When most people think of rabbits, they imagine small balls of fluff that don’t reach more than 5 pounds. But did you know there are some breeds of rabbits that reach over 10 or even 20 pounds? These large rabbit breeds are still the same species as other domestic rabbits, but (like dogs) they’ve been bred over time to be much larger than your average rabbit and require a little more specialized care.
In general, giant and large breeds of rabbits can be cared for the same as smaller rabbits. There are different requirements for housing and diet, to accommodate the larger size. Giant Rabbits are also more at risk for some medical concerns, such as heart attack and arthritis.
As a note, this article is discussing giant breeds of rabbits as pets only. I know they are commonly kept and bred as farm animals for their meat, but I will not go into the ethics, legal housing requirements, or husbandry techniques since this website solely focuses on the care of rabbits as pets and companions.
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What is a giant rabbit breed?
Most of the time when people talk about giant rabbits, they are specifically referring to Flemish Giant rabbits or Continental Giant rabbits (which is not actually a recognized breed in America), since these are the breeds that can reach 20 pounds and higher. However, there are four recognized breeds with ‘giant’ in the name (Flemish Giant, Checkered Giant, Giant Angora, and Giant Chinchilla). In addition, there are many more breeds that are quite large.
Since ‘giant’ is not a standardized word within rabbit breed terminology, I use it to include any large breed of rabbit that can reach over ten pounds when they are fully grown adults. Most of these rabbit breeds will still only be the size of a cat when fully grown (which is still quite large), but some can reach more than 15 pounds and be bigger than small dogs.
Large rabbits were originally bred as farm animals for their meat. This is still the case, even today since their large size makes the rabbits more appealing for that purpose. But, the long history as farm animals has also caused these rabbits to develop a more docile and friendly nature toward humans, making them an excellent choice for a pet rabbit.
The appearance of large breeds versus small breeds of rabbits
For the most part, giant rabbits will simply look like big rabbits. However, they tend to have stockier, more muscular bodies because of their history of being raised for their meat. This makes their appearance chubbier in proportion compared to smaller rabbits. They also usually have wider faces with the appearance of chunkier cheeks, especially in males.
Large rabbits also typically have a more pronounced dewlap and they are more common. A dewlap is the extra pocket of fat in front of a female rabbit’s neck. Usually, if a rabbit is spayed when she is young, she will not develop a significant dewlap, but larger females probably will regardless. In smaller species, male rabbits don’t develop a dewlap unless they are overweight. However, in larger breeds, some males will develop small dewlaps (called a pencil line) even if they are a healthy weight.
Another difference you may notice is the tips of rabbit ears. For most rabbit breeds with upright ears, the entire ear stays straight. However, with large rabbits with larger ears, the cartilage that makes up the shape of the ear can’t always support itself. It’s fairly common for the tips of their ears to be slightly floppy and bend more than the rest of the ear.
List of large rabbit breeds
The list of large and giant rabbits that are recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) include:
- American Chinchilla
- American Sable
- Argente Brun
- Blanc de Hotot
- Champagne d’Argent
- Checkered Giant
- Creme d’Argent
- English Lop
- Flemish Giant
- French Angora
- French Lop
- Giant Angora
- Giant Chinchilla
- New Zealand
- Silver Fox
Are giant rabbits harder to care for than smaller breeds?
All in all, giant rabbits require pretty much the same level of care as smaller breeds. Giant rabbits will, of course, need more space and food compared to smaller rabbits, but overall these don’t really affect the level of difficulty of the care rabbits need.
The two aspects that affect the level of care that giant rabbits need are the overall personality of the rabbits and the ease of handling. For many large rabbits, their calm personality makes them easier to care for. However, it’s also typically more difficult to handle giant rabbits due to their increased size.
The personality of giant rabbits
Most larger breeds of rabbits have been bred to have a more docile nature. This means that they are typically less aggressive toward humans and they are overall very affectionate. It’s more common for large rabbits to be lap rabbits who enjoy sitting on your lap or laying next to you on the sofa, and they often enjoy cuddling up next to you and are overall gentle giants.
