The Lionhead is recognized by the BRC (British Rabbit Council) and very recently by the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association).

The ARBA took their time with officially recognizing the Lionhead rabbit, as there are so many color variations, but they finally accepted the varieties of Tortoise (all four colors) and the Ruby Eyed White (REW).

Some people refer to this breed as Lionhaired; this includes the miniature version and the lop-eared version, the mini-lion lop or dwarf lionhead. Sometimes the Lionhead rabbit is referred to as the “Teddy Bear” rabbit, but this is also incorrect, as this name was initially linked to the Angora breed.

Breed NameBRC CodeARBA CodeCountry of Origin
LionheadL9LHBelgium

BRC Standard Of Perfection

  • Type… 25 points 
  • Mane/Chest… 30 points
  • Coat… 25 points
  • Color… 10 points
  • Condition… 10 points

Total Points….100

ARBA Schedule Of Points

General Type….(40)

  • Body….25
  • Head….10
  • Ears….5
  • Fur….(45)
  • Mane….35
  • Coat….10
  • Color….10
  • Condition….5

Total Points….100

History 

Origins & Creation

In the early 1960s, the Lionhead rabbit appeared as a genetic mutation in a litter of rabbits in France and in crossbred litters in Belgium. The breeders were actually trying to produce a long-coated Dwarf. The parents of the crossbred litter were a Swiss Fox and a Belgian Dwarf.

Understanding how the hair genes work will shed more light on their probable creation.

Genes

The gene that gives the lionhead its distinctive “lion’s mane”  characteristic is a dominant gene, so breeding a pure-bred Lionhead with another rabbit will produce an animal with the obvious mane and the bib. This gene mutation phenomenon is the most recent major gene mutation to happen in rabbits since the Satin gene occurred in 1932. From this mutation, breeders in Europe went on to develop this longer-haired breed of rabbit. 

The breed was officially recognized by the BRC in 2002. It was imported to the United States in 2000 by breeders in Northern Minnesota. 

The five Lionheads that were first taken into Northern Minnesota were of very different varieties:

  • Silver Tipped Steel doe
  • Dark Siamese Sable buck (carrier of the Harlequin and Steel)
  • Harlequin (Black/Orange) doe
  • Broken Chestnut Agouti buck
  • Black sport buck (with a Dutch blaze, a carrier of the Vienna/BEW gene)

In an attempt to broaden the gene pool, several Minnesota breeders began crossing the Lionheads to various other small breeds such as Netherland Dwarf, Britannia Petite, Polish, and Florida White. Holland Lops have also been used by some in the Lionhead breeding program which went on to produce lop-eared mini lions.

Certificate of Development (COD)

The COD process involves presenting the breed to the ARBA Standards committee at the organization’s annual convention and show. This process requires that there be three successful presentations within five years in order for the breed to become recognized and included in the ARBA Standard of Perfection.

In November 2011, at the 88th ARBA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Mueller Lionhead presentation was assessed one fail in each variety (REW, Black Tortoiseshell, and Black) due to disqualification of one junior animal in each variety having transitional wool on the flanks that exceeded the allowable maximum length. The ARBA Standards Committee then allowed Mueller to make a few changes to her proposed working breed standard, and also allowed the grouping all four varieties of Tortoiseshell (black, blue, chocolate and lilac) for her 2012 presentation.

In October 2013 the lionheads passed the evaluation by the standards committee in the colors of Ruby Eyed White and Tortoise. In 2014, at the ARBA convention in Ft. Worth, Texas other colors were presented. More details can be found on the ARBA website. 

Other Breed Creations

As mentioned above, Lionheads have also been mated with Dwarf Lops to create a Dwarf Lion Lops or mini lion lops.

The mini lion lop is recognized by the BRC but not the ARBA as yet.

Lionhead Rabbit Varieties

The ARBA recognizes the Lionhead breed in the following varieties:

  • Tortoise
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Chocolate
  • Lilac
  • Ruby Eyed White – REW


The BRC recognizes all colors as long as they conform to a recognized color and pattern.For more on colors – see below…

Size, Weight, Shape & Ears

Size:

The Lionhead rabbit is a cobby, well-rounded breed. 

Weight:

Adult Weight: Ideal 2.5 lbs to 3.5lbs

Shape:

The Lionhead rabbit has a small, compact body, short, cobby and well rounded, the shoulders and chest broad and well filled. The head should be bold, with good width between the eyes but not quite round from all sides, with a well-developed muzzle. There should be no visible neck.

The hindquarters are broad, deep, and well-rounded. Their legs are of medium length and they are of medium bone, not too fine with a stance to be high enough to show the full chest and mane.

Ears:

The Lionhead ears are less than 3 inches long. They are upright open ears, well covered, of good substance, but not furnished as an Angora. The ears should be balanced with the head and body.

