How to pose, evaluate, and select rabbits for show

Note: While adorable, the above pose does pretty much zilch for selecting a show rabbit

Rabbit Anatomy 

Before we start, let me just remind you that there is no such thing as THE perfect rabbit. If there was, there would be no challenge to breeding rabbits. We are constantly looking to improve upon the type of our rabbits. Breeding is a game of balance, and looking to improve with each generation. It is important to recognize and attempt to eradicate faults, but please don't expect to find all of your rabbits fault less.

An English Lop has a very distinctive silhouette when posed from the side. They should look like a Mandolin cut in half. (An instrument, not an orange) For reference purposes, this is a mandolin:

Now lets cut that in half an look at a couple of our bunnies next to it. (Sorry for the horrible graphics! If it bothers you too terribly much, we will humbly accept any donations of proper graphics programs rather than continue to use MS Paint! :) )

The biggest advice I can give you is to purchase a Standard of Perfection from ARBA. It will set you back about $20, but it is worth its weight in gold. You will need to compare and re-read this book many many times. The SOP is copywrite protected and can not be reproduced in whole or part, so I am unable to post it here. I will however give a few words of my own on each part of the rabbit, just to help guide you.

Head: An English lop head should be round, well defined and impressive. It should have a blunt, squared muzzle and jaw, and never a snipey or pointy muzzle. The eyes should be almond shaped, appropriately colored for the rabbits color/pattern, and clear of any cataracts, injury or discharge.

Ears:  A very large amount of points are directed towards the ears of an English Lop. They are second only to body in importance. The ears should be large and prominent, but should not overbalance the length of the rabbit. This seems to be something that new breeders (and some old breeders) often forget. Length is NOT everything in ears. The ears should balance the length of the body. If you have a shorter backed rabbit, than shorter ears are needed to balance. If you have a longer, larger rabbit, than you will need longer ears to balance. The minimum required length is 21''. To measure ears you will need to stretch the ears tight horizontally.  You are measuring the WINGSPAN of the ears, so you will be measuring from tip of one ear, across the head to the tip of the other ear. You will also need to measure width. A rabbits width should properly balance with the length of the ear. To measure width you will need to stretch the ear flat and measure several places to find the largest width. Below are pictures of Nipper's Geronimo, the current Guiness Book World Record holder for the Longest Ears. (I did not take these pictures, they are from google)

Ears should be pliable, firm and smooth. They should not be thick enough to refuse to fold open when dropped, but should not be thin enough to tear easily. They should be well furred, and not bare. When released and dropped on the table, they should easily fold open on their own into a bell shape. The tips should be rounded, and not trowel shaped. There should be no pimples, blemishes, tears, nicks, scabs or other marks on the ear that distract from the overall presentation of the rabbit. There should not be a heavily visible lateral crease.

Crown: An English Lop should have very little, and preferably no, crown. The ears should be set low and to the side to allow the ears to swing open easier. The top of the head should be smooth and you should not be able to feel the base of the ears when running your hand over the top of the skull.

Shoulders: The shoulders should be wide, firm and deep, with a discernible break following prior to the rise. The rise should NOT start directly behind the rabbits head, and the rabbits rise should not look like a ski slope. You should see the shoulders, and then a break, and then the rise. 

Rise: The rise should be smooth, effortless and without flat spots or dips. It should peak directly over the hip. Depth should balance with length and width.

Hindquarters: The hindquarters should taper smoothly in a nice round circle, and finish low and tight to the table. You should not be able to see daylight between the rabbits hindquarters and the table. The tail should be carried upright and should be free of breaks or dislocations, and should not be carried to the side.

Loins: The loins should be smooth and fleshed well, you should not be able to run your hands down a rabbit from the head to the tail and get caught between the hips. That would indicate a very narrow rabbit.

Width: An english lop should be wide, well fleshed and muscular but not overly burdened by fat. You should be able to run your hands down the sides of an adult rabbit and it should transition smoothly from rib to loin to hindquarters. You should not feel your hands drawn and stuck between loin and hip.

Ear Shape

To the left, we see properly shaped ears. These are large, wide and bell shaped. You can see that the tips are very rounded and wide, with no discernible point. While they are a bit thick on the leading edges, there is no lateral crease and the ears still fold open.

To the  right, we see an example of narrow or trowel shaped ears. This particular rabbit is not a horrific example, but he would surely be faulted if shown for having narrow ears. You can see a hint of a lateral crease developing as well.

