For all practical purposes, the general public knows nothing about small animals. As such, I can't tell you how many people are surprised to see the 'Breed' line filled out on rabbit shelter cards. What? Rabbits have breeds? Who knew!
Currently, ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders' Association) supports about 47 breeds and there are a handful more that aren't official, making over 50 distinct rabbit breeds.
Now, most of the rabbits we get are like Friday up there - mutts. A mix of colours, body types and markings that sometimes show bits of certain breeds but usually make no sense put together. Lately, I've been trying to brush up on my breed knowledge as slapping on a breed label helps rabbits get adopted. I thought I'd do a series of examples of the breeds we get through the door.
Today, I'm going to write about the most popular of them all - the dwarf rabbits. Everyone wants small rabbits. Even though I ended up with two dwarves of my own, I'm not sure why they're in such high demand. On average, dwarves are more neurotic and grouchy, while larger rabbits tend to be calmer and more laid-back. Dwarves also pose a problem in that most dwarves sold at pet stores are not pure dwarves, and will grow larger than promised - which often means they get dumped.
So let's look at these breeds, shall we?
Netherland Dwarves are the smallest breed of rabbit. We get a lot of Netherland crosses because pet stores are always looking for smaller rabbits to sell. True Netherlands are, in my humble opinion, weird-looking. Ozzie here is the closest I've seen at the shelter to a true example, but he doesn't quite have the weird squished look. Telltale signs of Netherlands include a stocky, round little body, flat faces, and most obviously, rounded tiny ears. The ears are super distinctive and show up in about half the rabbits we get at the shelter.
Dwarf Hotots are a less popular breed. Panda up there is not a Hotot, but he has some Hotot in him and was the only rabbit I could find in my files to show their distinctive markings. Hotots are nicknamed 'mascara bunnies' because they have those dark markings around their eyes. True Hotots are pure white otherwise, and have little Netherland ears.
There are also large Hotots and Hotot crosses with every other breed in the world. Panda is a result of a Hotot cross with another breed, while Duchess here is a result of a Hotot crossed with a lop (ears hanging down). A proper Hotot looks more like this.
Lionheads are a very new breed. In fact I have heard many rabbit people scoff at them being called a breed at all, but they are certified by ARBA and they have gotten ridiculously popular. True Lionheads are insanely poofy little dwarves, but most pet store Lionheads have a 'single mane' of poof around their head. Chubbs up there has the proper stocky body, but her ears are larger than they should be (as usual, this dwarf breed comes from the Netherland and has their itty bitty ears), and she has one ring of fluffy fur around her head.
Finally, the ever popular constant in the rabbit world - the Dutch. Dutch rabbits aren't technically dwarves, but they're only a bit bigger than true dwarves, and they are insanely popular. It's easy to see why: Dutches are handsome, small, easy-going and friendly. A Dutch rabbit is easy to spot. They always have that white front half and they should have that white wedge down their face. The black markings can also be brown or grey (like Sabrina below). Dutches are like the Netherlands - if you have a small-medium sized rabbit, chances are it has some Dutch in its background. They're everywhere. Jingle (above) is a true Dutch that we have right now, with the most perfect Dutch markings I've seen at the shelter.
To wrap up this not-so-advanced look at breeds, I thought I'd show some examples of crosses we get, and how we choose the breeds to put on their shelter cards (no, we don't just make it up):
Dottie here is a Dutch cross with...something. While her markings are all over the place, they fall mostly into the pattern of the Dutch breed. She's got the body of a Dutch too (compact but not true dwarf) and their medium-sized ears.
Sweet Pea is what I call a frankenrabbit...she has the perfect head of a (pet store) Netherland, with round ears and a flat face, but it's attached to an entirely different body. Her body is large and elongated, and her head just looks too small. I have no idea who thought to cross a Netherland with whatever her other parent was, but it resulted in a pretty funny-looking rabbit. Good thing looks aren't everything!
And finally, just to screw you up after all that, here's Benji. Based on all that stuff I just wrote, you'd guess he was a Hotot mix. If he'd arrived at the shelter like that, that's what I would have written on his card. But we know who Benji's parents were, and he's actually a Dutch mix.
So the moral of the story is....yes, we actually are just making it up when we fill in the 'Breed' category.