Eyes:

The Lionhead rabbit should have bold and bright, eyes. The white-coated lionhead should have red or blue eyes. 

US Colours

The US recognizes the following colors:

Black, Black Otter, Blue, Blue Otter, Chestnut, Chinchilla, Chocolate, Fawn, Frosted Pearl, Golden, Lilac, Opal, Orange, Red, Siamese Sable, Smoke Pearl, Sable Point, Squirrel, Sable Martin, Tan, Tortoise, and White

The following color descriptions are based on the current breed standards, not all from the ARBA, but will offer some guidance to the Lionhead colors and the way they can be seen in the breed, both in the adult rabbit and the kits.

Self Varieties: 

REW or Ruby Eyed White (Red Eyes)

Pure white coat and undercoat.

Black (Brown Eyes)

Rich uniform black color over the entire body. The undercoat is dark slate blue. Lionheads may have a slight diffusion of the black color in their wool due to the nature of the wool itself.

Newborns will be black on their entire body including the belly and insides of the ears.

Blue (Dark Blue/Grey Eyes)

Rich uniform blue color over the entire body. The undercoat is also blue. Lionheads may have a slight diffusion of the blue color in their wool due to the nature of the wool itself.

Newborns will be blue on their entire body including the belly and insides of the ears.

Shaded Varieties

Sable Point (Brown Eyes)

The nose, ears, feet, and tail are to be a rich sepia brown. The color of the points is to fade rapidly to a rich creamy body surface color, which has a creamy white under color. Darker shading is permissible around the eyes.

Newborns will almost look like REWs. Their points take a little bit to develop. Cold weather does affect their points and will make the points darker.

Siamese Sable (Brown Eyes)

The surface color is to be a rich sepia brown on the head, ears, back, outside of legs, and top of the tail. The surface color will fade to a lighter sepia on the sides, chest, belly, inside of legs, and underside of the tail. The dark face color is to fade from the eyes to the jaws and all blending of color is to be gradual and free from blotched or streaks. The under color will be slightly lighter than the surface color.

Newborns will NOT be the dark rich color of the adults. They will be a light brown mocha color. Almost a silvery color with a brown tinge.

Tortoise (Brown Eyes)

On adults, the points (ears and face) will be very visible in a dark brown. The undercoat will be lighter than the surface.

Newborns will be orange on their back and head with dark flanks and dark insides and outsides of the ears. Except for the dark ears, they will look like orange babies.

Agouti Varieties

The Agouti variety has banded hair shafts. The best way to tell is if you can see the rings caused by the banded hair shaft when you blow into the fur.

Chestnut (Brown Eyes)

The surface color on the top and sides of the body is to be a light brown, ticked with jet black. The intermediate band is to be a well-defined orange over a dark slate-blue under color. The chest is to be a light brown over a dark slate-blue under color. The under color of the belly is to be slate-blue. The top of the tail is to be black, sparsely ticked with light brown, over a dark slate-blue under color. The nape of the neck is to be orange, with the ears laced in black.

Newborns will have very dark bodies and will look similar to black newborns. The insides of the ears will be cream colored (black babies have dark ears inside and out). In the first few days, they will have pink underbellies. A week or so later they will have pearl white underbellies and tops of the feet.

Chinchilla or Silver Agouti (Grey, Blue or Light Brown/Grey Eyes)

The fur should look silver with black ticking. Blue undercoat. The ears should be black laced. When you blow into the fur, you should see prominent rings like those on the left. This is caused by the banded hair shaft of an agouti. The rings should be off white and slate gray. Inside of the ears, feet, ring around eyes and nose should be pearl white. The underside of the tail and belly should be white or silver.

Opal (Dark Blue/Grey Eyes)

The surface color on the top and sides of the body is to be blue mingled with fawn. The intermediary band is to be fawn over a medium slate-blue under color. The chest is to be fawn over a medium slate-blue under color. The under color of the belly is to be slate blue. The top of the tail is to be blue, sparsely ticked with fawn, over a medium slate-blue under color. The nape of the neck is to be fawn.

Newborns will be mostly blue except for their bellies and the inside of the ears which will be a pearl white.

Other Color Varieties

Orange (Brown Eyes)

Orange coat with cream undercoat. The back of the ears should also be the same color orange. Inside of the ears, ring around the eyes and nose, belly and chest should be cream. The underside of the tail and around genitals should be white.

Newborns will be orange on their back and head with dark flanks – they will look similar to a tortoise at birth. The insides of the ears will be white and the outsides of the ears will be orange – not dark-colored.

