Are you tempted by a Netherland Dwarf rabbit?
These dinky does and bijou bucks are irresistible to the eye.
But what are they like as pets?
How big do Netherland Dwarf rabbits get when they grow up, what will their personality be like, and how can you tell if they are the right pet for you?
By reading our complete and comprehensive guide full of Netherland Dwarf rabbit facts, of course!
What is a Netherland Dwarf rabbit?
Netherland Dwarf rabbits are the smallest domesticated rabbit breed.
Even fully grown, their small size and babyish features tug at our heartstrings.
In fact their appearance is so appealing that their popularity soared immediately when they landed on American shores in the 1960s.
But where had they been before that?
Where does the Netherland Dwarf rabbit come from?
It’s not a trick question. They do in fact come from the Netherlands!
Netherland Dwarf rabbits were the life’s work and legacy of Dutch rabbit breeder Jan Meyering, at the beginning of the 20th century.
His aim was to use existing domestic rabbit breeds and wild rabbits to create a new standardized dwarf breed, available in many colors.
His new rabbits quickly gained fans across Europe, and then hopped across the pond to the USA.
Since the earliest Netherland Dwarf rabbits were selected for size above all else, a lot of them retained a wild rabbit’s temperament and fear of people.
In a minute, we’ll find out if that’s still true of today’s Netherland Dwarf rabbits.
But first, how small IS small??
Netherland Dwarf rabbit size
How big do Netherland Dwarf rabbits get?
These pets truly are petite – fully grown, they rarely weigh more than 2 lbs.
Show rabbits must not exceed 2.2 lbs.
But in fact, this breed comes in two sizes: true dwarf and false dwarf.
The difference is small, and only really significant if you plan to breed baby Netherland Dwarf bunnies. But it’s also quite interesting, so let’s go there briefly.
Netherland Dwarf Rabbit facts – true and false dwarfism
Rabbits inherit all their genes in pairs – one from each parent (just like we do!).
Lots of pairs of genes influence a rabbit’s size, but one – the Dwarf gene – has special significance.
And because genes come in pairs, the Dwarf gene also has an analogue, called Normal.
So Netherland Dwarf rabbits can either have two copies of the Dwarf gene (Dwarf/Dwarf), a Dwarf gene from one parent but not the other (Dwarf/Normal), or no copies of the Dwarf gene (Normal/Normal).
Rabbits with Dwarf/Dwarf genes are called Peanuts, because they barely measure two inches long.
Sadly for them, inheriting two copies of the Dwarf gene is fatal – kittens are invariably stillborn, or die shortly birth due to abnormalities in their brain and digestive system.
Rabbits with the Dwarf/Normal combination are True Dwarves – these are the Netherland Dwarf bunnies that are eligible for the show ring and command the most money.
Netherland Dwarf Rabbits with two Normal genes are False Dwarves.
Dwarf rabbits without any Dwarf genes?
Even without the Dwarf gene, a Netherland Dwarf rabbit won’t suddenly become massive.
They’re a little longer in the body and legs, and their ears tend to be larger and set more widely apart.
But to a casual observer, they still look very much like a Netherland Dwarf bunny.
False Dwarf does are also important for breeding more True Dwarf kittens, and False Dwarf bucks still make great pets.
Depending on their parentage, it is possible for a single litter to contain Peanuts, True Dwarf and False Dwarf kittens.
And that’s enough genetics for now, but it will be relevant again later, so don’t forget about it just yet!
Netherland Dwarf rabbit colors
When Meyering founded his new breed, one of his aims was to create a new pedigree of dwarf rabbits which came in a wide range of colors.
And boy, did he succeed.
Netherland Dwarf bunnies come in a staggering 26 showable colors and a further 10 colors which are registerable, but not showable.
And you’ll find pet Netherland Dwarfs in yet more colors which can’t be registered.
