Entering the domain of Lionhead Rabbits with the right information can make the journey both enjoyable and fulfilling. With their unique needs and endearing quirks, Lionheads present a fascinating breed to dive into. This guide aims to equip you with essential insights and practical advice to ensure a healthy, happy life for these distinctive rabbits, whether you’re a seasoned breeder or welcoming a Lionhead into your home for the first time.

History & Breed Origin

The Lionhead rabbit is a relatively new breed of domestic rabbit that originated in Belgium in the late 1990s when breeders crossed a Netherland dwarf rabbit with a Swiss Fox rabbit. This experimental breeding produced some kits with a mane of wool around their head, reminiscent of a male lion’s mane. The breeders focused on developing this trait, breeding rabbits that exhibited the mane. By 1998, the Lionhead was recognized as a distinct rabbit breed.

In 2002, the Lionhead was officially added to the British Rabbit Council registry. This marked the first recognition of the Lionhead as an official breed. Since then, Lionheads have gained popularity around the world as a domestic pet rabbit breed. In 2013, the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) recognized the Lionhead rabbit as a breed. Their cute mane and small size make them appealing to many rabbit enthusiasts.

Appearance and Size

Lionhead rabbits are a small to medium sized breed, weighing 2.5 to 3.5 lbs. as adults. They have a compact, well-rounded body type. The most distinctive feature of the lionhead is the wool mane encircling the head, reminiscent of a male lion’s mane. The mane starts at the cheeks and forms a full circle around the head and neck. The mane hair is typically 2-3 inches long. Lionheads can have two different types of manes: single or double. A single mane Lionhead will have a small mane around the head, or the mane may not develop at all. Single maned Lionheads will typically not keep their mane for their lifetime. A double maned Lionhead has two mane genes and will form the classic mane around their face and their body. Lionheads have a rounded head shape with notably large, wide-set eyes. Their ears are small to medium in length, standing upright.

Lionheads have a medium length rollback coat over the body. The fur is dense and soft to the touch. Their mane combined with body fur gives lionheads a rounded, fluffy appearance from head to tail. They come in a wide variety of coat colors and patterns.

Color Varieties

Lionhead rabbits come in a wide range of recognized color varieties. Some of the most common colors include:

  • Black: This color features a jet black coat and dark eyes. It is one of the original Lionhead colors.
  • Chocolate: Chocolate Lionheads have a rich chocolate brown coat. Their eyes are ruby/pink.
  • Blue: The blue variety has a slate blue-gray coat color. The eyes are a blue-gray color.
  • Tortoiseshell: This color pattern features patches of black and orange. The eyes are brown or ruby.
  • Chestnut agouti: Agouti refers to the ticking or banding pattern seen on each hair shaft. The background color is a warm chestnut brown.
  • Ruby-eyed white: As the name suggests, this variety has a pure white coat and pink or ruby-colored eyes. This is a very striking color.

Lionheads can also be found in many other colors like lilac, silver marten, sable, and more. The wide range of colors and patterns available makes the lionhead a very versatile breed.

Temperament and Personality

Lionhead Rabbits are known for their affable and friendly nature, making them excellent companions. They thrive on social interaction and exhibit a curious demeanor, eagerly exploring their surroundings. This sociability underscores the importance of regular engagement and bonding time between Lionheads and their owners, fostering a deep and rewarding relationship.

Their personality also makes them suitable for families, as they generally get along well with children and adults alike, provided interactions are supervised and gentle. However, every rabbit has a unique personality; some may be more reserved or demand more attention. Being attentive to these individual differences ensures a harmonious living situation and enhances the bond shared with these charming rabbits. Lionheads are very smart rabbits, and can learn a variety of tricks. Lionheads can be trained to use a litter box, which makes them great family pets.

If not properly socialized from a young age, some Lionheads may become skittish around humans and new experiences. Early handling and gradual exposure to new people and environments is key to developing a confident, well-adjusted rabbit. With patient, gentle handling, even shy lionheads can become quite friendly and affectionate over time.

Care and Feeding

Diet and Nutritional Needs

Lionheads should be fed a diet of primarily hay, which helps wear down their constantly growing teeth and prevent gastrointestinal stasis. Provide unlimited timothy, orchard grass, or oat hay. Pellets specifically formulated for rabbits are also recommended – feed 1/4 cup per 4-5 lbs. of body weight per day. Fresh vegetables and leafy greens can be offered daily, about 1 cup per 2 lbs. body weight. Avoid iceberg lettuce as it has limited nutrients. Feeding your Lionhead dark leafy greens will provide adequate nutrients.

Exercise Requirements

Lionheads are active and playful. Provide them with space to run and play daily – at least 3-4 hours per day of exercise outside their cage is ideal. Safe play areas include bunny-proofed rooms or exercise pens. Supervise playtime to prevent chewing on wires or furniture. Provide toys like tunnels, cardboard boxes, willow balls, and untreated wood blocks. Exercise not only aids in maintaining a healthy weight but also enriches their lives, preventing boredom and behavioral issues. Coupling proper diet with regular exercise encapsulates a holistic approach to care that benefits both the rabbit and the owner.


