Rabbit Colors
(Rabbit Colour Genetics)

Understanding Rabbits ~ Rabbit Genetics ~ Rabbit Colors

rainbow rabbits

Fur or hair color in rabbits is controlled by their genes at several locations on their chromosomes. These genes act in conjunction with each other to produce quite a variety of different colors and patterns. (Hair texture and length is controlled at other locations.)

The rabbits in the picture have been genetically modified - the jury's still out on this one!

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Apologies to England
Being a typical English girl with a Grammar school education, I struggled somewhat over the naming of this page, however, I have referred to rabbit 'colors', throughout, as opposed to rabbit 'colour', as the word 'color' seems to be a more popular choice
- even for English readers.

What do you think? Let me know below...

Apologies to all my English readers.
(The Queen will be cross!)

P.S. - Perhaps I should make a duplicate page
with different spelling then all will be happy ;-)

Best Book for Rabbit Colors

In this section, only some of the basic color genes and their combinations will be listed.

For a larger list and more detailed descriptions of rabbit colors, refer to the book, The ABC's of Rabbit Coat Colors.

Basic Color Genes

rabbit colors

The basic color genes in the rabbit are:

A, B, C, D, E, En, Du, Si, V, and W.

Here are the 5 basic genes:

  • A: Agouti hair shaft pattern (or not)
  • B: Black (or chocolate)
  • C: Complete color (or shaded, or albino)
  • D: Dense (or dilute) color
  • E: Extension of color (or its limitation or elimination)

Other genes act as color modifiers controlling the intensity of certain colors or patterns.

They include the rufus modifiers, the plus/minus (blanket/spot) modifiers, and the color intensifiers.

These modifiers are not single genes, but multiple ones that pool their effects.

Capitalized letters almost always refer to a dominant gene, and lower case to a recessive gene. Geneticists include a place marker in the spot of an unknown, second gene copy, represented by an underscore:


Since the capitalized code letters represent dominant genes, you cannot know by looking at the rabbit what the second code letter of the pair is. When the genetic blueprint is not fully known, the place markers are used.

For more on genes, click here...

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Basic Rabbit Pigments

A rabbit has two possible pigments that can be expressed in its hair:

Dark Brown and Yellow

The absence of both pigments results in white fur.

All of the colors possible in rabbit fur are simply combinations of these pigments or lack thereof.

The expression can appear on the same or different hairs, in certain patterns, and in different intensities.

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Long & Short Hair Colors

Both long and short haired rabbits have the same color genetics, the number of pigment granules present are equal for both.

English Angora rabbit

Long Hair
In general, rabbits that have long hair, such as Angoras, have diluted color expression.

In long hair the pigment granules are spread further apart from each other, giving a less dense look and a more pastel color.

Short Hair

Rabbits that have short hair, such as the Rex, have a more intense color expression.

In short hair, the pigment granules are packed closely together, making the color dense and more intense.

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Wild Rabbit Colors

wild rabbit

Rabbits in the wild have a brownish fur color called agouti.

Looking closely at this fur, you can see that it is made up of 3 to 5 bands of color.

The hair closest to its skin is grey. This is followed by yellow, followed by black on the tips of the fur.These rabbits also have white bellies.

This agouti pattern is found in some domestic rabbits today. They call this color chestnut. There are several variations of this agouti pattern in domestic rabbits. These variations are caused by the other genes and modifiers working together.

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Color Gene Groups

We can actually classify the color genes in two groups.

  1. First, the color pattern genes. These genes determine which pattern will be expressed:
    no pattern (self), agouti or tan.
  2. All of the other genes are the color genes. These genes determine the placement and intensity of the color pigments on the hair.

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Rabbit Color Pattern Groups

Taking the first gene above, that expresses color pattern, the colors can be divided in to one of three groups. Colors vary in shade, base color, etc. but they all fit under one of three patterns:

  1. Self
  2. Agouti
  3. Tan

(Just remember S.A.T)

1. Self

Lilac rabbit

A rabbit that's one solid color all over its body.

E.g: black, chocolate, blue, lilac.

Note - REW (ruby eyed white) and BEW (blue eyed white) are not true self colors.

Self Color Group Explained
A self rabbit does not have markings on the underside. A self rabbit is essentially the same color all over. Blacks are selfs. So are chocolates, lilacs, and blues.

Tortoises are also selfs. So are Siamese sables and smoke pearls and sable points. These rabbits have some shading. For instance, the nose on a sable is darker than the back, which is darker than the sides of the body.

