Breed: Rex Rabbit
Temperament: quiet, intelligent
Cost: from $30 for pets to $75
Lifespan: 8 years
Recommended for: children over 8 years, older people
The Rex is classified as a medium sized rabbit weighing around 3kg (7lb). It is unique because of the fur which is like plush velvet. The fur is usually about 6-10mm long and stands almost at right angles to the skin. The rex gene causes the very fine, straight guard hairs to be shortened to the same length as the under hairs, giving the animal the appearance of having been shorn.
The breed was named after the rex gene which has caused the rabbit's whiskers and eyebrows to be curly. While the coat is generally too short to show curling, some longer areas such as behind the head may be crimped. The rex gene also occurs in cats. It seems to make the hairs thin, sparse and curly. While the cat breeders still persist with near bald animals, the rex rabbit breeders have thickened up the coat enormously and this is a classic example of intelligent breeding (i.e. use of modifier genes).
Colours include white, black, orange, sooty fawn, blue, lilac, chocolate, sable, chinchilla (dark at base, light middle, dark tip), marten (white underbelly and tips), castor (agouti), opal (blue agouti), lynx (lilac agouti), cinnamon (chocolate agouti) and Himalayan. There are other colours available overseas and breeders are working on developing more in Australia. A smaller version of the Rex (known as the mini Rex) is available but is not as affectionate as the Rex.
According to breeders, most Rex rabbits are easy to handle and are not as jumpy as the smaller breeds. Rex rabbits are claimed to be the most intelligent of all the rabbit breeds. Owners describe them as boisterous and playful although they can be nippy. The male especially can become aggressive at mating age. To avoid this it is necessary that Rex rabbits be desexed before four months of age.
The Rex mutation in which a shortening of the guard hairs occurs, is thought to have first occurred in France in 1919. The breed was first exhibited in 1924. It was originally developed for the fur which was used for coats and trimmings. Although it was exhibited as a furred breed, the Rex has a separate sub classification. Exhibitors judge fancy rabbits on body type while furred breeds are judged on the quality of fur.
Rabbits need to have a well balanced diet to ensure that they stay in good health, and to maintain their immune system. The ideal diet for your rabbit consist of:
Commercial rabbit pellets are sold by most pet stores and produce merchants. Hay and straw should be provided daily. Rabbits require both digestible and indigestible fiber in their diet in order to avoid getting fur balls. If possible, move the hutch around the lawn to provide fresh grass but avoid any grass which has been sprayed with herbicides.
All rabbits should have an area in which to exercise outside their hutch. Exercise will also assist rabbits to wear down their nails and to maintain body tone.
Most rabbits are kept outdoors in movable hutches made of timber or metal. These should be enclosed with mesh, and preferably with a form of insect screen to prevent mosquitoes spreading disease. One end of the hutch must be enclosed to provide shelter for the rabbit and a hinged lid here will help when cleaning the hutch each week. Minimum dimensions recommended are 120x60x50cm (4x2x20') per rabbit. Wire should be 25x25mm (1x1') to prevent the rabbit chewing through it. Rex rabbits have a special requirement for their housing to include a bedding of soft straw as their bald feet will develop split skin if kept on a wire floor.
Maintenance of hygiene is important for healthy rabbits. Rabbit manure will need to be raked or scooped out with a trowel. The hutch should also be hosed out once a week (remove bunny before doing this!).
Of the many commercial hutches available (ranging in price from about $80) timber cages are preferable as the metal versions can get very hot in summer and very cold in winter. With this in mind, hutches should be located in a sheltered area of the yard in warmer months. It is very important that the hutches are secure against attack from cats, dogs or foxes.
Breeders say rabbits can be toilet trained to use litter trays but avoid using clay-type litters as these can cause digestion problems if nibbled. The biggest problem caused by rabbits roaming free inside the house is biting through electrical and telephone cords so homes should be bunny-proofed before release.
Once purchased, they do not cost much to feed (about $6 per week).
Pet owners do not need to groom their Rex rabbits but the nails may need to be trimmed if the rabbit is kept on a soft surface. Be careful not to cut the quick.
Never lift a rabbit by the ears. Instead, place one hand under its front legs and the other hand under the bottom and lift holding it firmly and supporting its body. If held firmly the rabbit should feel secure and not wriggle. Never allow children to grab the rabbit, run with it or rough it up.
Rex rabbits may have between six to eight babies per litter. Rabbits can be desexed for about $100 (roughly the same as cats) and this is recommended for pets. Otherwise, with more than one rabbit and only a rough idea of sex identification, one doe (female) could produce 50 kittens annually.
The soft coat of the Rex was developed as a valuable pelt breed in the early 1900s. Today Rex rabbits are primarily kept as companion animals.
Rex rabbits are not recommended for children under 8 to 9 years as they need to be lifted correctly, (using the two handed method described above). If the rabbit is frightened it may bite or scratch.