The Netherland Dwarf is the smallest of the 45 breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), weighing an average of 2 lbs when fully grown. Their tiny size makes them a popular pet breed, but also poses some unique breeding challenges. If you decide to breed Netherland Dwarfs, do your homework first; read books, talk to other breeders, attend a rabbit show. Very few breeders make a living breeding rabbits. Most do it out of love.
Small-breed rabbits can reach sexual maturity as early as three months, but do not breed them before six months of age. Dwarf litters produce only two to three kits at a time, compared to the six to twelve kits of larger breeds. Genetically, when two true dwarfs are bred, 50% of their offspring will also be true dwarfs, 25% will be “false dwarfs,” which will grow to be proportionately larger, longer and heavier than their true dwarf parents, and 25% will be “peanuts.” Sadly, none of these latter offspring live past three weeks of age. Many breeders euthanize peanuts, which are easily distinguished by their severely pinched hind quarters and bulbous heads, at birth.
If you are breeding rabbits to show, take time to understand color genetics. The ARBA recognizes 24 distinct color varieties for the Netherland Dwarf; more than any other breed. Also, only breed those rabbits which most closely adhere to the ARBA standards for Netherland Dwarfs. Never breed rabbits which have shown aggressive behavior. When first introduced, Netherland Dwarfs tended to be wild and skittish. Careful breeding has removed these tendencies. Today, a well-bred Dwarf is both gentle and docile, making an excellent pet for anyone who has learned to handle and care for them properly.
You won’t be able to show a false dwarf doe, but she still possesses her parents’ genes and is good for breeding with a true dwarf buck. The chances of false dwarf offspring are higher, but she can produce larger, stronger litters with no peanuts. Chose your does based on the same show characteristics looked for in true dwarfs.
Indoor Play Places
Regardless of how perfect you make your bunny’s B&B, it will still need a safe place to romp and roam outside of its cage. The more space they are given, the more content they will be. For the safety of your bunny, and your belongings, however, indoor spaces must be carefully prepared before becoming rumpus rooms. Unless your rabbit has been properly trained, never allow it to roam unsupervised in your house.
Safety is always your first priority. Any potential dangers to your rabbit must either be secured or removed from the area. Primarily, this means electrical wires. Never rely on training alone to keep your rabbit from chewing wires, which could quickly kill a rabbit or cause severe burn. There are many products available from electronic and hardware stores for concealing or securing wires. Hiding wires under carpeting poses a fire hazard and should never be done.
Another danger is toxic house plants, such as dieffenbachia and philodendron. These should either be hung from the ceiling – don’t assume they’ll be out of reach on counter tops – or removed from the area. If hung from the ceiling, keep an eye out for fallen leaves. If you’re not sure about a plant, remove it immediately and ask your veterinary doctor or other animal care specialist.
Bunnies are born nibblers. Spraying gently with a water bottle and firmly saying “NO” will help curb unwanted chewing, but you should also give your bunny suitable toys, such as sticks, magazines and cardboard tubes, to allow for this natural drive. To prevent nesting in couches and other low furnishings, a wooden frame, or other such obstruction, can be placed underneath to keep the space off limits. If all else fails, cardboard panels can be placed around the areas they can’t seem to resist.
Make sure there’s a litter-box and water bowl available if your rabbit can’t return to its cage on its own. A heavy or weighted bowl will help prevent spilling.
Outdoor Play Places
Wild rabbits love to run, jump, chew and dig. Pet rabbits love to run, jump, chew and dig. Regardless of how perfect you make your bunny’s B&B, it will still need a safe place to romp and roam outside of its cage. The more space they are given, the more content they will be. Outdoor play areas must provide protection from the elements, predators and other, less obvious dangers.
Safety is paramount. Even when out of the reach of predators, a rabbit can still be frightened to death, so never leave your rabbit out unattended, and never over night. Urban areas have their dangers, too, in the form of opossums, raccoons, dogs and even skunks.
A sturdy wooden frame with wire sides, top and bottom has all the makings of a good rabbit run. Be sure it is large enough for your bunny to play in. A wire bottom will keep your rabbit from burrowing out, but wire is hard on bunny feet, and should be covered with a layer of straw. This will also give your rabbit something to nest in and nibble on.
Providing a smaller, enclosed area in the run for your rabbit to rest and hide in will bring additional comfort. You’ll also need a water bottle or bowl, a litter-box (never use clumping litter or cedar chips) and some bunny toys. Generally, what is safe in a baby’s crib is safe in a bunny’s cage. There are exceptions, however. When in doubt, ask your veterinary doctor or other animal care specialist. Clean the litter-box daily and change the straw weekly.
Despite being the smallest rabbit breed recognized by the American Rabbit Breeder’s Association, the Netherland Dwarf is a hardy little creature and can enjoy their run year-round, except during extreme weather. Be sure to place the run well away from plants hazardous to rabbits, such as primrose, tulips and lily of the valley (if you’re not certain about a specific plant, again, ask a specialist) and grass treated with pesticides and fertilizers.