Lionhead Rabbit


There has been a lot of speculation on how the Lionhead rabbit began, but it is just that, purely speculation. I’m a history buff when it comes to rabbits and have spent nearly a year trying to piece together, just where did our Lionheads come from.

The breed did not first appear in 1996 as previously published, because they first arrived in England in the later part of 1995. It has been said that the Lionhead rabbit was produced by crossing the Swiss Fox and the Netherland Dwarf. That idea was just someone’s opinion when questioned as to how they came about. The idea that the Jersey Wooly was also used in the make up of the breed is totally false. The Jersey Wooly is not recognized in any European country, nor is the breed found in the United Kingdom. One source tells me that while breeders were working on the Angora Dwarf, the Lionhead mutation occurred in a litter of bunnies. That statement there was my beginning lead in piecing the history together. One thing for certain is the Lionhead rabbit is a mutation and the first major mutation in rabbits since 1932 when the Satin rabbit first appeared in a litter of Havanas.

Miss Meg Brown of Scotland is one of the world’s leading authorities on the domestic rabbit. She has dedicated her entire life to rabbits and their promotion world wide and at the young age of 88, has just finished another book. Meg is a past president of the British Rabbit Council (BRC) and is a Life Vice-President of same. Meg has served on the Board of Directors for the European Association of Poultry, Pigeons and Rabbit Breeders (EAPPRB) for 26 consecutive years. She has travel Europe extensively in her research work, visiting shows and rabbit breeders.

Fawn Doe
Litter of Six

Beige Rabbits
Belgian Hares
Deilenaar Rabbits
Enderby Island Rabbits
Harlequin Dutch Rabbits
Hulstlander Rabbits
Lionhead Rabbit
Perlfee Rabbits
Silver Fox Rabbits
Thrianta Rabbits


Meg Brown recently told me that that she first saw the Lionhead rabbit in France in 1966 and they were of a creamy gold color that was being called “Lapin Barbe” which translates to “Rabbit Beard” or “Bearded Rabbit”. These rabbits were of medium size and were considered mongrels by the French people. These rabbits with beards also were appearing in mixed litters of bunnies.

The noted Belgium rabbit judge, Mr. Flor Dickens recently wrote me with this information. “The Lionhead rabbit is not accepted in the Belgium Standard today. In the early 1970’s, they were shown in Belgium under the name of “Petegemse Baard” (3 – 3.5 kilo’s), however in the end the breed did not get acceptance. These days, we find the Lionhead dwarfs mainly in pet shops and the animal markets in Belgium. They have lost their popularity nowadays. The Lionhead dwarfs, were never shown in Belgium to get accepted.” Now to translate, “Petegem” is the name of a little village, actually there are two villages with that name. They are both located in the province of East-Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen, Flandre occidentale). Capital of that province is Ghent (Gent in Dutch, Gand in French). Belgium is divided into 10 provinces, 5 Dutch speaking in the North and 5 French speaking in the South of Belgium. Petegem-aan-de-Leie (De Leie is a river) situated near the town of Deinze. Deinze is situated 22 km west of Ghent. The second is Wortegem-Petegem (Two villages that have merged and so both names are mentioned) it lays on the Scheldt. This is also a big river (Schelde in Dutch, I’Escaut in French), it is near the town of Oudenaarde and lays 40 km south of Ghent. The name “Baard” means beard in Dutch, therefore the rabbit in Belgium is named after the villages for where it first appeared.

Meg Brown’s and Flor Dickens’ stories certainly have some things in common. The Lionhead’s name both contained the word “Beard”, both spoke of a medium size rabbit. This mutation did not make the attention of those who showed rabbits, but were merely used for meat or as pets. To further down size the “Bearded Rabbit” for the pet shop trade, there is no doubt that the European Pol (Netherland Dwarf) and other small breeds were crossed, giving us the vast array of colors we have today.

In the late 1970’s, breeders in France and Belgium set out to create the Dwarf Angora. Meg Brown tells me that breeders were having a difficult time getting the wool covering on the head and ears, there fore they crossed in the “Bearded Rabbit” which greatly improved this new breed. In looking at photos of the Dwarf Angoras, those heavily furnished and those that are not, you can certainly see our Lionheads, in wool, wool length (minimum 2 inches), ear furnishings, body type, head, stance and weight range (3 lb. 5 oz. to 4 lbs.) Meg has said that she believed the Lapin Barbe of France is now nearly extinct.

