When some people think of rabbits, they envision cute little bunnies with big ears, big feet and (exaggeratedly) large front teeth. And while many rabbits fit this stereotypical profile, some rabbit breeds defy these expectations of what a rabbit should look like, and one of the most impressive of these rabbit rebels is the Lionhead.
I had seen lots of photos of Lionhead rabbits before I met any in person, so I thought I had a good understanding of these unique little guys. But when I had the opportunity to get acquainted with these charming little rabbits in person, I instantly understood their widespread appeal. They’re truly enchanting. Here’s why.
As their name implies, Lionhead rabbits have heads that resemble that of a lion. This is thanks to the presence of a thick, wooly mane that surrounds their face. Lionheads in one form or another have existed since at least the 1960s and were developed in Europe throughout the ensuing decades to create the European Lionhead Rabbit. Lionheads from England were then imported to the United States in 2001, where the breed was further improved and refined throughout the next dozen years. Thanks to the careful and dedicated efforts of Lionhead breeders, Lionheads were accepted as an official breed by the American Rabbit Breeders Association in late 2013, and gained official recognition in February 2014. They are now the ARBA’s newest breed, and the 48th breed recognized by the organization.
Unlike their namesake lions, Lionhead rabbits aren’t large. In fact, they’re among the smaller rabbit breeds, and are actually considered to be a dwarf breed, meaning that they possess a dwarfing gene that results in shorter limbs and smaller ears than standard-sized rabbits. Lionheads generally weigh less than 3.75 pounds, with ears that are no more than 3.5 inches in length. In comparison to some of the larger rabbit breeds like the Flemish Giant, the Lionhead is pretty small!
The Lionhead “Mane” Event
Thanks to their attractive and characteristic wooly manes and their other myriad attributes, Lionheads are among the most popular rabbit breeds in the world, with more than 500 Lionheads being shown each year at North American Lionhead Rabbit Club’s National Lionhead Exhibition Show. But given that their wooly manes are wholly unique and are not found on other rabbit breeds, where did the Lionhead’s signature mane come from?
No one knows for certain the exact circumstances, but what is known is that the Lionhead mane came into existence thanks to a genetic mutation that resulted in rabbits with longer wool around their heads, completely distinct from the “normal” fur that exists on the rest of the Lionhead’s body. Careful selective breeding through the years has increased the length and quality of these manes, leading to the distinctive manes that we see today.
Lionhead Colors: A Rainbow Of Lionheads
Lionheads of many different color varieties have been developed, although not all are recognized by the ARBA at this time. At the present time, only the Ruby-Eyed White and Tortoise colors are recognized, but eight additional colors — Black, Chocolate, Pointed White, Sable Point, Seal, Siamese Sable, Smoke Pearl and Smoke Pearl Point — are also being developed and could become officially recognized during the coming years.
The Lionhead Personality
With so many colors and their beautiful manes, Lionheads are among the most attractive and unique of all rabbit breeds, but how are they as pets? Obviously, their small size makes them well-suited to be a family pet, but what about their other traits? Do they have pleasant personalities? Are they easy to care for?
As with members of any rabbit breed, personality types can vary from one Lionhead to the next. Some Lionheads are more outgoing and interested in people while others are more reserved and less outgoing. On the whole, Lionheads — like many dwarf breeds — can have a tendency to be somewhat high-strung and less docile, but this is highly dependent on the individual rabbit and his personality, the amount of individual attention he receives, and the rabbit’s gender. Female Lionheads are sometimes more reserved in personality than male Lionheads, but this isn’t always the case.
From a grooming standpoint, Lionheads can be a bit trickier to care for than other rabbit breeds, and anyone who is thinking of getting a Lionhead as a pet will want to carefully consider the care that will be necessary. Lionheads — by virtue of their long manes — require more grooming care than some of the other breeds, and a regular grooming schedule is necessary to ensure that their coats remain in good shape and free of tangles. And even though extra effort will be involved, this can be a good thing because Lionhead rabbits usually grow up to be friendlier pets if they spend time interacting with people early in their lives.
Do you share your home with a Lionhead? What are your favorite characteristics of the breed?