The New Zealand rabbit is a large, often white, breed of rabbit that is primarily used for it’s meat. However, like the Californian, this rabbit is now gaining popularity as a show-rabbit and as a companion pet. Known all over the world, these bunnies are gentle and friendly, making an excellent family pet. They don’t have very high care needs either, so are great for first-time owners.
If you’re interested in learning more about the New Zealand rabbit and seeing whether they might be the right pet for you, keep reading on below.
History Of The New Zealand Rabbit
Despite their name, the New Zealand actually originated from America. Although their origins are often disputed amongst rabbit enthusiasts, this breed was first recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in 1916.
There are 5 different breeds of the New Zealand rabbit recognized by ARBA. The New Zealand Red was recognized in 1916, the New Zealand White Rabbit in 1920, the Black New Zealand in 1958, the Broken New Zealand in 2010 and, most recently, the Blue New Zealand, which was accepted in 2016.
There are actually two distinct lines of the New Zealand breed — one for meat production and one for pet and show trades. Meat production rabbits often look quite different to their pet counterparts, and if you buy a rabbit from a breeder or pet shop it is quite likely you will be buying a pet or show line.
The New Zealand rabbit was the first American rabbit breed to be developed. In the 20th century, breeders from the United States crossed popular rabbit types from the ‘old country’. They wanted to create a rabbit that would produce meat but would also be of show-quality.
They crossed these rabbits with Belgian Hares and Flemish Giants and the result began to gain popularity in 1913 under the name “New Zealand Red Rabbit”. The albino breed of this rabbit was developed shortly after.
The first litter of the New Zealand white rabbit as we know it today was born in 1917, after a New Zealand Red doe had four albino kits. The breeder wanted to try to replicate this through selective breeding.
Characteristics Of The New Zealand Rabbit
The New Zealand rabbit breed is one of the most well-known rabbits in the world. In fact, Antarctica is the only country known to not have these bunnies! They are normally born in litter sizes of around 7 kits.
These rabbits usually weigh between 10 to 12 lbs for a doe, and 9 to 11 lbs for a buck. They are a relatively large breed!
The New Zealand has a commercial body type which is well-rounded and muscular. They are well-filled, because they were originally bred for meat. Their head is round and their ears thick and stand upright on top of their head.
There is a slight difference in appearance between show New Zealand’s and New Zealand’s bred for meat. Show New Zealand rabbits tend to have shorter ears and bodies and thicker fur, and are plumper in appearance than commercial meat New Zealand rabbits.
The New Zealand has short and soft flyback fur. This means that when the fur is stroked from the opposite direction, it returns to its original position. They do not require too much grooming, but we will go into more detail about this later on.
There are 5 colors recognized by the ARBA. These are white, red, black, blue and broken. Broken is any color mixed with white. Each coat color represents a separate variety of the breed.
These bunnies are very docile and easy to handle. Friendly and good-natured, they love their people and just want to be around them! They can be very affectionate and will happily hop up into your lap for a cuddle and some attention.
Calm and laid-back, these rabbits are not known to bite. However, you should always respect your New Zealand’s personal space, especially when they are new to your home. If they are afraid or frightened, then they might try to bite.
It is a good idea to give them some toys to play with to keep them entertained and engaged. The more bored they get, the more likely they will be to become destructive.
The New Zealand has an average life expectancy of between 5 and 8 years, although this can be longer if they are cared for properly.
Known Health Issues
This rabbit is not prone to any breed-specific related health problems, but they can be susceptible to the same concerns that all rabbits are. We have laid out these main issues below.
– Malocclusion — this is when the upper and lower teeth are misaligned so that the normal process of chewing doesn’t wear down your rabbit’s teeth. Regular dental checkups are very important. You should also make sure your rabbit eats plenty of hay.
– GI Stasis — this is a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely. Symptoms include loss of appetite, small or no fecal pellets and lethargy. It can be treated if caught quickly.
– Ear Mites — this is a common parasite of pet rabbits. You may see your rabbit shaking their head a lot if they are affected. Your vet will be able to treat them.
– Flystrike — this is when flies lay their eggs on soiled patches of fur and, when their eggs hatch, they begin to eat the rabbit from the inside out. Symptoms include seizures, loss of motion (listlessness) and skin irritations. Always ensure your rabbit’s rear end is clean, especially as they get older.
– Woolblock — this can be a serious and sometimes fatal issue. As they clean and groom themselves, your rabbit can ingest fur which can become trapped inside the digestive system and create a furball. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot regurgitate furballs and it will become bigger and bigger. This can lead to loss of appetite as your rabbit will believe they are full, or it can block the digestive tract.
Like all rabbits, they can also suffer from back issues if they are mishandled or accidentally dropped, especially because of their large size.
Regular vet checkups will ensure that you catch any health problems before they become too serious. You should also make sure that you are buying from a reputable breeder.
Now we know all about the traits and characteristics of the New Zealand rabbit, it is time to take a look at what living with one of these rabbits on a day to day basis is really like. We will cover their food and diet, their exercise needs, their grooming requirements and their living space requirements.
