To help understand the Lionhead, the breed details are divided in to the following categories:
The Lionhead is recognised by the BRC (British Rabbit Council) and very recently by the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association).
The ARBA took their time with officially recognizing the Lionhead rabbit, as there are so many different colour variations, but they finally accepted the varieties of Tortoise (all four colours) and the Ruby Eyed White (REW).
So, from 1st February 2014 Lionhead rabbits are allowed to Show for 'Best in Show' and also receive competition legs of 'Grand Champion', just as any other of the accepted rabbit breeds.
Some people refer to this breed as Lionhaired, which is not an official name but generally understood to be a collective term referring to the hair type, the miniature version and the lop eared version, the mini-lion lop or dwarf lionhead.
Sometimes the Lionhead rabbit is referred to as the 'Teddy Bear' rabbit, but this is also incorrect, as this name was initially linked to the Angora breed.
Type... 25 points
Mane/Chest... 30 points
Coat... 25 points
Colour... 10 points
Condition... 10 points
Origins & Creation
In the early 1960's the Lionhead rabbit appeared as a genetic mutation in a litter of rabbits in France and in crossbred litters in Belgium. The breeders were actually trying to produce a long-coated Dwarf. The parents of the crossbred litter was a Swiss Fox and a Belgian Dwarf.
The very first origins cannot be agreed upon as there are some that believe lionheads were created from a mixture of Angora and Swiss Fox but evidence is not documented.
Understanding how the hair genes work, will shed more light on their probable creation.
The gene that gives the lionhead its distinctive 'lion's mane' characteristic is a dominant gene, so breeding a pure-bred Lionhead with another rabbit will produce an animal with a the obvious mane and bib.
This gene mutation phenomena is the most recent major gene mutation to happen in rabbits since the Satin gene occurred in 1932.
From this mutation, breeders in Europe went on to develop this longer-haired breed of rabbit because of its striking mane and bib. Only a few Lionhead rabbit breeders have been given the official Certificate of Development, (COD).
Bob Whitman, was a highly respected rabbit enthusiast, breeder and author on all things rabbit and particularly enjoyed the more unusual breeds.
He passionately researched rabbit history on his favourite breeds and spent many hours researching the beginnings of the Lionhead breed. He also held a COD for this breed.
He believed the Belgian dwarf and Silver fox cross theory and also that other crosses to a smaller wool type breed may have also been included in the crossbreeding.
Bob wrote a very good book called 'Domestic Rabbits and their Histories' which includes descriptions about the Lionhead rabbit breed.
Further development involved European Dwarf Angora (known as a Jersey Wooly in the USA). Later, the breed was imported into England where continued crossbreeding of small breed rabbits and additional wool breeds were done.
This crossbreeding made in Europe and in England created the current European Lionhead rabbit we know today.
Recognition in UK
In 1998 the Lionhead was first discussed at a Breeds Standards Committee meeting for the BRC. In 1999 a proposed standard was put to the Breed Standards Committee and agreed provisionally. In 2000 the Working Standard was agreed by the Breed Standards Committee with the ring size to be 'C'. The BRC Management Committee agreed to standardize the Lionhead rabbit in all recognised colours from May 1st. The breed was fully officially recognized in 2002.
Recognition in US
The first Lionheads that were used as a basis for any concentrated breeding programs in the United States were imported in 2000 by the late JoAnne Statler of Minnesota. In the following years, other breeders brought in additional stock of which Bob Whitman was one, who also imported Lionheads from Europe. These imports, along with hybrids made throughout the United States, have produced the American version of the Lionhead that we see today.
The five Lionheads that were first taken into Northern Minnesota were of very different varieties:
In an attempt to broaden the gene pool, several Minnesota breeders began crossing the Lionheads to various other small breeds such as Netherland Dwarf, Britannia Petite, Polish, and Florida White. Holland Lops have also been used by some in the Lionhead breeding program which went on to produce lop eared mini lions.
The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club was founded on September 29th, 2001 at the Minnesota State Rabbit Breeders Association State Show held in Elk River, Minnesota. The first NALRC National Lionhead Exhibition Show was held in May of 2003 in Columbus Ohio. The show had an overwhelming entry of 204 Lionheads. At that first show, Lionheads were shown the same way as the Netherland Dwarf breed with varieties judged first, followed by selection of best in each group.
This type of judging was used in hopes of persuading the ARBA to revisit the question of allowing the Lionhead breed to enter the ARBA Standard Book as a breed shown in groups and not varieties.
When the ARBA Standards Committee met during the 2003 ARBA Convention, a formal request made by Bob Whitman to make that change was denied.