Despite this, it’s important to remember that giant rabbits are still rabbits at heart. They still startle easily and tend to be more skittish than other common household pets (like cats and dogs) because of their instincts as prey animals.
It’s also important to remember that these are just general personality traits of most giant rabbits. I’ve known giant rabbits that were incredibly sweet and friendly, but I’ve also known large rabbits who were not socialized with humans when they were younger. As a result, they maintained a general wariness of people and did not end up being very affectionate. That’s why it’s always a good idea to go to an animal shelter and meet the rabbit you want to adopt so you can learn their personality since it doesn’t always match up with how their breed says they’re supposed to act.
Rabbits, both small and large, are also going to have the instincts to dig and chew. You’ll have to be just as careful to ensure your home is fully rabbit-proofed to make sure your rabbit doesn’t get hurt or get too destructive.
Handling giant rabbits
Most rabbits don’t like being held, and this goes for giant rabbits too. This is why their large size can make it much more difficult to handle them when picking them up to clip their nails, put them in a carrier, administer medicine, or hold them for any other reason. The weight of the rabbit and overall stocky body type makes it difficult to get a good grip and keep the rabbit from kicking out of your arms.
Are giant rabbits good pets for children?
Large and giant rabbits are often better pets for children than smaller breeds. Since most large rabbits have a much more laid-back personality, they tend to be calmer when they are touched. Since they are larger, it’s also less likely that children will try to (or be able to) pick the rabbit up and handle them in a way that will injure them.
However, it depends on the personality of the specific rabbit you want to bring home as a pet. While most giant and large breeds of rabbits are calmer and friendlier than smaller breeds, that doesn’t apply to every single rabbit as an individual. If you want to bring a large rabbit into a home with children, I recommend letting your kids meet and interact with the rabbit first before deciding to adopt.
In general, I don’t recommend rabbits as pets for children younger than five years old. Since rabbits do have sharp claws and strong teeth, there is the potential for injury when children are younger and don’t understand how to respect a pet’s boundaries.
Even for older children, always treat your rabbit as a family pet. You, as the adult, need to take responsibility for the rabbit’s well-being and make sure the rabbit’s needs are taken care of. You also need to make sure your child learns how to pet and interact with your rabbit without pulling their ears, or feet, incorrectly handling them, or otherwise hurting the rabbit.
Caring for giant rabbit breeds
Giant rabbit breeds can be cared for the same way as smaller breeds of rabbits. There are some differences in the amount of space they require and the amount of food these rabbits eat, but if you learn about basic rabbit care, what you learn will also apply to large rabbits. (learn more about basic rabbit care)
Space requirements for giant rabbits
As you might expect, giant rabbits need a lot more space than smaller breeds. The general rule for rabbits is that the enclosure should be three to four times the full length of your rabbit when they are stretched out. And that’s just for their living space. Rabbits require even more space to exercise daily.
This ends up being a whole lot of space devoted to your rabbit. You can get multiple pet exercise pens (this kind of pen) and link them together to create your rabbit’s habitat. But an even better solution is to free-roam your rabbit.
Rather than trying to find an enclosure that’s big enough, you can let your rabbit roam free around your home just like a cat or a dog. As long as you rabbit-proof your home and litter-train your rabbit, this scenario is definitely the best option for helping you and your rabbit live happily together. If you can’t give your rabbit your whole home, consider rabbit-proofing one room and making it the bunny room.
Large rabbits do tend to lay around a little more than smaller rabbits. It always seems to me that the smaller the rabbit the more hyperactive they are. That means it’s even more important to make sure your giant rabbit has ample time to explore and get some exercise. This won’t be a problem at all if your rabbit is free-roamed, but if they live in an enclosure, be sure to let your rabbit out for exercise whenever you are home.
