Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order 'Rodentia' (rodent) until 1912, when they were moved into a new order called 'Lagomorpha' and the 'Leporidae' family.
There are eight different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including our now domesticated version of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).
Variety is the 'spice' of life.
In the 19th Century, before the rabbit became an exhibition type, rural communities divided rabbits into four classifications:
The Wild Order of Things
All types of rabbits originate from the wild ones, from the family called Leporidae, which can be broken down in to different genus types:
Each breed of domestic rabbit comes in its 'infinite variety' with variations of colours, coat, textures, sizes, ear types etc. But by comparison, the wild rabbit remains the same - flat coated, fairly small with agouti colours, a mixture of blue, black and yellow.
With domestic show rabbits, the word 'type' refers to the four main categories that are used to judge a rabbit that is on show at an exhibition or club show.
If you have no idea what breed of rabbit or rabbits you have, a good place to start is the rabbit body type, as this will narrow your search considerably.
Then move through to distinguishing the fur type, what size of rabbit you have and what was it's original purpose, why was it bred in the first place.
If you are armed with all this information, you are more likely to be able to find an answer for your question... 'What breed is my rabbit?!'
Let's take a look at each area in more detail...
Five Main Shapes
There are five main types of rabbit body shapes. The ARBA (The American Rabbit Breeders Association) has a great way of distinguishing different types of rabbits according to their distinct and sometimes unmistakeable body shape.
Lets start with the most distinguishable...
A fully arched rabbit is built for agility and speed. Almost like a hare, which is where most of the bloodline comes from.
The arch starts from the neck right down to the tail. When viewed from the side there's lots of space under the belly, like a wild hare. This shape is termed as raciness in rabbit circles. The arch gives them more depth than width of body.
The beautiful Belgian Hare
Full Arch rabbit breeds include:
Then there's the....
The BRC (British Rabbit Council) refers to this shape as 'Mandolin' because of the similarity of shape to a Mandolin placed face down on a table. Usually these breeds have a longer body length than most and most of the really giant rabbits fall in this category.
When sat, feet flat on a table, they show a distinct arch starting just behind the shoulders and rising over the large loin and hindquarters, carrying down to the base of the tail.
Semi-Arch rabbit breeds include:
And don't forget these types of rabbits...
These types of rabbits have a medium body length and the shape of half a pear when viewed from the side. The top-line of the rabbit rises directly from behind the ears and over to a well-filled shoulder and rib section, with the highest point over the hips.
This type of rabbit is mainly bred as a good source of meat as they gain weight quickly and can be 'harvested' from as little as 8 weeks of age. (As a veggie, this sounds awful. But hey, hundreds of years ago, if food was scarce, rabbit on the table for tea was a great treat. I personally think it's like eating your pet dog, but of course they did that too!)
There are other rabbit breeds that have a commercial body type, but are described this way just to mean well-muscled and 'meaty', like the Rex Rabbit and the French Lop for instance, that weren’t bred for meat but they could have a dual purpose.
The Californian rabbit
Commercial types of rabbits include:
Then there's these smaller types of rabbits...
These types of rabbits are well rounded and tightly packed, very much like a football!
The compact body, sometimes described as 'cobby', as in, round with a small neck, should have the same length as their depth and their width.
At the shoulders, there shouldn't be any room to put two fingers before the rise of the back starts. (This is called 'being weak at the shoulders'.) The hindquarters shouldn't dip over the hips. (This is called 'weak in the loin'.)
There are many types of Angoras, this is the
Compact types of rabbit include:
And finally the one that is less common...
Cylindrical types of rabbits have only one representative in the ARBA breeds standards. However, there is another recognised by the BRC.
Cylindrical shaped rabbits are to show a straight top line with no arch or rise and the profile of the side of the rabbit is to display no taper at all. The front feet are to be even with the eyes when the body of the rabbit is stretched out with forelegs and hocks flat on the table.
The Cylindrical shaped
Cylindrical types of rabbit include:
In addition to being commonly classified by “Rabbit Body Type” rabbits are also classified by the fur on their pelts.
The rabbit coat is made up of four types of hair:
The ratio of guard hairs to wool hairs varies between 20 to 1 and 50 to 1. The number of the different guard hairs decreases from the crimped form of the secondary guard hairs to the straight form and to the less numerous primary guard hairs.
The Fur Groups
1. Normal Fur
2. Rex Coat
3. Satin Rabbit Fur
4. Wool Rabbit Fur
Let's take a look at the main four...
Normal Rabbit Fur
This is the most common rabbit fur classification.
The majority of the different types of rabbit breeds have “normal rabbit fur”.
Within the “Normal Rabbit Fur” category there are two different rabbit fur sub-types;
Fly-Back Rabbit Fur
Rex Rabbit Fur
One of the rarest types of rabbit fur is; Rex Rabbit Fur. Currently there are only two ARBA classified breeds that contain “Rex Rabbit Fur”.
These breeds consist of the; Rex and Mini Rex rabbits which are known to have a softer and more “velvety texture” fur coat.
Satin Rabbit Fur
The fur on a “Satin Rabbit Fur Coat” is generally much softer than normal fur. Similar to the “Rex Rabbit Fur Classification” there are only two breeds of rabbits which possess “Satin Fur”; the Satin and Mini Satin.
Wool Rabbit Fur
Lastly there is “Wool Rabbit Fur”, which is sometimes referred to as simply “Angora Rabbit Fur”. As indicated by its revealing name Wool Rabbit Fur is quite similar to the fur found on sheep however it has been proven to be of a higher density.
Different types of rabbits are also classified by their size and weight. Different associations and councils have their own specific way of doing this but I am going to break it down quite simply for you.
If you need a more detailed breakdown, go to the associated body, organization or council for your country and have a look at their breed standards details.
Basically though, there are different standards of size and weight depending on the age of the rabbit. I'm just going to take it that the types of rabbits here are all fully grown.
Rabbit breeds breakdown in to four average full grown weight groups. These four rabbit size/weight groups consist of the Small Rabbit Breeds, Medium Rabbit Breeds, Large Rabbit Breeds and Giant Rabbit Breeds.
The categorization rules are as follows…
In addition to the other types of rabbit standards, rabbits can be classified by their purpose for being raised.
rabbit breeds are better for certain purposes than others. For example the tiny little dwarf bunnies wouldn't make very good meat rabbits. (Good job too!)
Really, there are five main reasons why people choose to raise rabbits…
Showing Your Rabbits
Sooner or later, the committed rabbit keeper will decide to show their rabbits. Rabbits cannot be exhibited at shows unless the breeder is a member of, or registered with, the country's governing body.
In the UK, this is the British Rabbit Council (BRC). All countries in Europe have their own governing body and they are all run on the same lines. In America it is the American rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA).
The world of rabbit shows can be quite baffling to a newcomer. The language is full of jargon but there is always a healthy competitive spirit!
Detailed descriptions of all types of rabbits can be found on the different breeds and types of rabbits page.
Where available each detailed rabbit breed page has links to specific rabbit breed clubs, rabbit breeders and any known rabbit associations or rabbit councils.
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