To the left, we see some very nicely shaped developing ears on this JR. In particular, the width and roundness of the ear tip. However, she is developing quite the crease in the middle of her ears. This may be because her ears are growing too fast for her body, but we will have to keep an eye on it to be sure that her ears do not snap shut when dropped as an adult. 

Other Faults

To the right, you can see a defined flat spot over the haunches of this rabbit. It looks like someone hit her with a sledgehammer there. This is a very undesirable fault. 

To the left, we can see a proper, rounded, hindquarter with no flat spots.

The JR to the right shows proper, straight rear feet. They are nice and tight, straight and well balanced. HOWEVER, this rabbits rear legs are too close together, indicating a narrow frame. This rabbit will more than likely grow up to have a very narrow base.

This rabbit (who wouldn't cooperate as much) shows a wider set to her hips, indicating a slightly better set and a wider frame. However, her legs cock slightly, with her hocks turning in away from her toes. This indicates slightly "pinched" hips, which will result in the rabbit toeing out at the table, and not posing properly. (Remember when flipping your rabbit to press your hands against their back legs several times and let them push back against you to get a better idea of how their legs truly lie as most young rabbits look pinched when you first flip them over)

This rabbit, while not cooperating at all, actually shows the best placement of all three animals. It is hard to tell because he would not pull his feet in, but you can look at his thighs and see that they are straight. They are also set much wider than the other two, indicating a proper wide stance. More than likely this rabbit will have a nice, round wide set hind quarters.

This rabbit shows far too much crown. His ear set is also high and turned inward, so his ears do not properly open when dropped. His head shape is beautiful, very round and blunt.

This rabbit shows a medium level of crown, however it is still an undesirable level of crown.His head shape is beautiful.

This rabbit shows very little crown, and proper low ear placement. Her head shape leaves something to be desired as she isn't quite as round as the two above, but she still has a nice head.

This rabbit shows a very narrow and long face, and would be considered snipey. I would credit her with very little crown and excellent low ear placement. 

This is a properly shaped head with little crown. We see a good ear set, rounded face and little crown.

The rabbit to the right is undercut. 

A rabbit that lifts off the table, allowing daylight to show under their haunches, or allowing you to run your hands under their tail and between their legs while posed is an undercut rabbit. An English Lop should not lift off the table in the rear.

The rabbit to the left is a "Charlie". This is a rabbit with too much white. To be shown, a broken rabbit must have more than 10% color, full color on their ears and color on the eyes and nose. Some judges will count the ears within that 10% (making this rabbit showable) and some will not (making this rabbit a DQ)

This rabbit has a beautiful head, crown and ear set. His shoulders are also lovely. 

However, there is no discernible break after the shoulders creating a wedge "ski slope" shape. The rabbit needs more depth to balance out and a better break behind the shoulders. This rabbit is also short backed, but very wide.

Warning! Some of the next pictures are a bit graphic.

Thank you to everyone who donated their pictures for this gallery!

This is a 16 week old english lop suffering from malocclusion. Malocclusion is a condition affecting the set or growth of the teeth. A rabbit with teeth in this condition can not properly eat, groom itself or enjoy life. Once noted, the teeth should be trimmed by someone familiar with the process. They will most likely need to be trimmed regularly to prevent overgrowth. If left untrimmed, the teeth can continue to grow and grow through lips, nasal cavities or even the brain, and the rabbit will starve. Malocclusion can occur from any number of reasons, usually stemming from trauma or genetic modifiers. If trauma driven (for instance biting on a cage bar and breaking the teeth) the rabbit may recover after a suitable amount of time trimming and setting the teeth. If genetic, the rabbit will never recover fully and should be culled from a breeding program, along with the parent(s) that produced the rabbit. How can you tell if it's trauma or genes? Well, there's the rub. You can't. However, most rabbits with genetic malocclusion will show symptoms by 16 weeks of age, and you will usually see more than one in the litter with wonky teeth. If there are any doubts, test breed the parents again, to see if they throw more bad teeth. If so, they should be removed from a breeding program. A rabbit with genetic malocclusion should never be bred. The exact inheritance of malocclusion is unknown, however it is theorized to be a recessive set of modifying genes.

The rabbit to the right is showing a root abscess on its right upper molar. (Follow the arrow) This is a form of malocclusion. A root abscess is a particularly nasty little surprise to pop up because it is almost impossible to find. The image to the right was taken while the rabbit was under anesthesia by a veterinarian performing dental surgery. Sadly, a root abscess is nearly impossible to treat without surgical removal, and generally requires culling a rabbit from a breeding program. Symptoms of a possible dental abscess are general listlessness, change in behavior/attitude (usually becoming irritable) poor grooming, weepy eyes, swollen jaw line, poor eating, and grinding of teeth.

