Lionhead Rabbit - breed information and advice

Lionhead Rabbits are characterised by a distinctive wool mane – the result of a genetic mutation – that gives them a lion-like appearance. Their unique look makes them very popular show rabbits, as well as domestic pets.

Breed information

Essentials

Size: Extra small, weighing about 1.36kg (3lb).

Coat: Lionhead Rabbits have soft, woolly medium-length fur that requires regular grooming. These manes are known as either ‘double’ or ‘single’. In double-mane Lionheads, the fur is prominent around most of the body, especially the head and hindquarters, while single-maned Lionheads have a mane around the head and ears that diminishes as they age. Lionheads are bred in a variety of colours including black, blue, lilac and chestnut.

Temperament: Lionheads are docile, intelligent rabbits that love attention. However, as they can be unpredictable when frightened or stressed, experts say they aren’t suitable for families with small children.

Lifespan: 7-9 years.

Respiratory tract disorders

As rabbits have a relatively small lung space, respiratory infections are quite common across all breeds. Lionheads are prone to respiratory conditions because the roots of their upper teeth sit just below their sinuses. If the upper teeth and gums become inflamed, this can lead to sinus infections.

Other respiratory conditions can include snuffles, a term used to describe symptoms including rapid breathing, a runny nose and eyes, and coughing. The pasteurella bacteria can cause this infection, and can be spread between rabbits. If treated promptly, a course of antibiotics will successfully clear up the condition.

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Dental disease

Many rabbits suffer from dental problems. Because rabbits’ teeth are constantly growing, they need a good, balanced diet with plenty of hay to help wear down teeth at an even rate. Lionheads are particularly prone to dental disorders because of their smaller heads and slightly longer jaw, which can create misalignment problems.

They can suffer from mandibular prognathism, which leads to abnormal patterns of dental wear, causing elongated teeth or altered teeth positions. Symptoms include weight loss, dribbling or gut problems.

Vets can burr down teeth under anaesthetic to help improve misalignment and remove sharp spikes, which might dig into the sensitive tissues of the tongue and cheeks.

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Parasites

Parasites are a common problem among all breeds of rabbit. Cheyletiella mites in particular can cause itching and hair loss, but can be easily treated with anti-mite preparations in the form of an injection or spot-on treatment.

The E cuniculi parasite can be more difficult to treat. It’s spread by spores in the urine and can be passed on to other rabbits. Although some rabbits with the parasite are symptomless, others are more sensitive. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, cataracts, head tilt and paralysis in the back legs. Although the parasite can’t be removed entirely, symptoms can be managed with worming treatments.

In warm weather, rabbits may be prone to flystrike – where flies lay eggs in their fur, leading to a maggot infestation. Lionheads may be more at risk of flystrike, as eggs can easily stick to their long fur or any tangles. Rabbits that are already unwell and aren’t grooming themselves properly are particularly at risk. With prompt intervention, treatment can be effective, but it’s important to address the reasons why flystrike occurred in the first place. For example, an inability to groom properly due to a pre-existing condition such as dental issues, obesity, diarrhoea or prolonged periods of inactivity.

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Spinal injury

Lionheads, like all rabbits, have extremely delicate spines. A frightened or startled rabbit may suddenly kick out with its hind legs, which can cause spinal damage from the force of the movement. Injuries can also occur if a rabbit is incorrectly handled or even dropped. Symptoms include paralysis of the hind legs, incontinence and lethargy.

Treatment depends on the severity of the fracture and the general wellbeing of the rabbit. If the injury has resulted in total paralysis of the hind legs and bladder incontinence, a vet may advise that putting the rabbit to sleep is the kindest option. Although spinal trauma cannot be cured, there are some procedures that can help correct an injury, as well as anti-inflammatory medication to address pain. Usually though, rabbits who have suffered a severe spinal fracture do not feel any pain at all.

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Gastrointestinal disorders

Rabbits’ digestive tracts are very sensitive – they need lots of fibre to stimulate gut movement and help maintain a healthy digestive system. Conditions such as gastric stasis can occur when the gut stops working or is obstructed, creating a build-up of gas and bacteria that causes bloating. The condition can lead to the release of toxins, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Although relatively common in all rabbits, some breeds are more susceptible to gastrointestinal disorders than others. Rabbits prone to dental problems, such as Lionheads, and those that are easily stressed, may lose their appetite and therefore not eat the fibre they need to keep their guts moving. Symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, a hunched posture, reduced bowel movements and diarrhoea.

Treatment may involve the use of motility drugs to help stimulate gut movement, pain medication and antibiotics. Providing plenty of fresh hay, and limiting pelleted food and treats, will ensure rabbits get enough fibre to prevent gastrointestinal disorders.

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