough for the Lionhead to stand upright. Add more space if multiple rabbits are housed together. Cages with a solid floor are preferred over wire floors to prevent irritation or injury to the bottom of the rabbit's feet.
Lionhead Rabbit Health Issues
Lionhead rabbits are prone to a few health conditions, so it’s important to find a veterinarian near you that’s knowledgeable and comfortable treating rabbits. Pet insurance is a good idea for any rabbit because they have a tendency to develop dental issues and digestion problems.
Lionhead rabbits have a small head and a slightly longer lower jaw, which can sometimes contribute to a condition called malocclusion, in which the upper and lower jaws are misaligned. This subsequently causes uneven wear of the upper and lower teeth. When this happens, the rabbit may not be able to chew properly to keep their back teeth worn down. Overgrown teeth can form sharp points in the enamel, which can cause wounds on the gums, tongue, and inside of the cheeks that may become infected and painful for rabbits to chew food.
A rabbit with a dental issue may have a decreased appetite or stop eating completely, and may drool, paw at the face, or have visible swellings under their eyes or along their cheeks where an abscess may have formed. A veterinary exam is needed as soon as possible if any of these signs are noticed.
Most rabbits need to be sedated so the vet can examine the whole mouth and take X-rays. Overgrown teeth can be trimmed or filed so your bunny can properly chew their food again. However, many rabbits need to have this done periodically because their teeth grow continuously throughout their life, at a rate of up to 3–4 inches per year, and if their jaws are misaligned, this problem does not typically resolve.
Ensuring rabbits have an unlimited amount of hay each day to chew on can help keep teeth worn down, but this may not prevent sharp enamel points from forming if they suffer from dental malocclusion.
While rabbits cannot vomit, they can develop a serious gastrointestinal (GI) disease called GI stasis in which they stop eating, stop passing stool, and become very lethargic. GI stasis is a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition that can have several underlying causes. If you notice any of those signs in your rabbit, seek veterinary care right away. A proper diet with lots of hay (as a source of fiber to be digested by normal GI tract bacteria) can help prevent GI stasis.
Rabbits like to be clean and are meticulous groomers. They ingest hair as they bathe themselves, and this can occasionally obstruct the passage of food through the digestive tract.
When this happens, this is a true gastrointestinal (GI) tract obstruction from the hairball. Because rabbits are unable to vomit, anything they ingest must be passed through their stomach and intestines to come out in their stool. When a true hairball gets stuck in the digestive tract, it can cause a life-threatening GI tract obstruction requiring surgery to treat. Fortunately, true GI tract obstruction is much less common than GI stasis that, while still potentially life-threatening if not treated medically, does not generally require surgery to address.
Lionhead rabbits are a longer haired breed, so it is beneficial to brush them regularly to remove dead hair before the rabbit ingests it.
Flystrike occurs when a fly lays eggs in the rabbit's fur, especially when the rabbits’ fur is moist or inflamed. When the eggs hatch into maggots, which then develop into flies, the infestation can quickly contribute to a severe skin infection.
Lionhead rabbits that spend time outdoors are at greater risk of experiencing flystrike than other rabbits if their long hair is wet, matted, or tangled. If your Lionhead rabbit has been outside, inspect their skin for sores or scabs, and comb through the fur thoroughly to ensure there aren't any fly eggs or maggots. If you see any, contact your vet immediately for treatment.
Skin mites can cause severe itching, flaky skin, and hair loss. Cheyletiella (also known as “walking dandruff”) is the most common skin mite that afflicts rabbits and is easily passed from one bunny to another. Skin mites require a veterinary exam to diagnose and are treated with prescription medication. Thorough environmental clean-up (throwing away all wooden objects that can't be bleached, vacuuming/throwing away the vacuum bag, washing all fabric surfaces with hot soapy water, etc.) is critical to prevent rabbits from becoming reinfected after treatment.
Skin mites also are transmittable to people. Anyone who has contact with these mites on rabbits and who develops itchy skin should see their dermatologist.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) is a microscopic parasite that can cause severe nervous system problems and kidney damage. This parasite is transmitted by ingesting or inhaling the spores in urine from an infected rabbit. Signs include:
Loss of balance
Eye twitching or rolling
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your Lionhead rabbit to a veterinarian right away. E. cuniculi is typically treated with prescription dewormers and anti-inflammatory medication. However, rabbits showing advanced signs of the disease may have little or no response to treatment, and some rabbits that are treated successfully can show persistent neurologic signs, such as a head tilt.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
Rabbits in general have sensitive respiratory systems, and URIs are somewhat common. Good cage sanitation is a must as a rabbit's respiratory tract is easily irritated by ammonia buildup from soiled bedding. Dusty clay litters should be avoided, and instead consider a paper litter such as Carefresh. House your rabbit in a draft-free area with temperatures no colder than 50 F, and no warmer than 77 F.