UK Colours

All colors found in other rabbit breeds are recognized in the UK, commonly;

Agouti, Black, Blue, Butterfly, Chestnut, Chinchilla, Chocolate, Fawn, Fox, Lilac, Lynx, Opal, Orange, Otter, Sable Marten, Sable Point, Siamese Sable, Siamese Smoke Pearl, Silver Martin, Squirrel, Smoke Pearl Marten, Steel, Tan, Tortoiseshell, White (red or blue-eyed)

Bi colors (white and one other color), Tricolors (white and 2 other colors) and various other shadings also apply.

Fur Type / Coat

Coat

Lionheads have a normal rollback, dense coat of medium length over the saddle, and some have “transitional wool” on their flanks. The coat should be even all over yet some Lionheads have noticeably longer wool on the cheeks and chest, often with a finer flank line of slightly longer fur running down the length of the rabbit to the tail extending in a line to the groin.

Mane/Chest

The mane should be between 2 and 3 inches in length extending to a “v” at the back of the neck, falling into a fringe around the head, creating a “wool cap,” with longer fur on the chest to form a bib.

Mane Genes

The mane gene is dominant, therefore, both parents do not need a mane to pass it on to offspring; however, one parent must have a mane. It cannot be “carried.” There are two genes involved – “M” and “m.”

  • The mm would be a rabbit with no mane.
  • The Mm would be a rabbit with a single mane.
  • The MM would be a rabbit with a double mane.

So some possible outcomes may be:

  • mm × mm = 100% mm, (all Lionhead offspring)
  • mm × Mm = 50% mm and 50% Mm, (half without manes and half single-maned Lionhead offspring)
  • mm × MM = 100% Mm, (all single-maned Lionhead offspring).
  • Mm × Mm = 50% Mm, 25% mm, and 25% MM
  • Mm × MM = 50% Mm and 50% MM
  • MM × MM = 100% MM

Double-maned lionhead kits are easily recognizable. They are sometimes informally referred to as “gremlins,” because of their appearance. Compared to a single maned kit, there is a large difference. “Gremlins” tend to have a “v” shape on the back, where the fur starts to grow.

 Mane Types

Typically, the mane is thick, woolly and soft with evident “crimping.” Depending on the pair of genes a Lionhead rabbit gets (one from each parent), it can have a double mane (two mane genes) or a single mane (one mane gene).

A Lionhead rabbit can have a maximum of two mane genes. The only way to tell if a rabbit is a single mane or double mane is when they are firstborn. 

Single-Maned

Single-maned Lionhead rabbits only have one copy of the gene responsible for creating a mane on a rabbit called the mane gene.

Single-maned Lionheads typically do not hold a mane for their entire lifetime. They have a mane that can be around its head, ears, chin and sometimes on the chest and rump. The mane may be wispy and thin and may disappear on some rabbits altogether as they mature. The genotype for the single mane is Mm.

Typically their mane wool diminishes as they get older. Single-maned Lionheads are usually the product of a purebred double-maned Lionhead being bred to a rabbit of another breed, in order to strengthen a particular characteristic or introduce a particular color into the Lionhead breeding program.

Kits born from single-manes or hybridization with double-manes that do not have manes are called “no-maned” because they did not get a copy of the mane gene. Without a mane gene, a rabbit will not have a mane nor will they be able to produce a kit with a mane, unless bred to a rabbit with either a single or double mane.

Double-Maned

Double maned Lionheads have two copies of the mane gene. They typically have a thick mane of wool encircling the head and sometimes have wool on their flanks that some refer to as a “skirt.” The genotype for a double maned Lionhead is MM.

A double-maned Lionhead is the product of either two single-maned Lionheads or two double-maned Lionheads.

Two double-maned Lionheads will only be able to produce double-maned Lionheads when bred together.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of the Lionhead rabbit is 7 to 9 years but as with any of the domestic rabbit breeds, the age is dependent on their care and more importantly, their diet.

Personality

Temperament

The Lionhead rabbit is a breed that is relatively new and still in the development process. Their temperaments can differ between breeders depending on the parent breeds used to produce each line. If you intend to buy a Lionhead rabbit, buy from a reputable breeder or rescue center and observe the rabbit’s temperament. When buying a Lionhead rabbit, also enquire as to any hereditary dental concerns.

Training

Lionheads are easy to train as they are very smart creatures. They can comprehend certain orders like come, and play, eat, etc and will respond to their own name. They are also very easy to litter box train and for that reason make very good house rabbits and home companions.

Nature

The Lionhead is friendly and has a very good and playful nature. Most are lively, sociable, and gentle. They are quite timid when you compare them with some other small breeds like the Netherland dwarf but with all rabbits giving them the right king of gentle attention, along with gentleness and understanding will help them gain your trust.

Lionheads need experienced handling since they can easily be frightened and because of this, they may become aggressive. For these reasons, they are not generally recommended for children.

Purpose

The Lionhead rabbit was originally created as a show breed but has become a very popular domestic pet rabbit.