The minimum cage size for a Lionhead is 18 x 24 inches tall but larger is always better. Cages with wire bottoms can cause sore hocks – use a solid bottom or place mats over wire flooring. Bedding like paper, Aspen shavings, or hay can be used over solid flooring. Ensure the cage is kept clean at all times.

Spaying and Neutering

Spaying or neutering Lionhead Rabbits is highly recommended, not only to prevent unwanted litters but also to mitigate health risks and behavioral issues. Females benefit from a reduced risk of uterine cancer, a common ailment, while males exhibit less aggression and territory marking post-neuter.

Lionhead Health and Common Issues

Lionhead rabbits are generally healthy, but there are some health issues that owners should watch out for.


Lionheads are prone to dental issues like malocclusion due to their smaller head and longer jaw. When this happens, the Lionhead’s upper and lower teeth become misaligned and does not allow them to chew food or wear down their teeth adequately. Lionhead’s teeth grow constantly, so it’s important to provide plenty of hay and safe chew toys. Signs of dental disease include difficulty eating, decrease or no appetite, weight loss, excess salivation or drooling, and inflammation under the eyes and cheek. Annual dental exams by a veterinarian are recommended to prevent dental issues.

Ear and Upper Respiratory Infections

The Lionhead’s long fur around the head makes them prone to ear infections. Check inside the ears weekly for any signs of discharge, odor, or redness. Seek veterinary care if an infection is suspected, as they can progress quickly. Keeping their ear fur trimmed can help prevent debris buildup inside the ears. Clean inside your rabbit’s ears regularly and be cautious to not clean too deep in the ear. Upper respiratory infections can be common in rabbits, so it is imperative to keep your rabbit’s hutch or enclosure clean and free of any waste. Do not keep your rabbit in environments colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer than 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Since Lionheads have a smaller head and longer bottom jaw, they may be more prone to upper respiratory infections. If Lionheads cannot wear down their teeth properly, it can cause an infection to their gums or teeth which can turn into a sinus infection. Providing proper chew toys or hay can help prevent overgrown teeth.

Gastrointestinal Stasis/Hairball Obstruction

Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis is a potentially life-threatening condition where the rabbit has decreased or no appetite, extreme fatigue, and not passing stool. If you notice any of these symptoms with your rabbit, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Hairball obstruction occurs due to the Lionhead’s longer fur and their grooming. Since rabbits cannot vomit, the fur they ingest while grooming must go through the gastrointestinal tract. This can sometimes cause a true hairball obstruction which can be potentially life threatening and would require surgical intervention. It is important to regularly brush and groom your Lionhead to prevent increased consumption of fur.

Parasites & Skin Mites

There are two common parasites that affect rabbits: Cheyletiella and Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi).


Cheyletiella is a skin mite that afflicts rabbits and causes fur loss, and dry, itchy, flakey skin. It commonly passes from one rabbit to another, and it requires a veterinary diagnosis. Cheyletiella is treated with prescription medication. It is important to meticulously clean your rabbit’s hutch and items to prevent reinfection.

Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi)

Encephalitozoon cuniculi is a parasite that is transferred from the spores of an infected rabbit’s urine. When the spores or ingested or inhaled, E. cuniculi begins a disease process affecting the neurological and kidney function of the rabbit. Signs of E. cuniculi infection are severe neurological deficits (head tilt, paralysis, seizures, eye rolling/twitching, balance issues). Other symptoms include decreased or no appetite, and weight loss. It is imperative to seek urgent veterinary care if you notice any of these symptoms in your rabbit. Early intervention with anti-inflammatories and dewormers are best, however, rabbits with advanced disease process can have no response to treatment. Even if E. cuniculi is treated successfully, some rabbits still may exhibit a head tilt or other neurological deficits.


Flystrike occurs when flies lay eggs in a rabbit’s fur, causing an extreme skin infection. It is common for flystrike to happen if your rabbit spends lots of time outdoors, or if the rabbit has moist and irritated skin. Lionheads have longer fur, so it is important to thoroughly inspect your rabbit for sores, wounds, and maggots.

With proper care and veterinary attention, lionheads generally live 7-10 years. Staying alert to common health issues, providing good nutrition, and annual vet checkups can help keep lionheads healthy and happy.

Breeding Lionhead Rabbits (Overview)

Breeding Lionhead Rabbits is an endeavor that requires a thorough understanding of genetics, health, and ethical considerations. The goal is not only to perpetuate the breed’s unique characteristics but also to ensure the health and well-being of each generation. Careful selection of breeding pairs, attention to genetic diversity, and a commitment to raising the offspring responsibly are the pillars of successful breeding programs.