So from black to opal, solid to tortoiseshell or point, these kaleidoscopic rabbits really do come in every conceivable color.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit temperament
Netherland Dwarf rabbits look incredibly appealing.
Their proportions give the impression of being easy to pick up and handle, and an ideal size for children to play with.
Which is regrettable, because in this case, first impressions are misleading.
Netherland Dwarf rabbits still retain much of the twitchiness of their wild ancestors and resist being handled.
Personality naturally varies from between individual rabbits, but many lack the placid demeanor to make a friendly lap pet.
This makes them a poor match for children.
However, they are lively little characters, and for older children and adults they can provide hours of amusement as they bounce around their home and play with their toys.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit health
Before bringing home any new pet, it boosts our confidence to know what health problems we might one day be dealing with.
Overall, bear in mind that Netherland Dwarf rabbits are very fragile.
Their bones are small, light and easily broken if they’re dropped.
Here’s an overview of the other health concerns most likely to affect your baby Netherland Dwarf rabbit as he grows up.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit face shape
Compared to larger rabbit breeds, Netherland Dwarfs aren’t just small all over, their faces are flatter, giving their head a more smoothly rounded shape overall.
This is a result of changes in developmental timing, which causes the snout to spend less time growing at the maximum growth rate.
In 2017, the Rabbit Welfare Association, International Cat Care and the RSPCA teamed up to launch a campaign on behalf of rabbits cats and dogs bred for excessively flattened faces.
The campaign included a striking image of an adult Netherland Dwarf rabbit’s profile superimposed over a wild rabbit’s profile, to show just how far this domestic breed has been removed from the shape nature intended.
Brachycephaly in Netherland Dwarf rabbits
Unlike brachycephalic dogs and cats, there isn’t any scientific literature at the time of writing this article about the effect that being flat-faced has on a rabbit’s health and welfare.
But in cats and dogs, we know that extreme brachycephaly can result in Brachycephalic Syndrome.
Animals with Brachycephalic Syndrome suffer a myriad of complications as a result of their exaggerated features.
These include difficulty breathing, increased vulnerability to respiratory tract infections, and dental problems.
Sometimes surgery becomes the only option to give these pets some relief, and for many a lifetime of discomfort is unpreventable.
Time will tell how badly Netherland Dwarf rabbits are being affected by the pursuit of their babyish features, but in one area we can already see the results.
Dental problems in Netherland Dwarf rabbits
Hereditary malocclusion – where the front teeth wear unevenly so that eventually the rabbit struggles to eat – is particularly common in Netherland Dwarf rabbits.
This is because selecting rabbits for flattened faces gives them abnormally small jaws; jaws that struggle to contain a whole rabbit’s worth of teeth.
Netherland Dwarf rabbits need to have their teeth checked regularly for signs of malocclusion, and tracking their weight will also help to tell you if they are managing to eat properly.
As well as the health risks of their shape, Netherland Dwarf rabbits are susceptible to the same infectious diseases as all rabbits.
The most common are:
Myxomatosis is a nasty virus spread by mosquitoes and fleas.
Myxomatosis usually begins with puffy eyelids, pus-producing conjunctivitis, and swelling all over the body.
Sadly it is invariably fatal – consult your vet for guidance as soon as you spot symptoms.
The House Rabbit Society does its best to maintain a list of areas in America where myxomatosis outbreaks have been reported, and your vet can give you advice on protecting your rabbit in these areas.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
This is a highly infectious viral disease which which was first reported in China in 1984 and is now found all over the world.
As of 2016 it has been tentatively eradicated in the USA, but outbreaks have not been unheard of.
E. cuniculi is a parasitic infection which causes progressive weakness and paralysis.
The earliest symptoms often include head tilt, unsteadiness, neck spasms and urinary incontinence.
Worming your rabbits can help to protect them, and infections caught early enough can sometimes be treated with antiparasitic medicines.
Finally, flystrike is a horrible problem where flies lay their eggs in dirty fur around rabbits’ bottoms.