The COD process involves presenting the breed to the ARBA Standards committee at the organization's annual convention and show. This process requires that there be three successful presentations within five years in order for the breed to become recognized, and included in the ARBA Standard of Perfection.
The current breed COD presenter is Theresa Mueller of Seattle, Washington. She made her first successful presentation at the 2010 ARBA Convention in Minneapolis, MN in November, 2010 in the varieties of REW, Black Tortoiseshell and Black.
In November 2011, at the 88th ARBA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Mueller Lionhead presentation was assessed one fail in each variety (REW, Black Tortoiseshell and Black) due to disqualification of one junior animal in each variety having transitional wool on the flanks that exceeded the allowable maximum length. The ARBA Standards Committee then allowed Mueller to make a few changes to her proposed working breed standard, and also allowed the grouping all four varieties of Tortoiseshell (black, blue, chocolate and lilac) for her 2012 presentation.
In October 2012, at the ARBA Convention in Wichita, Kansas, the Ruby-Eyed White (REW) and Black Tortoiseshell passed their next attempt at second presentation, therefore both varieties needed one more successful presentation at the ARBA Convention in October 2013 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for the breed to become recognized. The black variety did not pass, which ended Mueller's presentation process for that variety.
In October 2013 the lionheads passed the evaluation by the standards committee in the colours of Ruby Eyed White and Tortoise. Those colours will are the only recognized colours, for now.
Beginning with the 2014 ARBA convention in Ft.Worth, Texas other colours will begin the presentation process and attempt to also become accepted, showable colors.
Recognition in Europe
Strangely, the Lionhead rabbit is not a recognized breed in Europe nor has it been standardized anywhere. However there is an International Breeds Standard Confederation, otherwise known as The European Confederation of Rabbits, Pigeons and Poultry. (EE)
There is a new breed in development derived from the Castorex Ovator being bred in France in a small commercial stud. It is said to have the most amazing fur but there are no official details yet. (Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed!)
Just like the BRC and the ARBA, the EE will oversee any new European breed and it must be breeding true to the original progenitor for at least four to five years before initial acceptance.
Other Breed Creations
As mentioned above, Lionheads have also been put to Dwarf Lops to create a Dwarf Lion Lops or mini lion lops.
The mini lion lop is recognised by the BRC but not the ARBA as yet.
The Velvet Lion
Needless to say the beautiful and wondrous combinations of these unique little rabbits can go on for a long time. Here's one that I just love...
This is George, a Mini Rex Lionhead rabbit, otherwise called a Velvet Lion and is a Mini Rex, Lionhead cross. (Thanks to Mini Plush Lops UK for the photo.)
The ARBA recognise the Lionhead breed in the following varieties:
Ruby Eyed White - REW
The BRC recognise all colours as long as they conform to a recognised colour and pattern.
For more on colours - see below...
The Lionhead rabbit is a cobby, well rounded breed - Ring size C
Adult Weight: Ideal 2.5 lbs to 3.5lbs
Maximum 3.12 lbs
The Lionhead rabbit has a small, compact body, short, cobby and well rounded, the shoulders and chest broad and well filled. The head should be bold, with good width between the eyes but not quite round from all sides, with a well-developed muzzle. There should be no visible neck.
The hindquarters broad, deep and well rounded. Their legs are of medium length and they are of medium bone, not too fine with a stance to be high enough to show the full chest and mane.
The Lionhead ears are not to exceed 3 inches (7.5cm) long. They are upright open ears, well covered, of good substance, but not furnished as an Angora. The ears should be balanced with the head and body.
The Lionhead rabbit should have bold and bright, eyes. The white coated lionheads should have red or blue eyes (the BEW not accepted by the ARBA). The eyes of any other colour should be as per colour standard.
The US recognises the following colours:
Black, Black Otter, Blue, Blue Otter, Chestnut, Chinchilla, Chocolate, Fawn, Frosted Pearl, Golden, Lilac, Opal, Orange, Red, Siamese Sable, Smoke Pearl, Sable Point, Squirrel, Sable Martin, Tan, Tortoise, and White
The following colour descriptions are based on the current breed standards, not all from the ARBA but will offer some guidance to the Lionhead colours and the way they can be seen on the breed, both in the adult rabbit and the kits.
Included below are notes on how the colours can be faulted, i.e. if a rabbit does not meet certain colour guidelines for that colour variety then they are faulted or disqualified from show.
REW or Ruby Eyed White (Red Eyes)
Pure white coat and undercoat.
Notes: If the eyes are blue the rabbit is a BEW (Blue Eyed White).
