A guide to owning Lionhead rabbits

Lionhead Rabbit sat outside
(Image credit: Getty Image)

Lionhead rabbits are a popular breed of rabbit thanks to their cute appearance and compact size, and when cared for correctly, they can make excellent companion animals. Originating from Belgium, the Lionhead is a result of crossing two dwarf-sized breeds, thought to be the Netherland Dwarf and Swiss Fox.

Named Lionheads because of the distinctive mane of wool around their head and neck which can reach around 5cm in length, their trademark feature was caused by a gene mutation that gave them a lion-like appearance. But while there’s no denying how adorable they are, owning a Lionhead isn’t as straightforward as investing in the best rabbit hutch and the best rabbit toys.

While these little creatures are generally very good natured, smart and playful, they do have a tendency to be timid and can become aggressive when frightened. Let’s take a closer look at these little guys to help you decide if they’re the right fit for your family.

Breed characteristics of Lionhead rabbits

There’s no doubt that the Lionhead's most striking characteristic is its gorgeous mane that comes in both single or double varieties. A single mane goes around the head and neck, whereas a Lionhead with a double mane will also have it on the head as well as wool on the flank of their hind legs. Single mane Lionheads can lose their mane as they mature whereas double mane Lionheads will not.

The breed was officially recognized in the UK by the British Rabbit Council (BRC) in 2002, but it took until 2013 before the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) gave them the same status. In both countries, the Lionhead is recognized as a ‘Fancy Breed’.

How big is a fully grown Lionhead rabbit? 

Lionhead rabbits are relatively small, and the average adult should weigh approximately 1.4kg (3lbs) when fully grown, although some may be slightly larger or smaller than this. Their ears are upright and around 5-8cm in length. 

Are there Dwarf Lionhead rabbits? 

Dwarf Lionhead rabbits are not a recognised breed, although some crossbreeds or smaller Lionheads may appear to be dwarfs.

What colors are Lionhead rabbits? 

Two Lionhead Rabbits sat outside

(Image credit: Getty Images)

These bunnies come in a variety of colors, including the Red Eyed White (REW), Siamese Sable, Black, Chocolate, Blue and Lilac. On a par with other small rabbit breeds, their average lifespan is between 8-11 years, but some can reach into their teenage years, so when taking on a Lionhead you need to be sure you can care for it for its entire lifespan.

As with all rabbits, their early socialization and experiences of life go a long way in the development of their temperament and how well adjusted to humans they are, but the Lionhead rabbit’s temperament is often friendly and highly intelligent. As long as you invest in one of the best indoor rabbit hutches with plenty of space for them to play, you’ll find they do beautifully inside the home.

They’re also equally adaptable to living outside provided they have a large enclosure. If space is an issue either indoors or outdoors, we recommend purchasing one of the best rabbit runs which you can attach to your indoor or outdoor hutch and take down when not in use. This will give your Lionhead the extra room they need to hop about, which in spite of their small size, is an area of at least 60 square feet.

Grooming a Lionhead rabbit and special requirements

By and large, Lionhead rabbits have the same needs as most breeds or crossbreeds of rabbit. They should live in neutered pairs, have an enriching and large environment to allow natural behaviors, be vaccinated and fed a diet high in fibre, with the bulk of the diet (a minimum of 85%) consisting of hay and grass.

However, they do require some additional coat care to ensure their mane does not become matted and pieces of hay and forage do not become tangled in it. During times when they are not moulting, they need their manes combed and brushed 2-3 times per week with one of the best rabbit brushes; when moulting, this should be increased to daily. If the mane becomes matted, it can pull on the skin, causing discomfort and even tears to the skin. 

Where can I get Lionhead rabbits?

Lionhead rabbits are a common breed, both in the UK and USA, and therefore, if this is the breed you decide upon, you can locate a breeder through the British Rabbit Council (BRC) in the UK, or American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in the USA.

Due to a variety of reasons, lots of Lionhead rabbits also end up in rescue centres. Therefore, if you are considering a Lionhead rabbit, either as a companion for a sole rabbit you already have or as one or both of a pair, please seriously consider adopting through a rescue centre, who will be able to help and advise you. As well as this, you will know that you have given a rescue rabbit a second chance of happiness.

Should you get a Lionhead rabbit?

Lionhead rabbits are undoubtedly cute and if you are looking for small rabbits with lots of personality, then Lionheads may be for you. However, if you do decide to welcome a Lionhead into your family, make sure you have the time to groom them properly, and that you’re up for the commitment that their long lifespan entails. 

Claire currently works in Kettering as a Head Nurse in a practice with a high rabbit caseload, as well as frequently lecturing and writing on rabbits to both veterinary professionals and owners.