However, here’s the important thing: every single hair is only one color. There’s no banding on the hair shaft itself. The color might fade near the skin, but there’s no switching from black to red on a single hair like there is on a Chestnut Agouti coat. If you take a square-inch patch of hair anywhere on the bunny, each hair will be about the same color as those around it. That’s the mark of a self.

2. Agouti

Has bands of different color on each hair shaft.

E.g: chestnut agouti, shaded agouti, frosted pearl, lynx, opal.

Agouti Pattern Explained
This is the original rabbit color pattern. Wild rabbits are agouti. The colors we call chestnut and chinchilla are agouti.

Agouti rabbits have white markings on the belly, chin, tail, eyes, nostrils and ear-insides. Presence of those markings is your first indication that a rabbit might be an agouti.

The color of the rabbit’s back is not a solid color, but a blend of light and dark hairs mingled together. If you blow into an agouti’s coat, you will find that each hair shaft is banded with color and the hairs form concentric rings of color as they lay flat. Anytime you see rings of color, the rabbit is unquestionably agouti.

3. Tan

Netherland dwarf otter

Tan Pattern:
Has silver markings on the belly, underside of the tail, marking by the nostrils and circles around the eyes.

E.g: black otter, blue otter, tortoise otter, sable point marten.

Tan Pattern Explained
Tan pattern colors have markings in all the same places that the agouti pattern colors do.

Tans, like agoutis, have light colored markings (from orange to cream to white) on the belly, tail, chin, nostrils, eyes, and ears. They also have a light “triangle” marking at the nape of the neck.

The difference between tan and agouti is that a tan rabbit has a fully solid top color. There’s no blend of hair colors there. The top color might be black. It might be blue. It might be chocolate, lilac, tortoise, or sable. But it is not chinchilla or chestnut.

Each hair is just one color, without bands. You’ll never see ring of color on a tan pattern coat.

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The Albino Color Gene

American White rabbit

The Albino Gene isn't so much a color as it is a color hiding gene.

An albino rabbit will be completely white since it’s missing the melanin gene which determines the color of their skin, eyes, and fur.

Not all white rabbits are albinos, so you’ll need to check their eyes. If their eyes are red or pink and their hair is totally white, they would be considered an albino.

Many animals with albinism lack their protective camouflage and are unable to conceal themselves from their predators or prey; the survival rate of animals with albinism in the wild is usually quite low.

The eyes of an albino animal appear red because the color of the red blood cells in the underlying retinal blood vessels shows through where there is no pigment to obscure it.

An albino rabbit may not have the greatest eyesight due to their lack of eye pigment. Since their eyesight is not the best, they should be caged or kept inside since they may not be able to see predators.

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REWs - Ruby Eyed Whites

Netherland dwarf REW

An albino rabbit, the REW or Ruby-Eyed White (sometimes known as Red Eyed White), has two recessive genes, cc, in its genotype. Think of that like throwing a white sheet over the rabbit. The other genes for colour are still there, but you can't see them; they are not expressed. Even though the little "c" gene is recessive, if the rabbit gets two copies of it, the whole rabbit becomes albino.

If the other rabbit has one small "c" gene, you won't know until you breed it to a REW and you get REW babies. Your albino / REW babies will get a "c" gene from each parent.

So you may get more REWs if the other parent carries a gene for it, too. If not, you won't get any REWs.

If you have a pedigree for your rabbit, it can give you a clue as to what hidden color genes it may have. If your rabbit has a REW parent, you know that rabbit carries a REW gene, as it is the only gene for the C location that rabbit has to pass on to its offspring.

BEWs - Blue Eyed Whites

Netherland dwarf BEW

The Blue Eyed White is similar to En, but a little more complex.

V is the symbol for the BEW gene, since the old name for BEW is Vienna White.

Most rabbits are VV, non bews and non-carriers.

A vv will always be BEW, in this way it works like cc REW. (if a rabbit is both cc and vv the REW will show.)

So the BEW is often another color underneath. Breeding a BEW vv to a non-BEW VV will result in 100% Vv BEW-carriers. These carriers will often be marked with white.

Occasionally a Vv will not show any white, and will look and can be shown like any other rabbit of its color. Still, it does carry BEW and this should be noted on pedigrees so future breeders know.

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Share Your Thoughts

What color are your rabbits? Do you love a particular color?

Please share some pictures of your great rabbit color examples. I don't know about you, but the more rabbits I see, the more I want to see, wierd, I must be an addict ;-)

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All input is good, no matter how small ;-) Thank-you.

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