What looks like a true hare but is actually a rabbit? The Belgian Hare
Sometimes different names are used to describe this breed of rabbit, such as:
- The Belgian Hare Rabbit,
- The Wild Belgian,
- The Flemish Giant Hare,
- The Belgian Hare Bunny
Background Of The Belgian Hare
The Belgian Hare is a very intelligent and wiry, large breed of domestic rabbit that originated in Belgium in the late 1800s.
This is a speedy and fine-boned breed of rabbit with a small, long head and enormous upright ears; it looks like the type of wild hare described in fairy tales and folklore.
Their racy nature and has earned them the nickname of ‘The Poor Man’s Racehorse’.
Belgian Hares are skittish and very alert. They are easily startled by sudden noises or movements and may kick out from their well-rounded strong hindquarters, so beware!
Belgian Hare bunnies are very sweet and cute and a popular domestic rabbit breed as show rabbits or pet rabbits.
What’s the difference between a Hare and a Rabbit?
The main differences include:
- A true hare is wild and rabbits are domesticated mammals
- Hares are born with fur and full eyesight while rabbits are born without fur and are blind
- Hares live above ground while rabbits can live underground in burrows
- A Hare’s coat changes from a Brown or Gray color in summer to white in winter, while a rabbit’s coat color does not change with the seasons
- Hares are larger with longer ears and hindquarters than rabbits’
- Hares are solitary animals while rabbits are social
- Hares eat rougher twigs foliage while rabbits eat grasses and vegetables.
- You can eat the meat from both, but hare meat is darker, richer and stronger than the meat of a rabbit
A brief history of the Belgium Hare, a breed of domestic rabbit
The first Belgian Hare rabbits originated in the Flanders area of Belgium in the early 18th Century.
Domestic rabbits were crossed with wild European rabbits to produce a large rabbit, that had the body form, color, and fur type of a wild hare (a Leporine), and was a good meat rabbit.
In the 1870s, this type of rabbit was imported into England, United Kingdom, from Belgium, and some from Germany, by two English men, Mr. Winter William Lumb, and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Graves; who were small livestock importers with a shipping firm.
In 1873, early English Belgian Hare rabbit breeders W.W Lumb, Dr. J. Salter, and Dr. Barnham were amongst those early breeders in the UK credited with developing the breed they had two aims:
- To breed a larger version of this leporine
- To breed it to look like the common wild hare of England.
The larger version was the Patagonian, which had a name change to the ‘Flemish Giant’ rabbit, and the other one that achieved the look of the wild hare was named the Belgian Hare.
The red-colored Leporine (hare-like rabbits) looked very like the English common hare and with further selective breeding, it developed an appearance more like a wild hare.
In 1882, the first standard for the Belgian Hare was written, requiring ‘a more racy shape’, and then ‘more ticking’ was added into the standard in 1889; to ensure it resembled a true wild hare.
So how did this Belgian Hare breed of rabbit develop?
The Belgian hare continued to be bred to resemble a true hare as much as possible, with its active spirit too.
It developed a greater length of limb, a long muscular flank, well-rounded hindquarters, and a prominently arched back.
The Belgian hare rabbit is the image of a wild rabbit in fairy tales and folklore.
There are two recognized varieties:
- The traditional ‘Rufous’ variety; which has a deep red rufous colored undercoat with black ticking on top.
- The ‘Tan’ variety; which includes a Black, Chocolate, or Lilac color with a tan undercoat.
Where did they go to next, and how did this breed of rabbit develop?
The Belgian Hare quickly gained popularity for its size, look, and meat quality and it was imported into the United States of America in 1888 by E. M. Hughes.
The Belgian hare is considered one of the oldest breeds of rabbits in America.
In 1882, the first Belgian Hare was presented at a show and popularity of this breed spread across America.
In 1897, the National Belgian Hare Club of America was established, and shortly afterward the National Pet Stock Association added the ‘Belgian Hare’ breed under its ‘all-breed’ group.
After many name changes the National Pet Stock Association, became the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA).
The Boom time for rabbits in the United States
The Belgian Hare breed became more popular in the United States, and many rabbitries were built for mass production, Belgian Hare clubs were established and prices for this breed soared high. This era became known as ‘The Belgium Hare Boom’ period. It is reported that rabbits at this time could fetch as much as $500-$1000!
Los Angeles, Southern California became known as an area for breeding Belgian Hares, as meat rabbits, and it was estimated that in 1898 there were around 600 rabbitries with up to 1000 rabbits housed in each.
By 1900, the estimated population of Belgian Hares in the Los Angeles area was around 60,000, and growing!
The first rabbit show for Belgian Hares
The National Belgian Hare Club of America held its first Exposition in 1900 on the back of this boom in popularity. This was deemed to be the biggest show that focused on this one breed of rabbit: the Belgium Hare.
