Dwarf rabbits are a variety of domestic European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Dwarf rabbits are much smaller than normal rabbits, but are capable of interbreeding with them, so are not recognized as a separate species.
Purebred dwarf rabbits weigh 0.7-1.4 kg. Their heads and eyes are disproportionately large with respect to their body, and their ears are small and carried high on the head. The exception to this is the dwarf lop — a cross between the French lop and the dwarf — which is both heavier (3.0-4.0 lb) than a standard dwarf and has long, dangling ears. Many different colorations make up breeds in dwarf rabbits, such as Himalayan, Red, Siamese, Chinchilla, Blue, and White-tipped Black.
Dwarf rabbits generally have the same behavioral traits as other domestic rabbits. They can be housetrained and can be socialized with dogs, cats and hamsters.
Most of the rabbits sold as dwarves in pet stores are not true dwarfs, but crosses between a dwarf and a standard rabbit. These “mongrels” are hardier, but grow to a larger size and lack the characteristic small head and low carriage of the true dwarf.
Like other domestic rabbits, dwarf rabbits consume grasses, grains, hay, and other succulent greens. Their digestive system is somewhat less hardy than European rabbits, and many leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage can give them health problems such as diarrhea, which can be fatal in small animals.
The existence of a dwarf gene in the European rabbit is not disputed, but the existence of the dwarf gene in certain breeds of European rabbit is not always clear. It may be present in some lines but not other lines of the same breed. Breeding two rabbits that both carry the dwarf gene may result in a homozygous dwarf offspring, that is commonly termed a “peanut”. Peanuts (about the size of a peanut) are very small and deformed baby rabbits that will be born with a very large head, almost no ears and their back legs often cross. Peanuts usually live for a few days but sometimes will last a couple of weeks. The birth of a peanut proves that the dwarf gene was present in both parents.
Breeds that are known to carry the dwarf gene are the Netherland Dwarf, the Dwarf Hotot, the U.S. Polish Rabbit and most breeds with “dwarf” in the name. Small breeds that some claim do not carry the dwarf gene are the Britannia Petite, Tan and Elfin Rabbit. It is unclear if the “mini sized breeds”, such as the Mini Satin and Mini Lop, carry the dwarf gene.
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