Finland began importing the Lionhead Rabbit in the mid 1990’s from Germany according to Leea Makela of Finland. Martin Neuberger of California wrote me that he lived in Tokyo, Japan 1994 to 1996 and saw Lionhead rabbits in both pet shops and rabbit specialty shops. He says, “Since I desperately was missing my rabbit hobby, I visited the shops often and became friendly with the staff. The Lionheads always came from European imports”. It should be noted that these rabbits in Tokyo sold for over $1,000.00 each. I received communications from a fellow in Singapore and he has purchased Lionheads at a pet shop there for $300.00 and his rabbits came from a broker in Belgium.

It appears that the Lionhead breed will never be accepted into the European Standard. The European Association of Poultry, Pigeons and Rabbit Breeders was founded on June 18, 1938 and to date they now have 20 member countries. Over the years they have developed an International Standard of Perfection and just this year (2002) have voted not to allow any more breeds of rabbits that are crossed with existing breeds into the organization’s standards.

The National Lionhead Rabbit Club was formed in 1996 in England. It was at the Bradford Championship Show in 1997 that a provisional standard was discussed for the Lionhead rabbit. That same year the British Rabbit Council voted that no more long haired breeds would be permitted into the standards.

Annette Poolock and Clarice Pell of Clarinette Stud writes, “Animal welfare associations, The House Rabbit Association and rescue associations all approached the club concerned about the long hair, as many long haired rabbits ended up in rescue in a terrible state. The club and BRC were also threatened with bad exposure in the National press if we dared to carry on producing these fluffy rabbits. If these rabbits were going to end up in rescue because of their matted coats then we had to rethink.”

“It was agreed that a small rabbit with long silky hair (not woolly) only around the head, not in the skirt area, would be acceptable to all concerned and also would comply with the BRC requirements.”

“Next was a discussion with a geneticist to see if it was possible to produce a rabbit with a smooth body and a long silky mane. As the long hair gene and short hair gene had never been produced in the same rabbit before (as required by the new standard), there was doubt whether it could be done. The rest is history, so now Lionhead breeders have proven something to the geneticists and kept the welfare and rescue and hopefully the BRC happy.”


Joyce Taylor and Derek Medlock of England attended a show in Bruges, Belgium in 1995 and in one of the many displays there was a large aviary filled with exotic birds and plants and to their amazement these cute little Lionhead rabbits were running about the floor. Arrangements were made to purchase some stock in a month while they were in Holland. Joyce and Derek recently told me that another


fellow from England by the name of Allen Fairhall went with them to Holland to get the rabbits. There were 21 Lionheads made available to them from two different breeders, one breeder was from Belgium and the other from the Belgium and French border. Allen Fairhall purchased 12 rabbits in various colors and Joyce and Derek purchased the remaining 9 animals all in the Sooty Fawn (Tortoise) color. Allen kept a trio of Seal Points and sold the reaming 9 animals to other British rabbit fanciers. Fairhall later sold his Lionhead stock and moved to Spain. Joyce and Derek to this day, continue to breed their Lionheads and have not cross them with any other breeds of rabbits. On May 5, 2002 Joyce Taylor took Best Of Breed Lionhead at the Southern Championship Show which was the first specialty show for the National Lionhead Rabbit Club.


The five lionheads that were first brought into Northern Minnesota included a Harlequin (Orange/Black), a Siamese Sable (carrier of the Harlequin and Steel), Black (with a Dutch blaze, a carrier of the Vienna gene), Silver Tipped Steel, Broken Chestnut Agouti, and a Harlequin. I would assume that there were two bucks and three does. In an attempt to broaden the gene pool several Minnesota breeders began crossing the Lionheads to various other small breeds such as, Netherland Dwarfs, Britannia Petite, Polish, and Florida Whites. Holland Lops have also been used in the Lionhead breeding program, but I still to this day cannot understand why.

There are four Certificate of Development holders for the erect eared Lionhead.
First………..Arden Wetzel…………Minnesota
Second…..Gail Gibbons…………Minnesota
Third……….Bob Whitman………..Texas
Fourth……..Theresa Mueller……Washington

The North American Lionhead Rabbit Club was founded on September 29, 2001 at the Minnesota State Rabbit Breeders Association State Show held in Elk River, Minnesota.
I encourage anyone interested in the Lionhead rabbit breed to join,
so that you may learn more about this exciting new breed.

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