Written by: Tarah Schwartz
Rabbits are affectionate pets that adore attention from their favorite humans, but some breeds are more friendly than others.
Through my extensive experience with rabbits over the last 15 years or so, I’ve met some of the friendliest breeds of rabbits in the world. For over a decade, I bred and showed rabbits across the country. Of all the breeds I had the pleasure to meet, these are 10 of the friendliest rabbit breeds.
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As a former ARBA breeder of Californian rabbits, I wholeheartedly recommend them as one of the friendliest breeds of rabbit. The Californian is a medium-sized rabbit, usually weighing between 8 and 11 pounds. They are a muscular rabbit with a soft, dense coat. They are always white with colored points and red eyes. The ARBA breed standard states that the markings on their nose, ears, feet, and tail must be as dark as possible.
The breed was originally developed in the 1920’s by rabbit breeder George West of California. He created the breed by crossing New Zealand Whites with Himalayans and Chinchillas. His intent was to create the perfect meat breed, but he unwittingly also created a perfect pet.
Californian rabbits thrive in both indoor and outdoor enclosures, so long as they are protected from the elements. They are an active breed and require plenty of space to stretch their legs and roam. They also love playing with toys and will happily entertain themselves with any bunny-safe toy.
Californians can be shy, but with proper socialization they are affectionate and cuddly rabbits. One of my most successful show rabbits was a Californian male named Max who would greet visitors to my home by leaping into their laps to snuggle.
Mini Lops are one of the smaller breeds of rabbits, weighing in at just 3 to 6 pounds. They have a compact, thick-set body and ears that lop vertically on both sides of their head. Mini Lops have a glossy, dense coat of medium length. They come in all recognized colors, both solid and broken pattern.
The Mini Lop breed was originally created in the 1970’s by crossing German Lops with smaller Chinchilla rabbits. The goal was to create a more compact, attractive version of the German Lop. The breed was officially recognized by the American Rabbit Breeder’s Association in 1980.
What Mini Lops lack in size, they make up for in personality. They are incredibly friendly, playful, and easy to train. Some Mini Lops can be skittish around boisterous children, so they may do best in calmer households with older children.
Mini Lops have no particular health problems apart from conditions that can affect rabbits of any breed. They are incredibly intelligent and can easily be litterbox trained. As one of the friendliest rabbit breeds, Mini Lops are a favorite of knowledgeable rabbit lovers.
The Rex breed is a medium-sized rabbit weighing between 7 and 10 pounds at maturity. They are known for their characteristic soft fur. Their coat lacks the long guard hairs typically of other breeds, resulting in a short, dense fur with a plush and velvety texture. The ARBA breed standard accepts 16 different coat colors including solid and broken patterns.
The Rex actually originated in 1919 from a litter of wild rabbits in France. The rabbits had a unique recessive gene that gave them their plush coat and breeders selectively bred the rabbits to develop the modern Rex breed.
Once you’ve met a Rex, it’s not too hard to see why people quickly fell in love with the breed. They are a docile breed that’s just as happy to be petted as they are to explore their surroundings. Rexes bond quickly to their caretakers but will be equally friendly to strangers as long as they are properly socialized.
Though their coat may look high maintenance, most breed experts actually recommend less frequent grooming than most breeds to prevent damage to their coat. As with most rabbits, they do best with a fellow rabbit for companionship. Rexes do not require any special care beyond that of the average rabbit.
If you love the velvety coat of the Rex rabbit, but prefer a smaller breed, look no further than the Mini Rex. Mini Rexes are among the friendliest rabbit breeds and have the same plush coat as a full-sized Rex, but in a smaller package. Mini Rexes weigh just 3.5 to 4.5 pounds and come in 19 different coat colors.
Although the Rex coat originated in France, the Mini Rex was developed in the United States in the 1980’s. Breeders intended to combine the velvety coat of the Rex with the more compact body size of dwarf rabbits.
Mini Rexes are often more energetic than their full-sized counterparts, but still display the same friendly and affectionate behavior toward their favorite people. They enjoy the company of other rabbits and love playing with their favorite toys. Although they may be small, Mini Rexes need plenty of space to explore and exercise.
Although Californians were the main focus of my breeding program, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Mini Rexes too. One of my males, Ozzy, would always follow me through the house as I went about my business because he always wanted to be involved. Most Mini Rexes that I’ve encountered have been just as sweet, curious, and playful as my dear Ozzy.
Dutch rabbits were once one of the most popular rabbit breeds, due in part to their friendly nature. Dutch rabbits are a medium-sized breed, weighing between 3.5 and 5.5 pounds at maturity. They have compact, well-rounded bodies and an unmistakable color pattern. The Dutch rabbit comes in 7 different color varieties, each with the characteristic white markings on the face, torso, and feet.
Despite the Dutch rabbit’s name, it was not developed in the Netherlands but rather in England. Rabbits were frequently imported to England from Belgium for the meat market and English buyers preferred the size and markings of the Petit Brabançon breed, which were similar to those found on the Dutch rabbit today. Breeders selected rabbits with the most even markings, leading to the distinctive look of the modern Dutch rabbit.
The Dutch rabbit is a popular choice for pet rabbit owners as they are friendly, calm, and easy to train. Dutch rabbits do well in both indoor and outdoor enclosures, provided they are protected from the elements, predators, and extreme temperatures. They are an ideal choice for calm homes with older, responsible children.