Breed Status

The Lionhead rabbit received official breed status with the ARBA in February 2014. Because it is still a relatively new breed, there are still some colors and varieties that have yet to be officially approved and are still under development.

It has been a recognized breed with the BRC in the UK since 2002.

Rabbit Care & Handling

Grooming

The longer wool of the Lionhead’s ‘mane’ needs to be combed once a week to prevent matting and daily grooming is necessary during molt.

Once they reach adulthood, they do not require extensive grooming in the way that other wool breeds do.

The odd chunk of fresh pineapple in their diet, especially during shedding, is a great solution to possible hairball problems, as the acidic nature and other compounds in the pineapple help to break down any hair that might be caught in the gut. 

Teeth

The Lionhead can develop dental problems and this breed may be more prone to dental disease than other breeds and have more risk of developing hairballs, leading to digestive problems, both of which can be potentially fatal conditions.

Their teeth should be checked regularly for signs of overgrowth and their diet should include fibrous vegetables that will help keep their teeth down. Enamel spurs and overgrown molars can prevent them from eating properly and can cause abscess injuries in the mouth so it’s vital that the teeth are kept in good order.

Weight

Avoid overfeeding. An overweight bunny can find it difficult to groom themselves and if the fur is allowed to become soiled with urine or feces, it can attract flies. These flies lay eggs in the fur and the maggots can burrow into the rabbit’s flesh, causing painful open wounds that will require veterinary attention.

Disease Vaccines

All rabbits should be vaccinated against Viral Hemorrhagic Disease and Myxomatosis and should be treated regularly for fleas, ticks, and worms. It’s also worth considering spaying any non-breeding females in order to prevent uterine cancer, which is common in all female rabbits.

Outdoors

If your rabbit is going to live outdoors, their house must be large enough for them to hop at least 3 decent sized hops and be tall enough for them to stand upright on their hind legs. It should be completely weather and waterproof and positioned out of direct sun and wind. The hutch should have shavings and straw on the floor and should also provide a covered area where the rabbit can nest. The hutch should be cleaned out regularly. 

Regardless of whether your Lionhead is going to live indoors or outside, they should have access to a LARGE exercise area when they are at their most active – early morning and late evening. A very large run or secure area of the garden will allow them the opportunity to stretch their legs and indulge in their love of exploration.

Indoors

If they are to live inside, and Lionheads are very suited to indoor life, they can be easily taught how to use a litter tray. 

They should also have an area where they can hide and relax completely. A dog crate or indoor cage is ideal. If they are to be given a free run of the house (like cats and dogs are afforded the luxury of) they will usually find their favorite place, usually under a bed or behind a sofa. Rabbit proof their area and be aware of where they are. Take care not to step on them when you are moving around their space. 

Diet

This should include good quality hay, rabbit pellets, and lots of fibrous green leaves and vegetables like kale, cabbage, carrot tops and dandelions with constant access to fresh, clean drinking water.

Handling

Make sure you know how to pick up and hold your rabbit correctly. Rabbits can struggle and panic if they’re held incorrectly. They’re stronger than they look and can injure their backs if they fall incorrectly or can give you a nasty scratch in their efforts to escape.

Here is a list of resources to help you care for your rabbits…

  • New Rabbit Checklist – General knowledge if you’re just getting started.
  • Breeding Rabbits – The best place to start if you are thinking about raising any breed of rabbits.
  • Pet Rabbit Guide – Information and resources on the subject of raising pet rabbits.
  • Health Guide – Up-to-date information & resources for ensuring your rabbit is in the best health.
  • Diet & Exercise – Extensive info about hay, water, safe foods, treats, weight management & FAQs on the diet. 

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Miranda Hawkins
Miranda currently lives just outside Colorado Springs, Colorado with her husband, 8-year old son, and what she lovingly calls her “zoo.” Miranda grew up in the Midwest and always had animals around while growing up. After graduating from college, she married her husband Sam and they moved to the mountains of Colorado where Miranda became very involved with the regional rabbit rescues.

Currently, her “zoo” includes two dogs, one rambunctious cat, and three indoor rabbits. Oliver, a delightful Black Otter Holland Lop, and Juniper, a gorgeous Opal Satin Angora, are a bonded pair and have been together for three years.

She had the pleasure of adding an energetic Fawn Flemish Giant to her family one year ago, named Sir Gregor. He had been abandoned outside a pet store and was put up for adoption. Miranda feels very blessed to have this lovable lagomorph living amongst her family and is a strong advocate for educating people about rabbits and how special they truly are.

Miranda has put together a team of rabbit lovers and breeders from across the country and hopes you will find the information and resources on the JustRabbits.com site beneficial. She loves to hear from her readers and looks forward to seeing many more people become loving responsible bunny parents.