At this first exposition the National Belgian Hare Club of America introduced Standards of Excellence for TWO varieties of Belgium Hare:
- The “Standard” (fancy) Belgian Hare
- The “Heavy Weight” (commercial) Belgian Hare
Only the standard ‘fancy’ variety is still recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in their “Standards of Perfection.”
Several Belgian Hare clubs were set up in this time and the National Belgium Hare Club was dissolved.
The American Belgian Hare Association
In 1972, a group of Belgian Hare breeders applied for a specialty club charter from the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) to replace the National Belgian Hare Club of America. The charter was granted later that year in 1972 and the American Belgian Hare Club was established.
The American Belgian Hare Association still exists today, looking out for the interests of this breed of rabbit, as purebred Belgian Hares are now rare and considered a threatened breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
The Belgian Hare appearance: What does it look like?
The Belgian Hare is a breed of rabbit that looks like a wild hare, even down to the classic black ticking on its coat.
Its long slender body is fine-boned, with agile and long strong legs. It also has long straight fore feet with long flat and fine hind feet and a prominently arched back joining muscular loins, and its hindquarters are well rounded.
It has a long small head and big upright ears.
This is a fit rabbit and is regarded as the racehorse of the rabbit world.
It comes in a variety of color types such as black and tan, but the deep rich red rufous color with black ticking is perhaps the one most people think of when imagining this rabbit.
The Rufous and tan varieties are both recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA).
What are the main characteristics of the Belgian Hare?
A Belgian Hare is fit, agile and highly-strung.
It’s a rabbit that’s built like a hare.
The skittish nature of this rabbit and its slender muscular body enable it to run fast which as earned it the nickname of the poor man’s racehorse.
They became popular very quickly in America and a number of Belgian Hare clubs were established which promoted the breed and it soon led to the Belgian Hare Boom years in the United States, where demand and process soared.
The Havana rabbit is today mainly a show rabbit or family pet.
Power, intelligence, and trainability:
This rabbit is highly intelligent and can be trained to respond to their name and come for food. Rabbits are prey animals and will act on instinct when faced with danger. They are not the most intelligent animal, but they have strong instincts and good eyesight and hearing.
Can be friendly but nervous, but be careful how you pick up a Belgian Hare as it could kick on instinct if not handled correctly.
Today they are mainly bred as show rabbits or outdoor rabbits and not well suited to very young children or inactive people due to their skittish behavior. A Belgian Hare doe makes a good mother to their kits.
They are energetic and at times hyperactive. They are easily startled by sudden noises or unexpected movements and this may cause them to bolt. They will also protect themselves if picked up awkwardly and may kick or nip, so they are not suitable for very young children to play with.
Physical Characteristics of the Belgian Hare
Size: Large size
Weight: 6-9lb (2.7-4.1kg)
Life expectancy: 7-11 years
Litter size: 4-8 Kittens (Kits)/litter
Coat Color: Black, Black and Tan, Red, Tan, or Chestnut Red, all with black ticking
Coat type: These rabbits were adapted to have a coat appearance and color like a Wild Hare, not for a soft-feel fur like an angora rabbit. They are believed to be the only breed of domestic rabbit with the coloring of a wild rabbit: red chestnut with black ticking.
It is not hypoallergenic; there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic rabbit.
Ears: long erect ears
Eye Color: medium-sized brown eyes
A Belgian Hare is a very intelligent rabbit but it is active and skittish so it will want to be on the move all the time. It is not known to be aggressive but it may kick out if not handled correctly. It needs an opportunity to burn off its nervous energy.
They suit outdoor living conditions, but would not suit apartment living.
Types of training required:
1) Crate – Buy a Rabbit hutch or cage and get your rabbit used to going into it. This will become its nest and it will sleep there and just hang out in there to relax. You will have to lock the hutch in the early days so it knows it is supposed to live and sleep there and it will be a useful experience to when transporting your pet.
This rabbit is better suited to outdoor living but care must be taken to raise the hutch off the ground and make sure it is secure to protect it from possible predators.
2) Potty training – This rabbit is moderately easy to potty train. You will need to start early and take the rabbit and its droppings back to the cage or hutch each time and put the droppings on the litter shavings each time so it will recognize the place to go by odor and habit.
FACT: A Rabbit may produce slightly softer-type stools overnight and it will then eat them in the morning to help with its digestion. This is not pleasant to watch but it is perfectly normal.
Any hutch or cage should be cleaned out at least once a week, with litter shavings and hay replaced regularly and fresh food and fresh water provided daily.
3) Walking on a leash – believe it or not you can actually buy rabbit leashes and teach your rabbit to go for a walk with you. Not too far though and be careful of its paws when very young, or on the hot ground.
