Lionhead rabbits are so majestic and extraordinary, they can barely be believed.
These dashing bunnies actually have a mane. A mane!
But what about their personality and care needs?
How big do Lionhead rabbits get, and how long do they live?
Do they make good pets?
Let’s find out!
What are Lionhead rabbits?
Lionhead rabbits are one of our less commonly-kept rabbit breeds.
A small straw poll of people buying rabbits in the UK in 2016 found that only 2.5% of the bunnies being bought were Lionheads.
Their name, unsurprisingly, comes from the long thick ruff of fur which circles their neck, just like a lion’s mane.
Sometimes they’re also referred to as a Lion rabbit, Lion Haired rabbit, or Lion’s Mane rabbit.
The most hirsute Lionhead rabbits have a skirt of long fur around their middle as well.
We’ll find out why some Lionhead bunnies are hairier than others a bit later.
Origins of the Lionhead Bunny
There are some competing stories about the parentage of the first Lionhead rabbit.
All we know for sure is that at some point in Europe, two rabbit breeds were crossed (possibly a Swiss Fox and a Belgian Dwarf, but we may never know for sure) and a surprising genetic mutation was thrown up: the kittens had short coats, with long manes around their necks.
The mutation was named the Mane mutation, and the new look rabbits were an instant hit.
The first Lionhead rabbits in America arrived in Minnesota in 2000, and became part of a breeding program to found the breed on this side of the pond.
In 2013 the Lionhead was recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), and today the National American Lionhead Rabbit Club (NALRC) is still campaigning to gain more recognition for their beloved breed.
So what do you need to know before you bring one home?
Lionhead rabbit size
Lionhead rabbits are a diminuitive breed.
The breed standard adopted by the American Rabbit Breeders’ Association places a maximum weight on show bunnies of three and three quarter pounds.
Compare that the popular American and Chinchilla breeds, which reach between 9lb and 12lb, and you’re really looking at something rather small!
Lionhead rabbit colors
There are six recognized colors for pedigree lionhead rabbits, with exotic names like “siamese sable” and “smoke pearl”.
They are pretty much all shades of gray and brown!
That doesn’t mean other colors aren’t available.
Non-pedigree lionhead bunnies come in all kinds of hues, including rich yellow shades which are highly evocative of their big cat namesakes!
“Points” are also a popular feature on lionheads – when the tips of the ears and nose are a darker color than the rest of the coat.
Lionhead rabbit coat
How do Lionhead rabbits get their amazing coats?
Either by inheriting one or two copies of the Mane genetic mutation (from one parent or both parents respectively).
Lionhead rabbits who only inherit one copy of the Mane mutation have a wispier mane, which may disappear altogether by the time the rabbit reaches adulthood.
Lionhead rabbits with two copies of the mutation possess a thick, full mane for life, and often a skirt too.
When you meet a Lionhead rabbit breeder, they should already know how many copies of the Mane gene each parent bunny has, and what proportion of their kittens are likely to inherit two copies of the Mane mutation.
Lionhead rabbit temperament
Lionhead bunny fans boast that a Lionhead rabbit personality is friendly, laid back and well-mannered,
They enjoy human company and form affectionate bonds with their owners.
And they are certainly intelligent, and capable of learning simple commands with a bit of patience and training.
They also have a great reputation with kids, and some even have successful careers as Animal-Assisted Therapy animals!
Like any intelligent and sociable animal, a lion bunny will get bored and frustrated without space, toys and companionship.
So make sure you have time every day to interact with you Lion haired rabbit.
Lionhead rabbit care
Lionhead bunnies need plenty of space to exercise, company, and a safe spot to call their bed.
Their long fur will need regular brushing to prevent mats and evict parasites.
Besides this they also need fresh water, quality hay and healthy meals.
Rabbits should have at least their body size in top quality hay every day, as well as a portion of rabbit pellets and a handful of fresh veg.
Rabbits rely on the fiber in hay and vegetables to push food through their gut.
This is especially important for rabbits with long hair in their coat, as we shall see in just a moment.
Lionhead rabbits health
Before you bring home any new pet, it’s good to know which health issues and diseases they might be prone to.
Being clued-up in advance means you can recognize the symptoms early on, and get your pet on the road to recovery quickly.
Here’s a rundown of the health conditions Lionhead rabbits are most prone to:
Rabbits dedicate hours every day to personal and social grooming, so of course it’s inevitable that some hair ends up passing through their digestive system too.
Occasionally this hair can build up in lumps called trichobezoars.
These masses of hair in the gut – also described as wool block – cause your bunny to stop eating and drinking, lose weight, and become dehydrated.
