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- This article concerns a particular breed of rabbit, the Netherland Dwarf. For information on domestic rabbits in general, see Domestic rabbit and for David Michod's 2008 short film see Netherland Dwarf (short film).
The Netherland Dwarf is a popular breed of domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) originating in the Netherlands. Smaller than most rabbit breeds, Netherland Dwarf rabbits weigh 500 g to 1.6 kg (1.1 lbs to 3.5 lbs) and are usually kept as pets or exhibition animals. They are not typically used as sources of meat or fur because of their small size.(3 in.)
Most rabbits sold in rabbit shows are Netherland Dwarfs, Netherland Dwarf-derived breeds (often referred to simply as dwarf breeds), or Netherland Dwarf crosses. Their popularity as pets stems from their babyish appearance. A lot of people also use Netherland Dwarfs for showing. Despite being smaller than other breeds Netherland Dwarfs are very active and, as with all rabbits, need a good amount of space to move around and exercise. It is a huge mistake to think that smaller rabbits need less space.
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The Netherland Dwarf breed was first produced in the Netherlands in the early 20th century. Small Polish rabbits were bred with smaller wild rabbits; after several generations the resulting animal was a very small domestic rabbit available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Netherland Dwarfs were first imported into the United Kingdom in 1948. In the 1960s and 1970s the United States imported its first Netherland Dwarf rabbits. The breed was accepted by the American Rabbit Breeders' Association in 1969 using a modification of the British standard.
Early dwarfs, even into the 1970s and 1980s, had fearful and sometimes aggressive temperaments. This was a result of breeders selecting wild breeding animals for their size. The first dwarf rabbits behaved more like these wild rabbits than domestic animals and were not good pets. However, through generations of selective breeding, the modern Netherland Dwarf has become a gentle, friendly pet rabbit, though it still retains a more energetic disposition than larger breeds.
The Netherland Dwarf's head and eyes are disproportionately large with respect to its body, (due to genetic dwarfism) and its ears are tiny and carried high on the head. Additionally, the face is rounded and shortened. You will also find that they have a compact and rounded body. These features, part of the animal's dwarfism, cause them to look infantile even into adulthood.
Dwarf crosses frequently retain some of these characteristics, depending on the breed the dwarf is crossed with. However, crosses rarely look as babyish as the purebred dwarfs and are usually somewhat larger.
Purebred Netherland Dwarfs exist in an extensive variety of colors, including Himalayan, Black, Blue, Chocolate, Lilac, Smoke Pearl, Sable Point, Tortoiseshell, Chestnut, Siamese Sable, Opal, Lynx, Squirrel, Chinchilla, Otter, Tan, Silver Marten, Sable Marten, Smoke Pearl Marten, Orange, Fawn, Steel, Broken, Blue-Eyed White and Ruby Eyed White. Other colors (including mismarks) exist in non-show-quality Netherland Dwarfs and in dwarf mongrel rabbits.
Netherland Dwarfs as pets
Netherland Dwarf rabbits have the same basic behavioral traits as dogs or cats. They can be litter-trained, but success varies amongst trainers of any breed.
Netherland Dwarfs have a reputation of being skittish, wild, and/or of a disagreeable nature. This is a leftover stereotype from the beginnings of the breed. This has changed through selective breeding, making Dwarfs generally docile. As with any species, disposition will vary from individual to individual, but overall, the Netherland Dwarf is curious and gentle. Those that are handled often learn to seek out human contact and enjoy companionship.
A well-bred Netherland Dwarf makes an excellent pet for both adults and children. They are hardy and, while small, are able to keep up with reasonable play and handling.
As with all rabbits 70-80% of the diet should consist of hay and/or grass. These should be available at all times and are essential for the rabbits digestive system. Do not give cut grass as it ferments quickly and may cause digestive problems. A small amount of vegetables may be given. Dark leafed vegetables are good. Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips etc. and fruit are high in sugar and should not be given often or in large amounts. Only certain varieties of lettuce may be given.Romaine and rocket and some of the darker leaf varieties are OK but check first if you are unsure, with a vet or the Rabbit Welfare Assoc. whose knowledge about rabbits is excellent. If in ANY doubt avoid lettuce altogether as feeding unsuitable varieties may affect your rabbits health . Water should be available at all times. A small amount of pelleted food may be given. NOT muesli style rabbit food as rabbit's selective feed IE they will pick out what they like and leave the rest. Sudden changes to a rabbit's diet can cause digestion problems if you have to change their diet do it slowly over a period of weeks. Incorrect feeding of any rabbit can lead to digestion problems such as diarrhea and gut stasis which can result in serious illness and possibly death. Consult a vet or animal charity for advice if you are in any doubt.
A very important aspect of rabbit care is proper diet. Many owners unintentionally fail at this point and that often spells disaster for their pet. Netherland Dwarfs have a digestive system even more sensitive than most breeds. The best diet consists of fresh, good quality rabbit .pellets fed in limited amounts—1/4 to 1/2 cup per 6 pounds body weight, so for a 2 pound netherland dwarf it means 2 oz to 2 1/2 oz of pellets per day—with unlimited access to hay for an adult and junior rabbit. look for really dry and green hay. Chopped safe vegetables should also be given, at 2 cups or more per 6 pounds of body weight.) It is crucial that the pellets be fresh and stored for no longer than eight weeks, do not use pellets which are moldy or have been contaminated. As pellets age they lose important nutrients, and a rabbit’s system will become susceptible to disease. The owner should also check the label for the percentages of protein, fiber, and fat. The National Research Council lists minimum rabbit nutrient requirements for a maintenance diet as 14% crude fiber, 2% fat, and 12% protein. It is best to feed a pellet that is higher in fiber (18-20%) and lower in protein (14-15%) and fat (2-3%) to a pet rabbit. Once you find a good brand, stick with it; frequent changes in diet can cause digestive problems. If you need to change brands, be sure to mix the new feed in with the old and increase the amount of new to old over a week's time so the rabbit can adjust.