While all rabbits may develop URIs if their teeth overgrow and their tooth roots grow up into their sinuses and cause inflammation, Lionhead rabbits may be more prone to URIs because of their anatomy—their small head causes the tooth roots to sit just under the sinus cavity. Therefore, if the teeth or gums become infected or inflamed, a sinus infection may develop as well. To help decrease the likelihood of overgrown teeth and resulting URIs, offer your rabbit chew toys and lots of hay to chew on.
What To Feed a Lionhead Rabbit
All rabbits need plenty of fiber in their diet to maintain a healthy digestive system. Consider the following diet guidelines when feeding:
Hay: Offer unlimited amounts of fresh Timothy hay. Each Lionhead rabbit should eat their body weight in hay every day.
Greens and vegetables: Feed approximately 1 cup of fresh greens per 2 pounds of rabbit daily. Avoid iceberg lettuce, as it has no nutritional value. Instead, offer darker greens such as arugula, parsley, kale, mint, basil, cilantro, spinach, or romaine lettuce (to name a few). A smaller amount of vegetables may be offered, as well. Rabbits enjoy leafy carrot tops (the carrots are actually high in carbohydrate and should be offered sparingly), broccoli, bell peppers with the seeds removed, squash, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts.
Pellets: The general guideline is to feed 1/4 cup of fortified pellets for every 4–5 pounds of rabbit per day. Because Lionheads are smaller rabbits, about 1/8 cup of pellets daily is usually sufficient for an adult Lionhead.
Treats should be given only occasionally, avoiding high-fat/high-sugar treats.
A constant source of fresh, clean water is necessary as well. Water bottles are preferred over water bowls to avoid contamination from food and soiled bedding.
Lionhead Rabbit Temperament and Behavior
Lionhead rabbits are friendly, sweet, and enjoy attention. They are very social, so it’s ideal to have more than one bunny to satisfy their need for companionship. Lionheads also form close bonds with their human family members and enjoy playing and cuddling. These rabbits are very intelligent and respond well to training for basic commands, which may make them easier to litter box train than some other rabbit breeds.
Any rabbit can be skittish if they don't feel safe. Proper handling is a must to avoid stress and injuries. Rabbits may show signs of aggression such as foot stomping or nipping/biting if they feel threatened or insecure.
Lionhead Grooming Guide
Lionhead rabbits require more grooming than shorter-haired rabbit breeds. Their long hair should be brushed two to three times a week. While molting in the spring and fall, they need daily brushing to remove dead hair and to prevent excessive hair ingestion.
Regular grooming will help avoid serious health issues like hairball obstructions and GI stasis. Routine grooming should also include checking the ears for debris that might need to be cleaned and monthly nail trims using an small animal nail clipper.
Considerations for Pet Parents
With their large, fluffy manes, Lionhead rabbits have a strikingly unique appearance and can be wonderful pets in a home if they are provided daily interaction. Ideally, a Lionhead rabbit should have the company of other rabbits, but they also thrive on attention and affection from their human family members. Expect to bond with your Lionhead rabbit while grooming, playing, and cuddling.
Lionhead Rabbit FAQs
Is a Lionhead rabbit a good pet?
Lionhead rabbits in general are friendly and sweet. They can be great pets for a household that can provide daily interaction and routine grooming.
Are Lionhead rabbits hard to take care of?
Lionhead bunnies are a bit more challenging to care for than some other rabbit breeds because of their grooming requirements. Routine grooming is vital for a Lionhead rabbit’s overall health, as it helps prevent hair and skin issues and may decrease the likelihood of hairball obstructions.
Are Lionhead rabbits cuddly?
Lionhead rabbits are active and love to play and release excess energy, but they also enjoy snuggle time and will gladly cuddle with their family members.
Are Lionhead rabbits easy to train?
Lionhead rabbits are very intelligent and therefore may be easier to train than other rabbits. They usually take to litter box training well and can also learn basic commands and tricks.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Mary Swift
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