What do you need to know to be sure the New Zealand rabbit is the right breed for your next pet?
What should you look for when searching for New Zealand white rabbit breeders? Is there a way to be sure you are choosing a healthy New Zealand rabbit?
And how can you be sure you are giving your new bunny the best New Zealand rabbit care?
We will answer each of these questions and more, so read on to learn more about this fascinating rabbit breed!
When you see a fluffy white bunny, what comes to your mind first? If you are like us, you probably think, “Cute!” You might even lapse into babble-talk as you pull out your phone to snap pics and hope for a chance to pet the rabbit’s soft fur.
But for many people around the world, the sight of New Zealand bunnies hopping about evokes a very different response.
Some people regard them as agricultural pests or worse. Breeders and farmers often see them as a lucrative source of revenue, for either show stock, pets or rabbit meat.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand rabbit has made its way across the globe and back again, and it just keeps on hopping! When you choose a New Zealand white bunny as a pet, you are choosing a large bunny with an even larger personality and an undeniably huge history!
What Is A New Zealand Rabbit?
The New Zealand rabbit has surprisingly murky origins. In fact, these rabbits are thought to have American roots!
In truth, New Zealand does not have any native rabbit populations. However, when Europeans began to bring rabbits into the country, the rabbits found it quite to their liking and began to do what rabbits do…breed rapidly!
Today, historians believe the New Zealand rabbit breed is originally from California in the United States. It may be a product of crossbreeding between the Belgian hare and the giant Flemish rabbit.
This rabbit was first recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in 1920.
While the ARBA currently recognizes 49 different rabbit breeds, the New Zealand white has earned the nickname of “the breed in the lead” because it is so popular around the world – in fact, the only country that doesn’t have New Zealand rabbits is Antarctica!
There are two distinct NZW (New Zealand White) rabbit lines: one for meat production and one for the pet and show trades.
Rabbit breeders have used NZW rabbits from Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana to develop the meat production line, and these rabbits can look quite different than their show counterparts. They are also more heat-tolerant and can do better in warmer or more humid climates.
Show New Zealand rabbits tend to have shorter ears and bodies and thicker fur, and are plumper in appearance than commercial meat New Zealand rabbits.
If you purchase a rabbit from a breeder, it is likely you will be purchasing a show New Zealand rabbit. But asking about lineage can be a good question when gathering New Zealand rabbit information to make your decision!
New Zealand Rabbit Colors
The New Zealand white rabbit actually comes in four recognized colors that are often displayed on a New Zealand rabbit color chart: white, red, broken and black.
The “broken” coloration means that the rabbit will have color patches all over the body rather than one single solid color. These patches are nearly always white/red or white/black.
Of these four colors, the New Zealand white rabbit is the clear front runner in popularity. The white color is actually a gene mutation that results in albinism.
Albinism happens when melanin, a substance that gives pigment (color) to the skin, fur and eyes, is absent. This is why the NZ white rabbit always has pure white fur and red eyes.
The New Zealand red rabbit actually has burnished copper fur. Brown eyes are common in this color line.
Black New Zealand rabbits have brown eyes and slate/blue underbellies. Brown eyes is common for most broken coloration New Zealand rabbits.
One of many interesting New Zealand white rabbit facts is that this rabbit also comes in blue! The blue color fur of New Zealand rabbits is not currently recognized by the ABRA for show purposes, but this is no reason not to enjoy this lovely color in a pet New Zealand bunny!
New Zealand Rabbit Size
New Zealand rabbits are considered one of the larger rabbit breeds. An adult male (a buck) will weigh between 10 and 12 lbs. An adult female (a doe) will weigh between 9 and 11 lbs.
The commercial NZW rabbit line is typically heavier than the show line and will also mature earlier.
New Zealand Rabbit Personality
While the vast majority of New Zealand rabbits are raised on commercial farms, these rabbits do make great pets!
They are smart, friendly and like being handled, which not all rabbit breeds tolerate well. They can also learn to do tricks and can even be toilet trained to use a litter box!
NZ bunnies are gentle, quiet and laid back in temperament. These rabbits are very social and are able to form close bonds with other rabbits and human carers.
You can also keep more than one New Zealand rabbit together safely, although you should make sure they are fixed or same-gender unless you want lots of little bunnies!
Their relatively large size also makes New Zealand rabbit breeds a great pet choice for kids, because they are hardy and can tolerate the process of being handled with less finesse by a child caregiver.
Best of all, since the New Zealand rabbit has short fur, they don’t need any special grooming attention like long haired rabbit breeds do. This can make them an all-around easier pet to care for.
New Zealand Rabbit Lifespan
One immediate question aspiring rabbit keepers always ask is, “How long do New Zealand rabbits live?”
A healthy New Zealand pet rabbit can live up to 10 years. Overall, the New Zealand white rabbit lifespan ranges from 7 to 10 years.
New Zealand Rabbit Weight
Another common question rabbit keepers have is, “How big do New Zealand rabbits get?”
A healthy adult New Zealand rabbit weight typically ranges from 9 to 12 lbs., with does staying at the lower end and bucks tending towards the higher end of the spectrum.
The exception may be the New Zealand giant rabbit, which is really a Flemish giant rabbit crossbred with a New Zealand rabbit. These giant rabbits can weigh 14 pounds or more.
To learn more about the true Flemish giant rabbit, a gentle giant of a rabbit breed which can be crossbred with the New Zealand rabbit to make the New Zealand giant rabbit we refer to here, we invite you to review this informative article!