Large rabbits usually don’t hop up on top of things as much as smaller rabbits. They tend to prefer the floor and usually don’t even bother hopping up onto a couch or platform like smaller rabbits. For this reason, you’ll need to make sure your rabbit has enough floor space to get the exercise that they need.
Should giant rabbit breeds be kept indoors or outdoors?
I advocate for keeping rabbits as indoor pets, whether big or small. Overall, pet rabbits are safer when they are kept indoors. There is no risk of predators coming, and the risk of parasitic bugs is minimal when rabbits are kept indoors. Indoors also tends to be more climate controlled, so you don’t have to worry as much about your rabbits getting heat stroke in the summer or frostbite in the winter.
While giant rabbits do need a lot of space, most apartments (even studios) are big enough as long as your rabbit is free roam. If you live in a larger apartment or house, you almost definitely have enough space indoors for your giant rabbit to be happy and comfortable.
Diet for giant rabbit breeds
The diet for giant rabbit breeds is more-or-less the same as smaller rabbits, they just need more of everything. First and foremost, your rabbit will need plenty of timothy hay to munch on all day long. This is the most important part of your rabbit’s diet because it keeps their digestion healthy.
Giant rabbits will also need fresh leafy greens on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be a strict amount but generally think about half a cup per pound of body weight (loosely packed) or two handfuls for every 5 pounds that your rabbit weighs. Think romaine lettuce, spring greens, herbs, kale, and other types of leafy greens (avoid iceberg lettuce). (list of greens for rabbits to eat).
Rabbits should also get pellets every day. About ½ to ¾ cup is a good guideline for most large rabbits (or about 1 Tablespoon per pound they weigh). However, since many large rabbits will gain weight quicker than small rabbits, you may need to reduce the daily pellets according to your veterinarian’s instructions to help your rabbit maintain an ideal weight. Take the numbers in this chart as a suggestion, and make adjustments according to your individual rabbit’s needs.
|Weight of Rabbit||Amount of Daily Pellets|
|10 lbs||½ cup + 2 Tbsp (10 Tbsp)|
|11 lbs||½ cup + 3 Tbsp (11 Tbsp)|
|12 lbs||¾ cup (12 Tbsp)|
|13 lbs||¾ cup + 1 Tbsp (13 Tbsp)|
|14 lbs||¾ cup + 2 Tbsp (14 Tbsp)|
|15 lbs||¾ cup + 3 Tbsp (15 Tbsp)|
Avoid sweet fruits and vegetables (including carrots, apples, raspberries, bananas, etc.) except as treats. These are bad for a rabbit’s digestion in large amounts, so it’s best to cut them into small pieces and only give them out as the occasional yummy treat.
What kind of bedding do giant rabbits need?
Giant rabbits don’t really need bedding. However, to protect their feet (which are prone to developing sores), you might want to include soft bath mats around your home, particularly in areas where your rabbit likes to loaf around for long periods of time.
If your rabbit is free roam, consider a large dog crate as a bed and home base. Put soft mats down at the bottom of the crate for your rabbit’s feet. This is also a great place to put your rabbit’s litter box, hay trough, and food bowls so that you can more easily contain any mess that your rabbit makes.
Most of all, you want to avoid any kind of wire-bottom crates or cages. The wire floors can easily cause sore hocks to develop on your rabbit’s feet, so add padding (towels, blankets, mats, etc.) on top of the wire to help prevent that.
Health concerns for giant rabbit breeds
Although the care for giant rabbit breeds is very similar to small rabbits, they do have an increased risk of developing some diseases or illnesses compared to their smaller counterparts. You’ll want to be on the alert for these conditions and talk to your vet about making changes to your rabbit’s diet or environment if they become an issue.
- Sore hocks (pododermatitis). This is a condition where the rabbit gets sores on the heels of their hind legs. It can happen to any rabbit but is especially common in large and obese bunnies because of the excess weight that’s being put on their feet. Avoid wire-bottomed cages to help prevent sore hocks.
