The Netherland Dwarf rabbit breed was originally developed in the Netherlands in the early 1900s. They are the result of breeding small, domesticated rabbits with even smaller wild rabbits. The result was a rabbit containing a single dwarf gene.
Netherland Dwarf bunnies have a stout body, short legs, a large round head with a flat face, and big round eyes. They also have short ears (under 2.5 inches) that stand straight up on top of their head. The Netherland Dwarf rabbit’s lifespan is an average of 10–12 years, and they weigh between 2–2.5 pounds.
Netherland Dwarf rabbits were officially recognized as a pure breed rabbit in the Netherlands in 1940 and in the United Kingdom in 1950. These rabbits made their way to the United States after World War II, and the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) officially recognized the breed in 1969.
Caring for a Netherland Dwarf
In addition to being extraordinarily cute, Netherland Dwarf rabbits are very intelligent, energetic, and playful. They make great pets for adults and seniors but are not typically well suited to a home with young children, as their small size means they can be injured from rough handling.
Perhaps it’s because they’re so small, or maybe it’s because of their “wild” ancestry, but Netherland Dwarf rabbits initially can be shy and skittish. This apprehension can lead to aggression behaviors such as biting, kicking, or scratching if they feel unsafe when handled. Before handling a bunny, always consider the rabbit’s body language to determine how they’re feeling. Once a Netherland Dwarf bunny has gotten to know you, they will typically bond with you, enjoy playtime, and cuddle with you.
These tiny rabbits are best kept indoors, as their size makes them vulnerable to predators. But though they’re small in stature, Netherland Dwarf rabbits are high in energy and need lots of room to exercise. Wild rabbits run an average of three miles daily, so your Netherland Dwarf should have at least three hours a day outside the cage, in a bunny-proofed area free of loose wires and other objects tempting to chew on, so they can roam and release excess energy. When out of their cages, they should always be supervised to ensure they won’t get into things they shouldn’t. Any rabbit cage should have enough room for one or more bunnies to move around comfortably.
Netherland Dwarf Health Issues
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
Rabbits, in general, have sensitive respiratory systems, and URIs are somewhat common. But because rabbits’ teeth grow throughout life, their tooth roots can grow upward into their nasal passages, causing inflammation and possibly secondary bacterial infections. Netherland Dwarf rabbits may be more prone to URIs than other bunny breeds because they have a drastically shortened airway in comparison to bigger breeds, like the Flemish Giant.
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; consider a paper litter like Carefresh, instead. House your rabbit in a draft-free area with temperatures no colder than 50 F and not warmer than 77 F.
Rabbits’ teeth grow continually throughout their lives, so it’s vital that they keep them worn down by chewing on high-fiber food, such as hay. Netherland Dwarf rabbits have a short muzzle and a flat face, which may contribute to the formation of crowded teeth and malocclusion of the upper and lower jaws. When this happens, the upper and lower teeth do not meet evenly when rabbits chew. As a result, the teeth can overgrow and form sharp points in the enamel that can cause painful wounds in the gums and inside the cheeks that may prevent the rabbit from eating.
A rabbit with a dental issue may have a decreased appetite or stop eating completely, and they may drool, paw at the face, or have visible swellings under their eyes or along their jaws from the formation of an abscess. A veterinary examination 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 rabbit can properly chew their food again. Once a rabbit has been diagnosed with a dental problem requiring teeth trimming, they will likely need repeated teeth trims for life.
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 the above signs in your rabbit, seek veterinary care right away. A proper diet with lots of hay (a source of fiber) can help prevent GI stasis.
Skin mites can cause severe itching, flaky skin, and hair loss. Cheyletiella (also known as “walking dandruff”) is the most common skin mite affecting rabbits and is easily passed from one bun to another. Skin mites require a veterinary exam for diagnosis and are treated with prescription medication. Mites can easily come back after treatment, so it’s important to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s enclosure and throw away all old bedding.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) is a parasite that can cause severe nervous system problems and kidney damage. This parasite is transmitted by a rabbit ingesting or inhaling the spores in urine from an infected rabbit. Take your bunny to the veterinarian right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
Loss of balance
Eye twitching or rolling
Tremors or seizures
E. cuniculi is typically treated with prescription dewormers and anti-inflammatory medications; however rabbits showing advanced signs of the disease may have little or no response to treatment.
What To Feed a Netherland Dwarf
Rabbits need plenty of roughage in their diet to maintain a healthy digestive system. Consider the following diet guidelines when feeding your Netherland Dwarf:
Offer unlimited amounts of fresh hay. Each Netherland Dwarf 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:
A smaller number of vegetables may be offered as well. Rabbits enjoy carrots with their leafy tops, broccoli, bell peppers with the seeds removed, squash, zucchini, and Brussels sprouts.
The general guideline is to feed 1/4 cup of fortified pellets for every 4–5 pounds of rabbit per day. Since Netherland Dwarf rabbits are small, about 1/8 cup of pellets daily is OK.
Treats should be given only occasionally, and high-fat/high-sugar treats should be avoided.
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.
Netherland Dwarf Temperament and Behavior
The first Netherland Dwarf rabbits were somewhat fearful and aggressive because of their “wild” lineage. Through generations of selective breeding, Netherland Dwarf rabbits have since become much gentler and friendlier. They are one the most intelligent rabbit breeds, generally making them easier to train than other bunnies. They can be litter trained and can also learn basic commands and tricks. Netherland Dwarf rabbits love to play games and need plenty of toys to keep them happy and mentally stimulated.
Most Netherland Dwarf rabbits are shy and nervous when they first come into a new home. They need time to acclimate and become comfortable with their surroundings and new people. They are best suited to a home with adults, as they can easily become frightened around boisterous children. Proper handling is vital for these small rabbits because they may bite, kick, or scratch when they feel insecure or threatened. This defensive behavior can cause them to struggle when being held, and they may jump out of a person's arms and injure themselves.
Once a Netherland Dwarf rabbit becomes comfortable in their environment, they will bond with their human family members and enjoy not only interactive play, but also being petted and quietly cuddling with their people. With time and patience, trust is built, and Netherland Dwarf rabbits can become affectionate pets.
Netherland Dwarf Grooming Guide
Grooming is fairly basic for Netherland Dwarf rabbits. They have a short hair coat that should be brushed weekly, but during seasonal molting they need to be brushed at least every other day to remove dead hair. Their short upright ears rarely need cleaning, but they do need their nails trimmed about every four to six weeks.
Considerations for Pet Parents
Overall, Netherland Dwarf rabbits can be wonderful pets in the right home. They can be skittish and somewhat defensive when they feel insecure, so a home with adults is ideal. These rabbits are quite energetic and thrive with lots of play time, exercise, and socialization.
Netherland Dwarf FAQs
Is a Netherland Dwarf rabbit a good pet?
Netherland Dwarf rabbits make great pets for adults and seniors who can spend time interacting and playing with them.
Are Netherland Dwarf rabbits hard to take care of?
Their small size and minimal grooming needs make Netherland Dwarf rabbits fairly easy to take care of. Perhaps the most important aspect of caring for a Netherland Dwarf is proper handling. They can be jumpy and may injure themselves if they are dropped or jump out of a person's arms while being held.
Are Netherland Dwarf rabbits cuddly?
Once Netherland Dwarf rabbits are comfortable with their surroundings, they are quite affectionate with their human family members and enjoy attention and cuddling.
Are Netherland Dwarf rabbits easy to train?
Netherland Dwarf rabbits are highly intelligent and therefore may be easier to train than other rabbits.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Supakorn Rattanarach
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