The New Zealand rabbit growth chart indicates that a baby rabbit should weigh 5 pounds by the age of 10 weeks and 12 pounds by the age of 6 weeks.
New Zealand rabbits bred commercially tend to outgrow rabbits bred for show, which is often due to breeding conditions as well as bloodlines. Also, if you plan to breed New Zealand rabbits, you may find you have more success and larger, faster-growing litters during the cooler seasons of the year.
New Zealand Rabbit Health
While New Zealand rabbits are considered hardier than most rabbit breeds, they can still develop a range of known health conditions you will need to watch for.
Purchasing your rabbit from a reputable breeder or a knowledgeable rescue organization can reduce the risk of bringing home a new pet bunny with genetic-based health conditions.
New Zealand rabbits can be vulnerable to a deadly virus called the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, or RHDV1. In areas where wild New Zealand rabbit populations have spiraled out of control, the virus is used as a form of population control.
If you plan to keep your New Zealand rabbit in areas affected by population overgrowth, you should talk with your vet about having your pet rabbit vaccinated against this virus.
The current recommendation is that your rabbit has her first vaccination between 10 and 12 weeks of age and then an annual booster shot for every year thereafter.
Rabbits can also develop a condition called coccidiosis caused by protozoan parasites which invade the cells of a rabbits’ digestive system and liver.
Rabbits usually become infected by eating the feces of other infected rabbits.
Look out for loss of energy and appetite, and unexplained weight loss.
Coccidiosis requires vet treatment to break the cycle of infection, but most otherwise healthy rabbits will make a full recovery.
Snuffles is another condition rabbits can contract. Snuffles is a bacterial infection that causes chronic runny eyes and nose and persistent sneezing. The best way to avoid snuffles is to feed your rabbit a balanced diet and make sure his housing is clean and adequately ventilated.
Snuffles is treatable with antibiotics but it can be difficult to treat into remission.
Obesity is a particular concern with New Zealand rabbits. They love to eat and it can be hard to resist offering too many treat foods. The more exercise and play time you can give your rabbit, the easier it will be to manage his weight.
New Zealand rabbit does are more vulnerable to uterine cancer than does from many other rabbit breeds.
Spaying early in life can eliminate the risk of this cancer.
Because the New Zealand rabbit is a larger breed of rabbit, they carry an increased risk of developing arthritis. Two kinds of arthritis are of concern: the natural aging process can trigger osteoarthritis and a bacterial infection can trigger septic joint arthritis.
Treatment by a rabbit-knowledgeable vet can usually help manage both conditions.
Bladder Sludge Or Calcium Stones
Bladder issues are fairly common in rabbits, because they absorb 100 percent of calcium intake and then expel what isn’t needed in the urine. If your rabbit is taking in too much calcium or isn’t expelling it efficiently, bladder sludge or stones can develop.
Vet treatment can effectively help with both conditions.
Rabbits’ teeth grow constantly throughout life. If the teeth are allowed to grow too long, it can cause abscesses, alignment issues, infections and injuries.
Your vet can file down the teeth to prevent these issues.
Baby New Zealand Rabbits
The biggest challenge when selecting a rabbit pet is figuring out their gender!
This isn’t so important if you bring home just one rabbit, but if you are getting two, you really want to be sure they are same gender unless you are planning to breed rabbits!
When you decide to bring home a NZ rabbit, rather than purchasing your rabbit at a pet shop, it is best to adopt a rescued rabbit or purchase your rabbit from a reputable breeder. Otherwise, you can never be sure if you’re supporting a rabbit mill.
New Zealand rabbits price can vary depending on the number of rabbits you purchase, their color, gender, age and pedigree.
Generally speaking, the New Zealand white rabbit price range runs from $20 up to $35 or more per rabbit. If you want a New Zealand giant rabbit, you may see prices ranging anywhere from $35 to $70 and up.
Is A New Zealand Rabbit Right For Me?
So what do you think? Could a New Zealand rabbit be your next companion pet? These furry, fluffy cuties sure are difficult to resist!
Of course, it is always a smart idea to make sure you have an exotic or livestock vet lined up before you bring home a New Zealand rabbit. These little beauties require knowledgeable medical care in the event they do develop medical issues.
It is also important to evaluate your available space and time to be sure you are able to care for your New Zealand bunny without undue expense or space issues!
If all signs look good for bringing a bunny home, please let us know when your little cutie arrives and more about your new rabbit pet so we can celebrate with you!
References and Further Reading
Masoud, I. (1986). A longitudinal study of the growth of the New Zealand white rabbit: Cumulative and biweekly incremental growth rates for body length, body weight, femoral length, and tibial length. Journal of Orthopaedic Research.
MPI (2018). Wild Rabbits. Ministry for Primary Industries – New Zealand Government.
NZ-SPCA (2016). Rabbit Care. New Zealand Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals, 2016.
Cross Roads Rabbitry (2018). About New Zealand White Rabbits. Cross Roads Rabbitry Breeder.
Basgill, L. (2011). New Zealand Rabbit Breed Profile. American Federation of New Zealand Rabbit Breeders.
De la Torre, R. (2016). Breeds of Rabbit. The Rabbit Breeding & Teaching Program at TAMU, 2016.
Pawsey, R. (2018). Caring for Your Pet Rabbit. Healthmont Vet.