Harlequin rabbits are a very popular breed of domesticated bunnies that have swept over European and American households over the last 100 years. Noted for their placid demeanor and bright, calico coats, harlies are good family pets that don't require too much specialized knowledge or equipment to stay healthy and happy for their entire lifespan. Many people keep harlequin rabbits as solo pets, but they also get along well with cats, dogs, and other rabbits, especially in all-female groups.
The first harlequin rabbits were bred from crossing a domestic breed with wild rabbits in France in the late 1800s. Originally bred by farmers for meat, today's harlequin rabbits are most popular as pets. Weighing between 6.5 and 9.5 pounds, harlies can live 5-8 years in captivity. Harlequin rabbits have become some of the most popular small- to medium-sized pets in European and American households.
Harlequin rabbits started as a cross between wild and domestic rabbit breeds, but in the last 100 years, they've been bred into a true breed of their own. What sets these rabbits apart on the surface is their distinctive coloration, which resembles the motley of a Medieval harlequin, hence their name. The patchwork fur can be any set of colors, but white, brown, and black are some of the most common shades.
As a rule, harlies are regarded as excellent pets. They have a sweet temperament and are easy to get along with, even for other pets in the family. Generally docile, harlequin rabbits still like to play and explore indoor and outdoor spaces. If your cat or dog gets along with smaller animals, they're not likely to have serious conflicts over space, food, water, toys, or other pet interests.
Harlequin rabbits make good pets in a variety of circumstances, including the sometimes cramped environments of city apartments. The amount of space needed for sleeping and eating is minimal, and harlequin rabbits don't produce a lot of waste you have to clean up. They're also basically mute, so noise won't be an issue. If you keep a harlie in your apartment, schedule plenty of outdoor time for them during the day.
These rabbits are fairly smart for their class, and it is possible to impart some basic training. While you'd have to be a full-time rabbit trainer to get them to do any tricks for you, they can be trained to use a litter box and keep their living areas clean. Harlies can also be trained to come when their names are called, though this is harder to do with rabbits than with dogs.
Harlequin rabbits have very short, dense coats that don't require extensive grooming. You can pull a brush over them once a week or so, and if they're in the mood to be handled, they tolerate the attention very well. These rabbits can mostly take care of their own grooming, however. The coat of a harlequin rabbit is very short, and shedding is minimal. Not many people are allergic to their dander.
These bunnies are great with kids, provided the children are also good with rabbits. Curious and friendly, they'll tolerate respectful handling for a long time before hopping away to explore on their own. Children should be taught never to grab at the rabbit and to lift them up with good back support to avoid injury. A badly mishandled rabbit might nip at fingers if it gets too scared, so respect is an absolute must.
Wild rabbits tend to run about 3 miles a day, and harlequins have similar exercise needs. Try to schedule at least 3 hours of free time for them every day, ideally in the garden, but the living room works too. Your rabbit should have space to run at full speed if it likes and some warrens where they can crawl through tunnels and hide under cover. Harlies like toys too, so keep colorful things nearby.
Harlequin rabbits don't need too much space if they can be let out of their hutches, which are mostly used for sleeping. Make sure your bunny hutch is big enough to let them stretch out fully and move around without cramping. Avoid cages with wire floors since these eventually cause sore hocks and may damage their delicate feet. Check the hutch every day to make sure it doesn't need cleaning.
Harlequins are a hearty rabbit breed, and health problems are rare and generally minor. Still, make sure you get in for dental checkups to treat malocclusion of the teeth and watch for ear mites, which can be treated with medicine from the vet. Some harlequin rabbits get GI stasis, where their digestive system slows way down and causes lethargy and constipation. Catch this early, and your vet can treat it almost every time.
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