Caring for Large/Giant Rabbit Breeds
Information kindly provided by Tufty Fund Members
Pictured: Sirius, a Giant Papillion.
There are many breeds of rabbit that are larger than the average pet bunny. These range in size from the German Lop at around 3-4kg to the British Giant, which can weigh in at over 8kg! Other large breeds include the French Lop, English Lop and New Zealand, which whilst being large are smaller than the giant breeds such as the British Giant, Continental Giant, Flemish Giant and Giant Papillion. Of course many rescue bunnies maybe a cross between breeds. Whilst all these big bunnies can make wonderful pets their size means they have special needs you must consider before taking one on.
Large breeds of rabbit require a lot of space for both living and exercise. A hutch is not ideal, especially ones with different levels, as the bigger bunnies cannot negotiate steps so well as smaller bunnies. A rabbit proofed room of a house, and a nice big dog basket to sleep in or a small shed with dog basket to curl up in is generally the best option. If you do use a hutch it may need to be custom made, as it is difficult to find ready-made ones of a suitable size. Around 6'x2'x2' is the minimum for a hutch, although a giant rabbit may need even bigger. Daily exercise in a secure run will also be necessary.
The large rabbit breeds tend to get joint and mobility problems, especially if special attention is not paid to their diet and they get overweight. They are also more prone to problems with their eyes and teeth. The lifespan of larger rabbits is less than small-medium breeds, 5-6 years on average.
Maintaining a healthy diet is very important, as once over weight problems with dirty bottoms, joints and hearts become more of a problem than in a smaller bunny. The diet should be the same as smaller bunnies, but the addition of a vitamin supplement may be advisable to help ward off joint problems later. The hay is the main thing, and a diet rich in calcium. You should aim to feed a pile of hay at least equivalent to the body size of the rabbit twice daily. The chewing action of long hay (not the sort available in plastic bags in pet shops) is essential for healthy teeth. A complete pellet food and not a "complimentary" food should be given to provide a full balanced diet, along with vegetables, 'greens' and ReadiGrass. Spillers ReadiGrass is good for the larger breeds diet as it has high protein content and helps reduce the rabbit size health problems later on.
Pictured: French lops Bugsy and Snowey, with little Angus the lionhead.
Large rabbits, like their smaller friends, greatly benefit from the company of other rabbits. They can live happily with a smaller rabbit though care needs to be taken with introductions. As with any rabbits neutering is essential to prevent unwanted litters.
Bigger bunnies need to be paid a lot of attention and handled well from a young age, otherwise you can have "HUGE" problems if you, for example, need to pick them up to examine them or give them medicine if unwell. If well handled, they make wonderful and usually well tempered pets, but if they are given little exercise or attention, they soon get bored and can become nippy.
I love our Big "Boadicea" to bits, but she has a mind all of her own and has a lot of power in her legs and big teeth if she wanted to do us some damage she could!! Fortunately we have handled her from a baby, and she trusts and knows us well, and is happy to sit across my Lap… but she does pin me down with her weight!!!. I have a bad back from trying to pick her up too!! So big bunnies should come with a health warning. - Adele, Guardian Angels
Big rabbits can also mean big expenses. Things like large (custom made) hutches, diet (half a bale of hay a week), and huge carriers for vet trips... the costs soon mount up.
Big bunnies sometimes have problems keeping themselves clean as they are not so dextrous as smaller bunnies and cannot reach their lower quarters to groom, especially as they get older. Becoming over weight can also exacerbate grooming problems. Grooming is essential even for shorter-furred breeds and helps the bonding process with the owner… it also prevents loose fur being ingested and leading to fur balls.
Large rabbits have a lot more fur to moult so be prepared for a lot of lose fluff during moults. Giving a vitamin supplement can help speed up the moult.
We find our Frenchies have trouble cleaning themselves and tend to get wee stuck on their tails as their tails are extra long and drag in everything. It is an endless task keeping their bottom ends dry and spotless, so they are quite high maintenance... not so much when they are young, but later in life as they tend to get arthritis and cannot groom efficiently. - Tracy, Rabbit and Guinea Pig Welfare