Health problems and health issues
The Belgian Hare breed of rabbit is generally quite healthy, with a life expectancy of 9-11 years, but check your rabbit regularly to prevent:
Flystrike – Flystrike (also known as Myiasis) occurs when a fly lands on a rabbit’s skin and lays their eggs on a rabbit’s skin (usually around a dirty bottom, wet fur, or wounds).
These eggs hatch quickly and the maggots then chew their way into the rabbit’s skin. This can happen within hours become fatal.
Teeth – A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing so it is very important that it has enough hay to gnaw on. 70% of the rabbit’s food intake should come from hay and chewing hay will help keep the teeth from over-growing.
A rabbit’s teeth must not be allowed to grow too long as they can grow into their jaws and face which can be both painful and prevent them eating properly. Overgrown teeth must be filed down by a Vet.
A Belgian Hare does not cope well in hot weather, so always make sure there is enough fresh water available in the rabbit hutch.
Caring for a Belgian Hare – what’s needed?
Feed as a large-sized rabbit, 70% of a rabbit’s food intake should be from hay, the rest should be formulated rabbit food.
The amount you should feed your rabbit will depend on its weight and energy level, but Belgian Hares have a high metabolic rate and need more food than most other rabbit breeds; add some leafy green vegetables into the diet too.
Do not give your rabbit iceberg lettuce as it has too much Lanandum which can be dangerous to eat!
The Belgian Hare short fur which does not need much maintenance. It will shed more during spring and fall seasons and will therefore needs to be brushed more regularly until the shedding slows again.
It will lick its own paws and clean its face and ears thoroughly and then display some interesting stretches to clean the rest of its body. Rabbits are by nature very clean animals.
Check around the rabbit’s bottom regularly to make sure it has does not have flystrike evidence.
Tick and flea repellents are available if the rabbit mainly lives outside to protect it against bites.
There are a variety of soft and wire hair-brushes which will help keep your bunny’s shed under control.
You do not need to bathe a rabbit. They will self-clean their fur.
Cleaning teeth, nails and ears
Look after their teeth to prevent over-growth, by making sure they have enough rough food and toys to chew on.
Nails grow quickly and need to be trimmed regularly. This breed of rabbit is very active and if allowed to run around, especially in a large enclosed area outside they will wear their nails down slightly. If not they need to be checked, say once a month for length and infection.
A Rabbit’s nails should not be trimmed past where the white end of the nail meets the pink part!
Despite the rabbit regularly cleaning its own ears, their ears still need to be checked for dirt build-up, mites or infection regularly, especially if they are kept outdoors.
What’s life like for a Belgian Hare rabbit?
A Belgian Hare rabbit is a big cute rabbit.
It has a high amount of nervous energy and therefore needs stimulation and could start biting and banging on the cage door to try to get out if it becomes bored.
It may also run about the cage frantically if it lacks something interesting to do, so the cage should be provided with suitable objects for it to play with; objects that parts cannot be easily bitten off or it may choke.
Golf balls or a big lump of hardwood are ideal, and a piece of large PVC tubing would make an ideal burrow tunnel for it to practice its burrowing instincts and play in.
Be careful if the rabbit is housed outside, that the hutch or cage is lifted off the ground and sealed with fine mesh or wire to protect it from predators.
Whether you keep your Belgian Hare rabbit as an indoor pet (not recommended due to its size and need for activity) or outdoor pet you must ensure it has enough space in its cage to stretch out completely to rest or sleep and enough room to keep its food away from where it sleeps or its litter tray.
The recommended minimum caged space for a Belgian Hare rabbit should be at least a 24 by 60-inch floor and a height of 24 inches, more if it is a pregnant Belgium Hare Doe. This is a large-sized rabbit that is active and will need space to exercise.
A Belgian Hare is sweet and can be friendly. It’s clever and does not mind being handled by people it knows but no sudden movements as it gets nervous easily.
Positives and Negatives of ownership
- The beautiful unusual coloring that makes it look more like a hare than a rabbit
- Attractive hare-look like in a fairy tale
- Successful as a show rabbit
- Sweet nature
- Very clean and easy to potty train
- Suits outdoor living
- May kick or nip if roughly handledDoes not tolerate very hot temperatures well
- Will need sufficient stimulation or will bite at cage contents
- Not suitable for very young children as they are skittish
- Needs lots of exercises
- Not an indoor rabbit, not really house trainable
Commonly Asked Questions:
Q. How much does a Belgian Hare cost?
A. Around $150-$500, from a reputable breeder or possibly more.
Do your research before you buy and check the breeder or seller, its health history and any characteristics that might give cause for concern.
Food and litter material will cost around $20-25 per month, plus Vets fees, vaccinations and accessories all need to be factored into the cost of owning your rabbit. Then factor in accessories, toys, vets bills, and care products.