When the eggs hatch, the maggots begin to eat the rabbit’s skin, quickly causing large wounds.
Protect your bunny by making sure their fur stays clean, and checking their bottom every day, especially in summer.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit care
Bringing home your first rabbit requires lots of preparation.
Luckily we’ve got loads of resources to help you right here, and our article Rabbits as Pets is a great place to start.
The following are some basic guidelines to give you an idea of what to expect when you bring home a baby Netherland Dwarf rabbit.
- Rabbits should be kept in pairs or groups.
- Despite their size, Netherland Dwarf rabbits can rival many a larger breed in terms of energy, and they need lots of space and opportunity to exercise every day.
- Rabbits need unlimited hay and fresh water, as well as small quantities of high-fiber rabbit pellets and daily access to fresh grass or leafy green vegetables.
- Avoid muesli-type rabbit food from the pet store, as these are fattening and low in calcium, which has fueled a rise in dental disease among domestic rabbits.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit lifespan
If you do everything right, how long do Netherland Dwarf rabbits live?
Like most domestic rabbit breeds, a healthy Netherland Dwarf can live 7- 10 years.
With a fair wind, some live even longer.
So be prepared to make a commitment of at least a decade to your new fluffy friend.
Netherland Dwarf rabbit breeders
When you’re ready to take the plunge, Netherland Dwarf rabbit breeders are easily found.
A great place to start is by looking online for rabbit clubs in your area – most also maintain directories of local breeders, or organize shows where you can meet breeders in person.
Don’t be embarrassed to raise the health problems facing this charming little breed when you meet a breeder.
A respectable breeder will be happy to discuss them, and whether they feel that any of their breeding lines have been affected.
In particular, ask whether their kittens’ parents have any history of dental problems.
Questions to ask Netherland Dwarf rabbit breeders
Something else you might want to consider is asking breeders about is their view on Peanuts.
(Remember those kittens with two copies of the Dwarf gene, who can’t survive?)
Some breeders consider Peanuts to be an unfortunate result of otherwise desirable mating choices, and euthanizing them a routine, albeit unpleasant, task.
Others will go out of their way to avoid breeding litters which may contain Peanuts.
If you have strong feelings about the rights and wrongs of knowingly breeding Peanuts, you may want to make sure your breeder’s views align with your own.
Is a Netherland Dwarf rabbit right for me?
Netherland Dwarf rabbits are probably one of the most misunderstood rabbit breeds.
They look cute and cuddly but many don’t like being held.
They’re small, but they need heaps of space.
They don’t even need to have a Dwarf gene!
That said, they’re mesmerizing and easy to love little fellows, who make rewarding pets in the right environment.
If you have children who’d like to join in with caring for a Netherland Dwarf rabbit, consider waiting until they are old enough to play in an appropriate way.
If you’re unsure, perhaps look for a Netherland Dwarf bunny from a rescue center so you can really get a feel for their personality before you bring them home.
Whatever you decide, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about this fascinating breed!
Do you have a Netherland Dwarf bunny buddy?
Are they still wild at heart, or happy lap-loungers?
What are your views on the trend for breeding increasingly flat-faced Netherland Dwarves?
Please share your experiences and join the debate in the comments section below!
Resources and Further Reading
- American Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club
- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, Netherland Dwarf Rabbit.
- American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc., ARBA Recognized Breeds.
- American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. ARBA Official Breed ID Guide.
- Fiorello, C. V. and German, R. Z. (1997). Heterochrony within species; Craniofacial growth in giant, standard, and dwarf rabbits. Evolution, 51.
- Richardson, V. C. G. Rabbits: Health, husbandry, and diseases. John WIley & Sons.
- Clauss, M. and Hatt, J. (2017). Evidence-based rabbit housing and nutrition. Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice, 20.
- Harcourt-Brown, F. M. (2009). Dental disease in pet rabbits 1. Normal dentition, pathogenesis and aetiology. In Practice.