They are a more common problem in long haired rabbit breeds like Lionhead rabbits, simply because these breeds have a greater volume of fur.
If your Lionhead rabbit loses their appetite, or loses weight suddenly and rapidly, hairballs could be the cause – take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Myxomatosis is a miserable viral infection which spreads rapidly through wild rabbit populations.
It is also transmitted by mosquitoes and fleas, so if your Lionhead rabbit enjoys the outdoor life they can pick it up even if they never meet another infected rabbit.
The first symptoms are puffy eyelids and discharge from the eyes.
Later symptoms include lethargy and breathing difficulties.
If your rabbit shows any symptoms, separate them from other rabbits and contact your vet immediately.
Sadly there is no treatment for myxomatosis, and it is invariably fatal.
The House Rabbit Society keeps an up to date list of regions in America where myxomatosis has been reported in domestic rabbits.
If you live in an affected area, make sure your rabbit’s habitat is kept as insect-free as possible, and consider bringing them indoors.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease, also known as viral hemaorrhagic disease and rabbit calcivirus is another grisly virus.
It’s highly contagious, and very fast acting.
Unfortunately it is, again, untreatable and inevitably fatal.
It’s spread by infected insects and birds, and also on surfaces like car tyres, shoes, clothes and human skin.
Your vet can tell you if you live in an area with reported cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease, and what precautions to take to protect your bunnies if so.
Flystrike can affect all breeds of rabbits, and it occurs when flies lay their eggs on a rabbit, and the maggots which hatch begin to eat through the rabbit’s skin.
Flies are attracted to the smell of rabbits’ ruine and feces, so your Lionhead rabbit is especially at risk if they have more fur than they can keep clean by themselves.
Helping them with grooming every day and shampooing them when necessary will offer them a lot of protection.
In the height of summer, check your rabbit’s rear end for signs of fly strike twice a day, and call a vet immediately if you find anything.
E. cuniculi is a parasitic infection which attacks rabbits’ nervous systems, eyes, kidneys and hearts.
Rabbits can carry the infection for long periods of time without showing any symptoms.
In fact a study in Germany in 2014 found that 18% of a sample of 218 healthy rabbits carried antibodies for E. cuniculi, which means they had encountered the virus at some point previously.
Signs of the infection flaring up most often include weakness in your rabbit’s hindlegs, or tilting of their head.
E. cuniculi always requires veterinary attention.
Lionhead rabbit health precautions
To keep your Lionhead rabbit in the best possible health, check them every day for signs of illness.
Pay extra attention to their coat, looking out for mats and fleas, mites or flies.
Examine their bottom carefully, especially in summer, for fly eggs or maggots.
If they go outside, ask your vet about insecticide treatments suitable for rabbits.
If you live in the UK, routine annual vaccinations are available for myxomatosis and VHD, and your vet will arrange these with you.
Unfortunately these vaccines have not been approved for use in the USA or Australia yet.
Lionhead rabbit lifespan
With all the right care and a dash of good luck, how long do Lionhead rabbits live?
Well they should comfortably reach seven or eight years at least, and it’s not uncommon to hear of them sailing past ten.
Before you bring one home, make sure you’re ready for a decade commitment.
Lionhead rabbit breeders
Good news: if you’re ready to share your life with an amazing lion rabbit, there are some brilliant resources to help you on your way!
The NALRC keeps a long list of lionhead rabbit breeders organized by state.
They also run a huge annual national Lionhead Rabbit Convention, and keep details of upcoming local shows where you can meet Lionhead rabbit breeders and owners near you.
Lionhead rabbit price
The cost of a Lionhead rabbit will depend on the number of breeders operating in your area, whether they have show-quality or even show-winning ancestry, and if you have your heart set on a particular color.
That’s a lot of variables, so plan for anything from $30 to $80.
Bear in mind that even an expensive rabbit only costs a fraction of the total lifetime costs for their upkeep!
Are Lionhead rabbits the right choice for me?
Lionhead bunnies are a small, flamboyant looking breed.
They have a great reputation for bonding with their human owners, and get on well with careful children.
They need a little more help with grooming than their short-haired cousins, but their chilled out disposition should make this a daily pleasure, not a chore!
If a you think a Lionhead rabbit is the right pet for you, you haven’t just found your perfect pet-match, but also a close knit and enthusiastic community of fellow Lionhead lovers to share the experience with!
Do you have a Lionhead rabbit?
What’s their name and what are they like?
Do you agree that they’re more affectionate and laid back than other breeds?
Tell us in the comments section below!