Black (Brown Eyes)
Rich uniform black colour over entire body. Undercoat is dark slate blue. Lionheads may have a slight diffusion of the black colour in their wool due to the nature of the wool itself.
Newborns will be black on their entire body including belly and insides of the ears.
Notes: Animals are faulted for having faded colour, scattered white hairs, or a light undercolour.
Blue (Dark Blue/Grey Eyes)
Rich uniform blue colour over entire body. Undercoat is also blue. Lionheads may have a slight diffusion of the blue color in their wool due to the nature of the wool itself.
Newborns will be blue on their entire body including belly and insides of the ears.
Notes: Animals are faulted for having faded colour, scattered white hairs, or a light undercolour.
Sable Point (Brown Eyes)
The nose, ears, feet, and tail are to be a rich sepia brown. The colour of the points is to fade rapidly to a rich creamy body surface colour, which has a creamy white undercolour. Darker shading is permissible around the eyes.
Newborns will almost look like REWs. Their points take a little bit to develop. Cold weather does affect their points and will make the points darker.
Notes: Animals are faulted for having streaks, blotches, or smut on the body. Point colour that is so light as to lose the contrast with the body colour is to be faulted. Scattered white hairs are also a fault. Animals having a white underside of tail are disqualified.
Siamese Sable (Brown Eyes)
The surface colour is to be a rich sepia brown on the head, ears, back, outside of legs, and top of the tail. The surface colour will fade to a lighter sepia on the sides, chest, belly, inside of legs, and underside of the tail. The dark face colour is to fade from the eyes to the jaws and all blending of colour is to be gradual and free from blotched or streaks. The undercolour will be slightly lighter than the surface colour.
Newborns will NOT be the dark rich color of the adults. They will be a light brown mocha colour. Almost a silvery colour with a brown tinge.
Notes: Animals are faulted that have streaks, blotched, or poor colour blending. Scattered white hairs, or lack of darker colour in the loin area is a fault.
Tortoise (Brown Eyes)
On adults the points (ears and face) will be very visible in a dark brown. The undercoat will be lighter than the surface.
Newborns will be orange on their back and head with dark flanks and dark insides and outsides of the ears. With the exception of the dark ears they will look like orange babies.
Notes: Animals with a white belly or underside of tail are disqualified.
The Agouti variety has banded hair shafts. The best way to tell is if you can see the rings caused by the banded hair shaft when you blow into the fur.
Chestnut (Brown Eyes)
The surface colour on the top and sides of the body is to be a light brown, ticked with jet black. The intermediate band is to be a well defined orange over a dark slate-blue undercolour. The chest is to be a light brown over a dark slate-blue undercolour. The undercolour of the belly is to be slate-blue. The top of the tail is to be black, sparsely ticked with light brown, over a dark slate-blue undercolour. The nape of the neck is to be orange, with the ears laced in black.
Newborns will have very dark bodies and will look similar to black newborns. The insides of the ears will be cream coloured (black babies have dark ears inside and out). The first few days they will have pink underbellies. A week or so later they will have pearl white underbellies and tops of the feet.
Notes: Faults are given to animals that are too light or too dark in surface colour, or too light in the colour of the intermediary band or undercolour. White toenails are a disqualification.
Chinchilla or Silver Agouti (Grey, Blue or Light Brown/Grey Eyes)
The fur should look silver with black ticking. Blue undercoat. The ears should be black laced. When you blow into the fur you should see prominent rings like those on the left. This is caused by the banded hair shaft of an agouti. The rings should be off white and slate gray. Inside of the ears, feet, ring around eyes and nose should be pearl white. Underside of the tail and belly should be white or silver.
Notes: Animals are disqualified with extreme dark or light colour, brown patches of colour, or extreme brownish tinge in ring colour. Animals without black lacing on ears are also disqualified.
Opal (Dark Blue/Grey Eyes)
The surface colour on the top and sides of the body is to be blue mingled with fawn. The intermediary band is to be fawn over a medium slate-blue undercolour. The chest is to be fawn over a medium slate-blue undercolor. The undercolour of the belly is to be slate blue. The top of the tail is to be blue, sparsely ticked with fawn, over a medium slate-blue undercolour. The nape of the neck is to be fawn.
Newborns will be mostly blue expect for their bellies and the inside of the ears which will be a pearl white.
Notes: Animals that have light colour on the surface will be faulted, in the intermediary band, or in the undercolour.
Orange (Brown Eyes)
Orange coat with cream undercoat. Back of the ears should also be the same colour orange. Inside of the ears, ring around the eyes and nose, belly and chest should be cream. Underside of tail and around genitals should be white.