Lionhead rabbits are a newer breed and can be recognized by the thick, wooly mane around their necks. They are a dwarf breed, typically weighing between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds. They have shorter ears than many dwarf breeds, usually just 2 to 3 inches long. Lionheads can be single- or double-maned, which simply indicates whether a rabbit has one or two copies of the mane gene.
Lionheads are an incredibly friendly breed, but they may not be ideal for first-time rabbit owners. They can be a bit skittish, but an experienced caretaker will have the knowledge necessary to help their Lionhead feel at ease and allow their personality to blossom. Once you know how to make your Lionhead comfortable, you can expect to have a playful and affectionate companion.
Like all rabbits, Lionheads are sociable creatures and do best with at least one other rabbit for companionship. They can easily be litterbox trained, so they are suitable as house rabbits. Since Lionheads are brachycephalic, which means they have a flatter face than many other breeds, they are more prone to respiratory and eye problems than the average rabbit. It’s also common for some Lionheads’ manes to become thinner with age.
Like the Mini Lop, the Holland Lop is a dwarf lop-eared breed. The name Mini Lop might imply that they are the smaller breed, but the Holland Lop is actually the smaller of the two. According to the ARBA breed standard, the maximum allowable weight for an adult Holland Lop is 4 pounds, though they can be as small as 2 pounds.
The Holland Lop breed began in the 1940’s when Dutch breeders began crossing French Lops with Netherland Dwarfs in an attempt to create a smaller lop-eared breed. They hoped to preserve the friendly nature of the two breeds but combine their physical attributes.
The original creators of the Holland Lop would be pleased to see their breed as it is today. Holland Lops are one of the most popular breeds for pet rabbits due to their friendliness, intelligence, and calm demeanor.
Holland Lops have no special care requirements beyond the basics of rabbit husbandry. They are an active breed, so they do require enough space and enrichment to exercise their body and mind. They enjoy playing with bunny-safe toys, especially if they can chew on them.
At first glance, it’s common for people to confuse a Himalayan rabbit with a Californian. This was a common experience that I had when traveling to rabbit shows. Though they share a similar coat pattern, the most noticeable difference is their size. Himalayan rabbits are smaller than Californians, usually weighing between 2.5 and 4.5 pounds.
Like Californians, Himalayan rabbits’ markings can actually change depending on the temperatures they are kept in. Warm weather may cause their dark points to lighten or become “frosted” with white hairs. Colder temperatures may cause the markings to darken and some rabbits may also develop dark coloring around the eyes or in the middle of their white coats. These misplaced markings are referred to as “smut”.
Himalayans were used in the development of the Californian breed and for obvious reason. They are incredibly friendly rabbits that are known for their gentle temperament. Himalayans are one of the friendliest rabbit breeds are a popular choice as both pets and show rabbits.
Himalayans are a calm breed that enjoy living in quiet households. They prefer older, more responsible children over young, boisterous children. Like all rabbits, they require quite a bit of care and attention and are not suitable pets for families without the time to dedicate to their wellbeing.
As the name suggests, the Flemish Giant is one of the largest breeds of domestic rabbit. On average they weigh about 15 pounds, but the largest Flemish Giants are closer to about 22 pounds. A Flemish Giant holds the record for being the longest rabbit in the world at 4 feet 3 inches long. The ARBA breed standard recognizes seven different colors for the breed.
The Flemish Giant is an old breed, as the first breed standards were written in 1893 in Belgium. They quickly gained popularity due to their unique size and gentle demeanor. By around 1910, they were a common sight at rabbit and livestock shows.
This breed is known as the “Gentle Giant” because of its docile temperament and affectionate nature. Like all rabbits, frequent interaction and ongoing socialization is a requirement of their care. Flemish Giants thrive on gentle and affectionate care. They can become fearful or aggressive if they are handled irresponsibly.
Flemish Giants are a large breed and they require more space than the average rabbit. Cages with wire mesh floors should be avoided as they can cause sores due to the breed’s weight. Flemish Giants are also somewhat more sensitive to the heat than other breeds, so they must be protected from extreme temperatures.
One of the smallest yet friendliest rabbit breeds is the Netherland Dwarf. Weighing just 1.2 to 2.5 pounds, the Netherland Dwarf has a big personality in a small package. Netherland Dwarfs have compact, or “cobby”, bodies. They have characteristically short ears and rounded heads. The ARBA breed standard recognizes over 20 different coat colors.
Though the Netherland Dwarf had a reputation for fearfulness and aggression during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the modern breed has a more stable and friendly temperament. Netherland Dwarfs are a sensitive breed and will do best with a quiet, experienced owner.
Like the Lionhead, Netherland Dwarfs are brachycephalic, so they do have an increased risk of dental, respiratory, and eye problems. Though they may be small, Netherland Dwarfs are extremely active and require plenty of space for recreation. They love playing with their favorite chewable toys and cuddling with their favorite people.
Although the 10 breeds listed here are some of the friendliest around, it’s important to remember that all rabbits are individuals with unique personalities. Even if a breed is known for its friendliness, an individual rabbit will still have his or her own unique likes and dislikes. All rabbits require ongoing socialization and attention in order for them to feel comfortable enough to express their feelings and personalities.
Remember, rabbits are not a low-maintenance pet or a “starter” pet. They require constant care and attention and are not the type of pet that can be cared for solely by a young child. They are also social animals that should be kept in groups of at least 2. In my experience, rabbits are an incredibly rewarding pet that can bring so much joy, as long as all of their needs are met.