Netherland Dwarfs generally don't require much feed. However, it is important to adjust for each individual to avoid malnourishment or obesity as well as adjusting for age. It is also important not to overfeed a Netherland Dwarf. Hay, however, can and should be given in unlimited amounts. access to water is always required.
Suitable and unsuitable fresh foods (really not necessary)
Especially recommended vegetables with greens: cucumber, carrots, fennel, celeriac, turnip, and broccoli
Especially recommended herbs and medicinal plants: basil, borage, watercress, dill, chamomile, chervil, lovage, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, and yarrow
Recommended vegetables/tubers: squash, parsnip, chicory, zucchini, parsley root, only leaves of corn,
Not suitable/never feed these: eggplant, celery, any type of lettuce, avocado, legumes (peas, lentils), radishes (root), soybeans, leeks, ornamental gourds, onions, rhubarb; spinach. Certain types of Lettuce are hazardous for rabbits because of the high amount of water, which can cause diarrhea. Stringy foods are also bad for rabbits, including celery, asparagus, and rhubarb.
Poisonous: raw potatoes and potato leaves, green tomatoes, tomato leaves, raw beans 
Rabbit breeds derived from breeding larger rabbits with the Netherland dwarf are known as dwarf breeds. Most smaller breeds, like the Mini-Rex, the Jersey Wooly, and the Holland lop, are results of such breedings. Generally dwarf breeds are slightly larger than the typical Netherland dwarf, not growing larger than 4 to 5 lb (1.8 to 2.3 kg). Most have shortened faces compared to larger rabbits, and some even preserve the rounded head, large eyes, or small ears of the Netherland dwarf. These features make them look little. Specifically, the Netherland Dwarf body is round, compact, and equally broad from front to back. Dwarf rabbits also have short legs and a large head in relation to the body. Their foreheads are broad and they have well-developed muzzles. Furthermore, the eyes are large and prominent. Their ears, unlike that of the Hop, are erect and close together, reaching around 2 inches in length. They have to be shorter than 2 inches and a half (ARBA), if not, this is a disqualification from competition in the netherland dwarf breed. Dwarf rabbits typically weigh 2 to 2.5 pounds according to ARBA.
Most dwarf breeds are intended to bring a specialized characteristic, such as a specific fur type, into a smaller rabbit. Mini-Rex were created through the breeding of dwarfs with Rex rabbits, a fur breed with a short, plush coat, and retain both the dwarf's size and the Rex fur. Jersey Woolies are a dwarf version of the Angora rabbit, a wool-producing breed. Lop-eared rabbit breeds, interbred with dwarfs, were used to create Holland Lop. Despite its name, the Mini Lop is not a dwarf breed.
The gene (symbol Dw) responsible for the common appearance of the dwarf was discovered in the United States during the beginning of the 20th century. When two "true dwarfs" (both buck and doe) are bred, the genetic pattern which makes them "true dwarfs" (Dwdw) ensures that a percentage of their offspring will inherit the lethal genetic combination DwDw. These offspring, often called "peanuts" by rabbit breeders, are destined to struggle with life for up to three weeks, and then to die. Reasons behind the death are unknown, but it is believed that peanuts have underdeveloped digestive tracts. The condition is 100% fatal, although if fed by hand every hour and kept warm it is possible for a peanut to survive, even though it will be handicapped for it's entire life. Many ethical breeders humanely euthanize peanuts upon finding them soon after birth. Peanuts are easily distinguished from non-peanuts; they have extremely pinched hindquarters, a bulbous head, and their ears are often set further back than normal (sometimes almost onto the neck).
If two true dwarfs are bred, the statistical result will be 25% fatal 25% false, and 50% true. The actual numbers of true/false/peanuts in a real litter varies. "False Dwarfs" tend to have longer bodies, longer/larger ears, longer faces, and are often heavier than the 2.5 pound maximum weight for showing. While false dwarfs (referred to as BUD' s by breeders, BUD meaning big ugly doe) do not make good show rabbits, does from a good background are vital to a breeder's program. They have the same "good genes" as a true dwarf and are capable mothers, often having larger and more successful litters than true dwarfs. False dwarfs are easily judged for quality as the traits are generally the same, only bigger. Ear thickness/shape, fullness of hindquarter, topline, and other traits are the same.
It is common practice among Netherland Dwarf breeders to breed a proven show quality true dwarf buck to a quality false dwarf doe. This eliminates the chance of peanuts and yields quality offspring. The chances of false dwarfs is higher, but those offspring generally go toward breeding (some false dwarf bucks have proven themselves valuable to a breeding program) or are sold as pets. Usually false dwarf bucks are not kept by breeders.
- American Rabbit Breeders Association (2000). Official Guide Book: Raising Better Rabbits & Cavies. Bloomington, IL: American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc. p. 65.
- Wegler, Monika. "Fresh Greens and Good Hay." My Dwarf Rabbit. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 2008. 67. Print.
- Wegler, Monika. "The Dwarf Breeds." My Dwarf Rabbit. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 2008. 26-31. Print.