- Heart attack. Large rabbits are much more prone to cardiovascular problems because their little heart has to work so hard to keep their larger body going.
- Arthritis. The joints of larger rabbits are put under more stress and pressure than smaller breeds. For this reason, it’s more common for them to get arthritis earlier in life, even when they are still young rabbits.
- Obesity. Most large rabbits were originally bred for their ability to gain weight easily, so they are more likely to become obese. This is why it’s so important to work with your vet to design a healthy diet for your rabbit since obesity is a risk factor for many, many rabbit diseases and fatal conditions (such as GI Stasis)
- Poopy butt and fly strike. Sometimes giant rabbits are so big that they struggle to bend over and keep their backside clean. Sometimes it’s also that their dewlap is too big and gets in the way of normal self-grooming behaviors. This can cause poop to collect around the rabbit’s bottom, forming into a smelly ball. This, in turn, makes the rabbit a much bigger target for a deadly condition known as fly strike.
- Heat stroke. Since giant rabbits are bigger and there is already pressure on their hearts due to their size, giant rabbits are also at an increased risk of heat stroke. With large rabbits, it’s best to try to keep their living temperature at or below 70ºF (21ºC) to keep your rabbit comfortable and safe.
How often should you visit a veterinarian?
Just like other pets, you should bring your giant rabbit to the vet about once a year. As the rabbit ages or if they develop a health concern, you may want to talk with your vet and go for checkups more frequently.
For rabbits, you do want to make sure you go to a veterinarian that specializes in small animals. Their anatomy is different from cats and dogs, so some of the standard medicines and procedures are not safe for rabbits. To help you find a rabbit vet near you, check out the House Rabbit Society’s (US) list of veterinarians, or the Rabbit Welfare Association’s list (UK).
Life expectancy of giant rabbit breeds
Unfortunately, large rabbit breeds do have a shorter life expectancy than smaller breeds. While other rabbits have an expected lifespan of about 8-12 years, the lifespan of large rabbit breeds is estimated to be about 6 to 9 years, mainly due to the increased health risks (especially cardiovascular disease).
Supplies for large rabbit breeds
Some supplies that you’ll need to get for giant rabbits are different from what you’ll need for small rabbits. For the most part, it’s just a matter of getting products that are cat-sized rather than rabbit-sized, but these are a couple of things you can think about getting for your big bunny:
- Large litter box. Rabbits like to have enough room to fully fit and turn around inside their litter box.
- Multiple soft pad floorings. This will help prevent sore hocks from forming on your rabbit’s feet.
- Cat cubes. Rabbits like having a hidey house, but most that are marketed toward rabbits are too small. Instead, a cat cave is usually a better size for your big bunny.
- Multiple ex pens. If you have to keep your rabbit in an enclosure, I recommend using 2 or more exercise pens so that the rabbit still has enough space to move around in their habitat.
- A dog crate. If your rabbit is free roam, you can use a large dog crate as a home base area for your rabbit. You can put their litter box, hay, and food bowls here so that the rabbit doesn’t make a mess in the whole house.
- “Arthritis in Rabbits.” Rabbit Welfare Association. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/illness/rabbit-arthritis/
- Brown, Susan DVM. “Small Animal Nutrition.” House Rabbit Society. Jun. 10, 2012. rabbit.org/small-animal-nutrition.
- “Caring for Giant Rabbits.” Rabbit Welfare Association. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/maintenance-handling/caring-giant-rabbits/
- “Sore Hocks in Rabbits.” PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/skin/c_rb_ulcerative_pododermatitis
- “Spinal Column Disorder in Rabbits.” PetMD. https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/musculoskeletal/c_rb_spondylosis_deformans
- Van Praag, Esther. “Congestive heart failure in rabbits.” MediRabbit.com. February 2015. http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Cardiology/Failure/Cong_heart_en.pdf