The breeding process begins long before the pairing, with breeders investing time in learning about genetics, particularly concerning the mane trait, colors, and temperament. This knowledge, combined with a respect for the animals and a dedication to improving or maintaining breed standards, forms the foundation of responsible breeding practices. Ethical breeding is a commitment to excellence and the health of the rabbits, a responsibility that extends beyond the birth of the kits.

How to Breed

The actual breeding of Lionhead Rabbits should be approached with care, timing the mating based on the doe’s cycle and ensuring both rabbits are in good health. Following successful mating, the doe’s pregnancy and the care of the litter require vigilant attention, providing a safe, clean environment and adequate nutrition. Breeding is not just about producing more rabbits but about enriching the breed and offering healthy, well-socialized individuals to new homes.

How to Choose a Lionhead Rabbit

Selecting a Lionhead Rabbit is a delightful process that should be undertaken with thoughtfulness. Prospective owners should consider the rabbit’s health, temperament, and the breeder’s ethics. A healthy Lionhead shows clear eyes, clean ears, and a vigorous demeanor. Temperament is equally critical, with prospective owners looking for a rabbit that matches their lifestyle, whether they prefer a calm companion or a more playful pet.

What to Look for in a Breeder

Choosing a reputable breeder is pivotal in finding a healthy, well-adjusted Lionhead Rabbit. Ethical breeders invest in the health and well-being of their rabbits, offering transparency about genetics, health history, and care requirements. They are a resource before and after the sale, providing guidance and support to ensure the rabbit thrives in its new home. A good breeder’s commitment to their rabbits and the breed as a whole is evident in their practices and policies.

Questions to Ask the Breeder

When engaging with a breeder, enquire about health screenings, vaccinations, and pedigree details. Understanding the rabbit’s background and the breeder’s approach to care provides insight into the rabbit’s potential health and temperament. This dialogue also helps build a relationship with the breeder, establishing a foundation of trust and support.

Bringing Home Your Lionhead

Preparing your Home

Preparing the home for your new Lionhead rabbit is an important first step. Make sure to rabbit-proof the area by removing any electrical cords and plants they could chew on. Have a suitable enclosure set up with proper bedding, food and water dishes, and enrichment items like toys and chews. The enclosure should be large enough for the rabbit to hop around and stretch out.

Introducing the New Rabbit

When you first bring your new Lionhead home, allow them to slowly explore their new surroundings. Sit nearby and speak softly to help them feel comfortable. Resist over-handling them at first, as this can be stressful. Let your rabbit approach you, offering treats to build positive associations. Move slowly and avoid loud noises or other pets that may startle them. Be patient as your rabbit acclimates to their new home.

Bonding with your New Rabbit

Bonding with your new Lionhead is key. Spend time near their enclosure talking or reading aloud. Offer treats by hand and lots of head rubs as they become accustomed to you. Gently scoop them up against your chest and walk around to build trust. Increase hands-on handling gradually. Supervise interactions with children and other pets. With time and consistency, a close bond will form between rabbit and owner.

Training and Handling Lionheads

Litter Training

Litter training your Lionhead rabbit is an important part of having them as a house pet. Start by placing a litter box in the corner of their enclosure or the area where they most frequently eliminate. Use a non-clumping, rabbit-safe litter. When you see them use the litter box, provide positive reinforcement with treats and praise. If there are accidents outside of the box, place the soiled materials in the litter box to encourage them to go there. Be patient and consistent, and they will learn to use the litter box regularly. Thoroughly clean any accidents with an enzyme cleaner to discourage repeat marking.

Teaching Tricks

Lionhead rabbits can be taught simple tricks with positive reinforcement training. Start by luring them to follow a target stick. Reward with a treat when they touch or follow it. Use the target to lead them to spin in a circle or hop through a hoop. Another fun trick is to teach them to stand up on their hind legs. Hold a treat above their head until they reach up for it. Say “stand up” as they do so, then reward. Be patient and keep training sessions short. With consistent training, they will learn tricks like spinning, standing, and coming when called.

Nail Trimming

It’s important to regularly trim your Lionhead’s nails to keep them from overgrowing. Have styptic powder on hand in case you hit the quick. Hold your rabbit gently but firmly on your lap and give them a treat to distract them. Massage one of their feet to extend the nail. Use sharp trimmers to cut off just the tip of the nail. Be careful not to cut too short. Only trim a small amount from each nail at a time. Make the experience positive with praise and rewards. Doing nail trims regularly from a young age will help them get used to the routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

With proper care, Lionhead Rabbits can enjoy a lifespan of approximately 7 to 9 years.

Lionhead Rabbits can be great with children, provided the children are taught how to handle and interact with them gently and respectfully.

Lionhead Rabbits require regular grooming to keep their mane and coat in good condition. Frequency may vary depending on whether the rabbit has a single or double mane.

Yes, Lionhead Rabbits can coexist with other pets, such as gentle dogs and cats, under careful supervision and proper introductions.

While Lionhead Rabbits benefit from outdoor exercise, their outdoor space must be secure and predator-proof. Alternatively, providing ample indoor space for exercise can also meet their needs.

Citations and Further References

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