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Choosing a New Zealand Rabbit

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Centuries ago, domestication of the rabbit began. In separate parts of the world, Romans and French monks began domesticating the wild European rabbit for their fur and meat. As time progressed, rabbits also became known as excellent pets and many different breeds were developed.

History and Origin

The New Zealand rabbit was one of the first breeds specifically developed for meat purposes and is considered the first utility breed developed in America. In the United States, all New Zealands belong to one classification. In other parts of the world, the New Zealand red is considered a separate breed from the New Zealand white. The New Zealand black and New Zealand blue are considered part of the New Zealand white category.

Though there was some early controversy about the origin of the New Zealand, it is now accepted that the breed developed as a cross between Flemish giants and Belgian hares. The name of the New Zealand may be based on earlier thoughts that the breed was developed from rabbits imported from New Zealand in the early 1900s.

The New Zealand red and New Zealand white are the most popular meat-producing breeds in the world but also are popular pets. In the 1960s, the New Zealand black was developed as a mutation of the New Zealand white. Later, another color variety, the New Zealand blue, was developed.

Appearance

The New Zealand is a large rabbit weighing about 9 to 12 pounds. The ears are erect with a rounded tip. The coat color varies from red to white, black or blue and the hair is coarse. Since the New Zealand is a meat breed, the hips tend to be well developed.

Feeding

Commercial rabbit pellets are recommended. Feed 1/4 cup of pellets per five pounds of body weight every day. For rabbits under eight months of age, feed unlimited plain alfalfa pellets. Fresh rinsed greens, vegetables, and fruit, as well as grains and hay, can then be given as supplements. Free choice hay, such as timothy, should always be available and changed daily, but alfalfa hay, which is too rich, should not be offered free choice to rabbits over eight months of age.

Housing

Many rabbits do very well in the home. They can be litter box trained and are quite fastidious groomers. Be aware that rabbits love to chew so make sure all wires are safely hidden or in protective plastic covers and understand that some of your furniture may be nibbled. If you choose to cage your rabbit, make sure the cage is at least 2-foot by 2-foot by 4-foot. If the cage has a wire bottom make certain you give the rabbit a plank or sea grass mats to stand on so his feet won't get damaged from being on the wire all the time. Provide a hide box or shelter and plenty of straw for bedding.

Health Concerns

As with other rabbits, New Zealands do not do well in high or low temperatures. They are prone to hairball obstructions and matted coats if not cared for properly. Rabbits need daily grooming to remove loose hair. Other health concerns include earmites, Pasteurella, respiratory disease, dental problems, urinary bladder stones and fractured backs. Be quick to notice any changes in diet or litter box habits and contact a rabbit veterinarian immediately.

The average life span of a breeding New Zealand rabbit is five to six years. By spaying or neutering early in life, you can increase their life expectancy to around 10 years.

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