Large in size and originally bred for meat, the New Zealand rabbit is becoming a popular show rabbit and family pet. Best known for their calm, gentle, and docile nature, these bunnies are primarily bred for meat, pelts, show, and laboratory uses.
But, can New Zealand rabbits be pets? Although they are most commonly bred for meat, New Zealand rabbis make fantastic pets. Calm, friendly, and even-tempered, these bunnies make great starter pets and get along nicely with younger and older kids. This rabbit breed isn’t known to bite, kick, or be aggressive and they love to be held.
If you are looking for a wonderful calm and affectionate pet rabbit for your family, keep on reading! In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the New Zealand rabbit breed.
What Is a New Zealand Rabbit?
Large in size, the New Zealand breed of rabbit is mostly bred for meat. Although they are excellent meat providers, they are also bred for show, pelts, laboratory testing, and as pet rabbits.
New Zealand Rabbit History and Origin
Despite its name, the New Zealand bunny is an American rabbit breed, originally developed in California. This breed was most likely created by mixing several breeds, including the Flemish giants and Belgian hares.
American rabbit breeders crossed different rabbit types in hopes of creating a meat-producing, show-quality rabbit. In 1916 these rabbits were added to the US rabbit standard as New Zealand Red rabbit.
Soon after, in 1917 to be exact, the white variety of the breed was developed separately by William S. Preshaw. The first litter of what will become White New Zealand rabbits were born to a New Zealand Red doe who had four albino kits.
These pure white kits had crimson eyes, and their striking appearance prompted William S. Preshaw to create more through selective breeding. While the red variety remained popular, the White New Zealand rabbits quickly became sought-after due to their white fur which can easily be dyed and is more in demand in the fur trade.
The New Zealand rabbit is popular across the United States and today there are five distinctive color varieties of this breed.
New Zealand rabbits are officially recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association. The British Rabbit Council, however, holds Red New Zealand rabbits to a different standard.
New Zealand Rabbit Characteristics
New Zealand rabbits have a broad, rounded, and muscular body with well-rounded haunches. This breed was originally developed as a meat rabbit, and their appearance shows it.
Their head is moderately rounded and proportionate with the rest of the body. They have well-furred and thick ears that stand straight up on their heads rather than being looped.
Size, Weight, Shape
New Zealand rabbits are typically medium to large in size and have a well-rounded commercial body shape.
When it comes to weight bucks are slightly smaller and weigh from nine to 11 pounds. Does are slightly larger and usually weigh from 10 to 12 pounds. Female rabbits may also have a dewlap, a fatty flap of fur under their chins, but male rabbits shouldn’t have a dewlap at all.
As mentioned previously, the New Zealand rabbit is recognized in five different colors, including red, white, blue, black, and broken. Crossbreeding can produce many other color variations such as chestnut agouti or gold-tipped steel. However, these rabbits aren’t eligible for showing.
The New Zealand rabbit has a short and dense flyback coat that is fairly easy to groom (source). Having a flyback coat means that the hairs will automatically return to their original position when stroked in an opposite direction.
Since rabbits are by default clean animals, you’ll only need to brush your pet New Zealand rabbit once a week to remove loose hair and reduce shedding.
The New Zealand rabbit breed has an average lifespan of five to eight years. Some bunnies may even live longer when taken to regular veterinary checkups and cared for properly.
Since New Zealand rabbits were primarily developed for meat and fur, they are naturally docile and easy to handle. This makes them great pet rabbits for first-time owners, seniors, couples, or families with younger or older children.
When properly socialized from an early age, New Zealand rabbits get nicely with kids and are wonderful furry playmates. They even enjoy being handled and are very relaxed, which makes them fantastic companions for people of all ages.
Unlike most other rabbit breeds, New Zealand rabbits don’t mind being picked up and held and will happily sit in your lap while they are petted. They even have a tendency to flop like an actual rag doll whenever you put them down and are sometimes called “rag dolls”.
New Zealand rabbits don’t have any aggressive tendencies and aren’t known to kick or bite when they are picked up or being held. But while they aren’t known to bite, you should still provide a variety of toys that will keep your pet rabbit mentally stimulated and prevent boredom (source).
While rabbits aren’t the easiest pet to train, New Zealand bunnies are smart and can be litter trained. Most owners find that having several litter boxes around the home is key to training their pet rabbits not to leave droppings all over the place. With the right approach, time, patience, and tasty treats you can successfully litter train your pet rabbit.
New Zealand Rabbit Care
Like all other rabbits, the New Zealand bunnies need a dedicated and loving owner who’ll ensure that all of their basic needs are met. When it comes to caring for your New Zealand rabbit, these are the things you need to pay attention to:
New Zealand rabbits are on the larger side, which means that their enclosure needs to be rather large. When setting up an enclosure for your New Zealand rabbit look for those that are at least 30” by 36” to make your bunny feel comfortable at home.
The perfect enclosure should be made of sturdy wire and have a plastic or hard bottom. Avoid cages with wire bottoms since they are uncomfortable for rabbits to stand in and can lead to sore hocks.
The bottom of the cage should be lined with rabbit-safe bedding that needs to be spot cleaned every day and completely removed once a week. Use hay, wood pellets, sawdust, or shredded paper to line your bunny’s cage and make it more appealing and cozy.
In addition to having a comfortable home, your New Zealand bunny will also need to be let out to play and explore on a regular basis. However, before you let your bunny out of the enclosure make sure to rabbit-proof the room the bunny will be playing in.
If you keep your bunny outside, make them a pen that will keep them in a secured area, away from predators and means of hopping away.
The ideal diet of a New Zealand rabbit is no different than the diet of any other rabbit. Feed your pet rabbit a diet that consists of 70% high-quality hay. The remaining 30% should be a good balance of fruits, vegetables, and pellets.
Pet New Zealand rabbits should be fed between 16 and 18% protein, while rabbits raised for meat should be fed more protein, around 18 to 20%.
The New Zealand rabbit doesn’t have any breed-specific health problems and is considered a generally healthy breed. However, they can be affected by common rabbit diseases.
Overgrown teeth, for example, are a common problem in pet rabbits who don’t eat enough hay on a daily basis. Eating hay naturally files a rabbit’s teeth, keeping them at a normal length and preventing them from growing into their jaws and cheeks.
Flystrike is another common rabbit health problem that is more often seen in outdoor rabbits. This condition happens when flies lay eggs in a rabbi’s soiled coat, mostly around their bumps.
Once the larvae hatch they start eating the rabbit, causing excruciating pain. If you suspect that your New Zealand rabbit is suffering from flystrike take them to the vet as soon as possible to get treated.
New Zealand Rabbit Price
New Zealand rabbits on average cost between $20 and $100. The exact price will depend on many factors, including coat color, lineage, and quality of the rabbit. If you decide to adopt a New Zealand rabbit from a rescue you may end up paying as little as $10 for it.
Although its name suggests differently, the New Zealand rabbit was developed in the United States and is one of the most popular rabbit breeds across the countries. Originally bred for meat, New Zealand bunnies are great meat providers but are becoming increasingly popular pets and show rabbits.
As pets, New Zealand bunnies are calm, affectionate, and friendly companions that like to be picked up, held, and petted. The easy-going and affectionate nature makes this breed a fantastic pet rabbit to people of all ages and first-time rabbit owners.