The Lionhead Rabbit is one of the newest domestic breeds and is so called because of the long hair around its face like a male lion’s mane. The history of this fascinating new breed is a bit unclear though.
Some people claim the Lionheads to have originated from Belgium. In attempts to breed a long coated dwarf rabbit, breeders by chance came up with the Lionhead which incidentally was more popular as well. The cross breeding took place between a miniature Swiss Fox and a Belgian Dwarf. This breeding was continued intentionally afterwards to support the growing popularity of the new breed. However, other sources claim the Lionhead to be nothing more than a mutation. It is believed that during the breeding of Dwarf Angoras, the first rabbit mutation since the early 1900s occurred which spread as the dominant ‘mane gene’ in any one of the parents led to birth of a Lionhead. This led to the creation of the European Lionhead Rabbit. Since 1999, this rabbit has made the journey across the Atlantic to the United States. Breeders imported Lionheads mostly from England but also from Sweden.
The Lionhead rabbit has a round head with a well developed muzzle, surrounded by circular pattern of long wispy hair. This mane is what likens it to its name sake creature. Small in size, the Lionhead weighs only about 2.5-3.5 pounds, which it supports upon its thin medium sized legs with great difficulty. It has short ears, shorter than other rabbit breeds, which grow up to 3 inches only and may be erect or lopsided in different sub species. The Lionhead has longer hair on its cheeks and chest and its coat is usually dense, covering the whole body sometimes.
Often a cross bred rabbit has long hair, thinly spread across its body instead of the usual dense spread. Lionheads are extremely easy to keep, being fond of human touch. They make the best pets if brought up in captivity from birth. They are usually healthy and so save the owner precious time, tending to various illnesses. They also save time spent in grooming as they have less wool on their bodies as compared to other species. Breeding is also generally easy as they have no difficulty in taking care of their young. Mothers have more than enough milk supplies that easily satisfy the needs of their litter.
Lionheads have been recognized by the British Rabbit Council and the North American Rabbit Club but still await the decision to be fully recognized by the American Rabbit Breeder’s Association.