Newborns will be orange on their back and head with dark flanks - they will look similar to a tortoise at birth. The insides of the ears will be white and oustides of the ears will be orange - not dark coloured.
Notes: Faults include
any smut (darker hairs) in the coat.
All colours found in other rabbit breeds are recognised in the UK, commonly;
Agouti, Black, Blue, Butterfly, Chestnut, Chinchilla, Chocolate, Fawn, Fox, Lilac, Lynx, Opal, Orange, Otter, Sable Marten, Sable Point, Siamese Sable, Siamese Smoke Pearl, Silver Martin, Squirrel, Smoke Pearl Marten, Steel, Tan, Tortoiseshell, White (red or blue-eyed)
Bi colours (white and one other colour), Tri colours (white and 2 other colours) and various other shadings also apply.
Lionheads have a normal rollback, dense coat of medium length over the saddle, and some have "transitional wool" on their flanks. The coat should be even all over yet some Lionheads have noticeably longer wool on the cheeks and chest, often with a finer flank line of slightly longer fur running down the length of the rabbit to the tail extending in a line to the groin.
A small amount of extended fur around the flanks is permissible on under five months exhibits.
The mane should be between 5.0cm – 7.5cm (2-3in) in length extending to a ‘V’ at the back of the neck, falling into a fringe around the head, creating a "wool cap", with longer fur on the chest to form a bib.
The mane gene is dominant, therefore, both parents do not need a mane to pass it on to offspring; however, one parent must have a mane. It cannot be "carried". There are two genes involved – 'M' and 'm'.
So some possible outcomes may be:
Double-maned lionhead kits are easily recognisable. They are sometimes informally referred to as "gremlins", because of their appearance. Compared to a single maned kit, there is a large difference. "Gremlins" tend to have a V shape on the back, where the fur starts to grow.
Typically, the mane is thick, woolly and soft with evident "crimping". Depending on the pair of genes a Lionhead rabbit gets (one from each parent), it can have a double mane (two mane genes) or a single mane (one mane gene).
A Lionhead rabbit can have a maximum of two mane genes. The only way to tell if a rabbit is single mane or double mane is when they are first born, past that many things contribute to how much mane they actually end up having including chewing on the mane by themselves or others and matts.
Single mane Lionhead rabbits only have one copy of the gene responsible for creating a mane on a rabbit, called the mane gene.
Single mane Lionheads typically do not hold a mane for their entire lifetime. They have a mane that can be around its head, ears, chin and sometimes on the chest and rump. The mane may be wispy and thin and may disappear on some rabbits altogether as they mature.
The genotype for the single mane is Mm.
Typically their mane wool diminishes as they get older. Single maned Lionheads are usually the product of a purebred double mane Lionhead being bred to a rabbit of another breed (process called hybridization), in order to strengthen a particular characteristic or introduce a particular colour into the Lionhead breeding program.
Kits born from single manes or hybridization with double manes that do not have manes are called "no maned" because they did not get a copy of the mane gene. Without a mane gene, a rabbit will not have a mane nor will they be able to produce a kit with a mane, unless bred to a rabbit with either a single or double mane.
Double maned Lionheads have two copies of the mane gene. They typically have a thick mane of wool encircling the head and sometimes have wool on their flanks that some refer to as a "skirt".
The genotype for a double maned Lionhead is MM.
A double maned Lionhead is the product of either two single maned Lionheads (will have single manes in the litter) or two double maned Lionheads.
Two double maned Lionheads will only be able to produce double maned Lionheads when bred together.
The Lionhead rabbit is a breed that is relatively new and still in the development process. Their temperaments can differ between breeders depending on the parent breeds used to produce each line.
If you intend to buy a Lionhead rabbit, buy from a reputable breeder or rescue centre and observe the rabbit's temperament.
When buying a Lionhead rabbit, also enquire as to any hereditary dental concerns.
Generally Lionheads are easy to train as they are very smart creatures. They can comprehend certain orders like come, and play, eat etc and will respond to their own name. They are also very easy to litter box train and for that reason make very good house rabbits and home companions.
In most cases the Lionhead is friendly and have a very good, playful nature. Most are lively, sociable and gentle.
They are quite timid when you compare them with some of the other small breeds like the Netherland dwarf but with all rabbits giving them the right king of gentle attention, along with gentleness and understanding will help them gain your trust.
Lionheads need experienced handling since they can easily be
frightened and because of this, may become aggressive.
For these reasons they are not generally recommended with children.
More on building trust and correct handling.
NB - Although Lionheads are a small breed, they are active and very playful and for that reason, they will need plenty of space, more than that of a larger breed.
The Lionhead rabbit was originally created as a show breed but has become a very popular domestic pet rabbit.