Food And Diet
The exact amount you feed your New Zealand rabbit should be based on their size, age and activity level. Of course, you are going to be feeding your New Zealand more than the average rabbit, purely because they are a large breed! You should make sure not to overfeed them though, as they can be prone to gaining weight.
They should be eating a portion of hay that is at least as big as their body size every day, alongside pellets and fresh vegetables. Fresh water should also always be available to them.
Hay is very important as it helps to keep your New Zealand’s digestive system moving, as well as helping to wear down their teeth so they are less prone to dental issues. At least 70% of your rabbit’s diet should be hay.
High-quality supplementary pellets help to provide extra vitamins and minerals that keep your rabbit healthy. Take a look at a supplementary pellet food we recommend below.
Best Food For The New Zealand RabbitBUY ON AMAZON
We recommend the Sunseed Company Vita Sunscription food for your New Zealand. This is a timothy hay based diet that provides a nutritional and balanced food for young to adult bunnies. Pellet based, so no chance of your rabbit picking out the best bits, this food is fortified with vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy and active.
The timothy hay provides high fiber for better digestion and there is also beneficial bacteria that works probiotically. Ingredients include carrots, potatoes, parsley, celery and red bell peppers to keep your rabbit interested and there is no alfalfa or added sugar in this recipe.
In the wild, rabbits run around three miles a day. Therefore, it is very important that you give your pet rabbit enough exercise every day to keep them active and entertained. They should have at least three hours of free-range time, whether this is out of their hutch in the garden or just around the house.
If you want to leave them alone outside unsupervised, they will need a large secure enclosure. This can be stand-alone or it can be attached to their hutch. This will keep them safe from predators and means you won’t need to be on the lookout all the time.
Family Compatibility and Trainability
These rabbits can make a wonderful pet to many people. Friendly and gentle, they excel in homes with individuals, couples, the elderly and families with children. You should always teach children how to interact with rabbits, but thanks to the New Zealand’s laid-back and cuddly nature, there should be no issue.
Like all rabbits, the New Zealand can be trained. This can be harder to do than training a cat or a dog, but it can be done! You can teach them to use a litter box so there is less mess for you to clean up. You can also try teaching them to come when their name is called!
The New Zealand can live happily both indoors and outdoors. As a large rabbit, they need a lot of space and so some owners find housing them outside easier. This also gives them space for a run or larger enclosure to exercise in. However, they also love their owners and like to be around them and so can happily live indoors too! Just make sure you let them out of their hutch often for exercise.
Whether they are inside or outside, their hutch should be large enough that they can easily hop around inside. Try to stay away from hutches with wire floors as these can cause sore hocks within rabbits. Take a look at the hutch we recommend below.
Best Hutch For The New Zealand RabbitBUY ON AMAZON
We recommend the Advantek Stilt House for the New Zealand rabbit. This hutch provides a large space and, with two stories and ramps to allow your rabbit to move freely, you can lock your bunny in the nesting box over night so they are elevated and safe from any predators. The rabbit-friendly wire that surrounds the hutch also helps to keep your furry friend safe.
This hutch is made from rot-resistant wood that can be kept outside at all times. The nesting box has a removable bottom pan for easy cleaning and there is a window so you can check on your sleeping bun whenever! A door on the side of the hutch allows your New Zealand to come and go as they please, too, so you can even attach a larger run for more exercise space.
You do not need to groom your New Zealand very often. They can shed slightly, but brushing them once a week should help to reduce the amount of fur in your home. This can also reduce the risk of them ingesting too much fur as they clean themselves.
You should very rarely bathe your rabbit. It is not really necessary, unless they are really dirty. Bathing can be a traumatic experience for them, too. You should also trim their nails as and when is needed.
New Zealand Rabbit FAQ’s
How big should my rabbit’s cage be?
The rule with rabbits is: the bigger the better! If you have the space for a big hutch then your rabbit will always appreciate the extra room to roam and exercise. No one wants to be stuck in a cramped space!
If you do not have a lot of space, then the cage should be at least 4 times the size of the rabbit. A guide is 24″ by 36″ for smaller rabbits (less than 8 lbs) or 30″ by 36″ for larger rabbits. Hutches with multiple stories are also popular as they give your bun more space.
Should my New Zealand Rabbit live outdoors?
They are large rabbits and so, if you have the space, they might benefit from living outside so they have more room to move around in. They’ll also like having an outdoor enclosure to keep active in. However, they can also live indoors with their family members! Very sociable, they’ll like to be around people, so bringing them indoors for some attention will go down well even if they do live outside!
The New Zealand rabbit was originally bred to be a meat rabbit, but they can make a fantastic pet and show bunny too! There are five different color variations of this breed but they all have the same friendly, docile and gentle temperament that makes them an excellent rabbit for everyone, including children. They do not have high care needs and can live happily inside or outside. Make sure you give this bunny enough space and lots of love and attention, and the New Zealand will be your best friend.