The Lionhead rabbit received official breed status with the ARBA in February 2014. Because it is still a relatively new breed there are still some colours and varieties that have yet to be officially approved and are still under development.
It has been a recognised breed with the BRC in the UK since 2002.
The Lionhead rabbit is overall, a relatively new breed and there will be certain differences in some varieties for some time until the breed develops a 'true' breed status.
The longer wool of the Lionhead's 'mane' needs to be combed once a week to prevent matting and daily grooming is necessary during moult.
Once they reach adulthood they do not require extensive grooming in the way that other wool breeds do.
The odd chunk of fresh pineapple in their diet, especially during shedding, is a great solution to possible hairball problems, as the acidic nature and other compounds in the pineapple helps to break down any hair that might be caught in the gut. (It acts a bit like drain unblocker!)
Like all rabbits, the Lionhead can develop dental problems and this breed may be more prone to dental disease than other breeds and have more risk of developing hairballs, leading to digestive problems, both of which can be potentially fatal conditions.
Their teeth should be
checked regularly for signs of overgrowth and their diet should include
fibrous vegetables that will help keep their teeth down. Enamel spurs
and overgrown molars can prevent them from eating properly and can cause
abscess injuries in the mouth so it’s vital that the teeth are kept in good
Avoid overfeeding. An overweight bunny can find it difficult to groom themselves and if fur is allowed to become soiled with urine or faeces it can attract flies. These flies lay eggs in the fur and the maggots can burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing painful open wounds that will require veterinary attention.
All rabbits should be vaccinated against Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and Myxomatosis and should be treated regularly for fleas, ticks and worms. It’s also worth considering spaying any non-breeding females in order to prevent uterine cancer, which is common in all female rabbits.
If your rabbit is going to live outdoors their house must be large enough for them to hop at least 3 decent sized hops (surprisingly this can be up to 6 foot for this breed) and be tall enough for them to stand upright on their hind legs. It should be completely weather and waterproof and positioned out of direct sun and wind. The hutch should have shavings and straw on the floor and should also provide a covered area where the rabbit can nest. The hutch must be cleaned out completely once a week and droppings must be taken out every day. A hutch or house should not be the ONLY area where they live.
Regardless of whether your Lionhead is going to live indoors or outside, They should have access to a LARGE exercise area when they are at their most active - early morning and late evening. A very large run or secure area of garden will allow them the opportunity to stretch their legs and indulge in their love of exploration.
If they are to live inside, and Lionheads are very suited to indoor life, they can be easily taught how to use a litter tray. They must be provided with an area where they can retire to, hide away and relax completely.
A dog crate or indoor cage is ideal but if they are given free run of the house (like cats and dogs are afforded the luxury of, so why not rabbits?) then they will usually find their favourite place, usually under a bed or behind a sofa etc.
Just make sure all wires, cables and anything precious are out of the way and off the floor. Be aware that the rabbit could be near your feet, as they love being close to you, and take care not to step on them when you are moving around.
This should include good quality hay, rabbit pellets and lots of fibrous green leaves and vegetables like kale, cabbage, carrot tops and dandelions with constant access to fresh, clean drinking water.
It’s also worth making sure you know how to pick up and hold your rabbit correctly. Rabbits can struggle and panic if they’re held incorrectly. They’re stronger than they look and can injure their backs if they fall incorrectly or can give you a nasty scratch in their efforts to escape.
Here is a list of resources to help you care for your rabbits…
Lionhead Rabbit Breeders – locate Lionhead rabbit breeders using the online rabbit breeders directory, search or submit your own rabbitry.
NLRC - National Lionhead Rabbit club is an organisation for all Lionhead rabbits enthusiasts within the UK. Its prime objective is to encourage the keeping, breeding, exhibiting and development of the Lionhead Rabbit through out the United Kingdom.
NALRC - The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club is the official ARBA Chartered National Breed club for the Lionhead rabbit. A place where all people interested in every aspect of the Lionhead rabbit could come together to share information regarding the breeding, keeping and showing of this breed.
LionheadRabbit.com - Is an online Lionhead rabbit community that brings together people who have a large interest in this special rabbit. It is free to join and they have a popular Facebook page. There is lots to learn here so take a look around...
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Got a Lionhead for My Wife Not rated yet
She seems a bit bipolar (the rabbit, not my wife). Some days she looks for attention, other days she grunts and lunges at everyone if you put your …
Kamil my BFFF (Best Furry Friend Forever) Not rated yet
My Best Furry Friend! Kamil is a black lionhead rabbit who brings so much joy to my heart. I didn't choose Kamil, Kamil chose me! She literally …
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