This is an example of a weepy, crusty eye. The eye is leaking fluid which is matting the fur around the eye and causing fur loss. A rabbit exhibiting such symptoms may be suffering from a dental abscess as shown above, an eye infection, pasteurella, or even allergies. Further testing will be required. The important thing to remember is that you do not ignore a weepy eye. It may not look like much at first, but it is a symptom of a something much more serious.

To the right we have an example of "moon eye". Moon eye is a genetic form of glaucoma that generally will present in young rabbits by the age of 3 months. Affected animals and their parents should be culled from a breeding program. It can present in one eye or both, to varying degrees of severity. The pressure in the eye usually gets worse as the rabbit gets older. 

The rabbit to the left is showing a particularly nasty case of sore hocks. Sore hocks are pressure sores on the bottom of a rabbits feet, usually on the back but can be on the front as well. Sore hocks are generally caused by too much time on wire without a proper resting mat, but can be complicated by genetics, obesity, age, and malnutrition. English Lops are particularly sensitive to sore hocks because they are a very large rabbit with poor furring on the feet. A rabbit that exhibits chronic sore hocks even with resting mats or a solid bottom cage, should not be bred. If your rabbit does contract sore hocks, a topical antibiotic should be used and a good cushioned mat should be provided. For afflicted animals in my barn, we will use vetericyn and then liberally coat the legs with blue kote, an antifungal/antibacterial spray available in most feed stores. We will also provide the rabbit with solid, soft hay and bedding to help speed the recovery. 

The English Lop pictured to the right is exhibiting Wry Neck (torticollis). This is a very depressing symptom to see a beloved rabbit contract. Without care, a rabbit will not survive wry neck. With care, they have about a 50/50 chance, depending on the underlying cause. Wry neck is a symptom, NOT a diagnosis. It can be brought on my numerous factors. With english lops, the first thing to check is always the ear, hoping for a mild bacterial infection. Clean the ears thoroughly, looking for signs of inflammation, pus and scabbing. A rabbit may be leaning into the affected ear due to pain. Baytril, or PenG is usually the antibiotic of choice to treat an external and mild ear infection. If infected, a rabbit will usually show a marked improvement in a short amount of time with proper antibiotics.

Unfortunately, there are a few other more alarming causes of wry neck. Pasteurella multocida and Encephalitozoon cuniculi are highly infectious nasty infections that can present as wry neck due to the build up of pus and infectious fluid in the inner ear. E. Cuniculi is an extremely common parasitic organism often found in soil, hay and grasses (dropped there by animals in the field) and is usually treated by a month long (28 days) daily dose of Panacur or Safeguard (Fenbendazole). It is wildly considered that up to 80% of the general population of rabbits will have E. Cuniculi living within them, but without presenting an active symptomatic infection. Once an active infection occurs, the infectious spores are secreted in the affected animal's urine and can live in the environment for up to a month. It is highly recommended to quarantine an affected animal while they are undergoing treatment. The rabbit may never recover fully, having a slight head tilt for the remainder of its life, but it can usually recover enough to remain a pet. Pasteurella, unfortunately, does not have a cure. There are a multitude of treatments advised by people online, however I do not recommend putting off the inevitable. If pasteurella is suspected, the rabbit should be humanely and terminally culled. Currently, if an animal in my herd presents with wry neck, my plan of action is to 1) quarantine the animal 2) bleach all surfaces the animal has had contact with 3) check ears for external ear infection (Otitis Externa), if found treat. 4) If not found, or rabbit is exhibiting eye darting (another sign of E. Cuniculi) begin 28 days of treatment with fenbendazole while remaining in quarantine. 5) If no improvement is noted within 4 weeks, or symptoms progress, suspect pasteurella and euthanize. 

The rabbit to the left has a subcutaneous abscess. An abscess is a fairly common condition in rabbits, and can range from a small bump not much larger than a pimple to a mass the size of a grapefruit. An abscess can be caused by many, many factors. When located under the chin as here, especially in bucks, the first thought would be that the rabbit has injured itself "chinning" an environment over and over again. Removing them and placing them somewhere not quite as stimulating after draining the abscess may help prevent a re-occurrence.  Abscess can be caused by repeated pressure, bacterial infections, fungal infections and sterile injections. The first course of action is to always lance, drain, and thoroughly clean the sore. (**WARNING** THIS IS NOT FOR THE INEXPERIENCED RABBIT KEEPER. PLEASE TAKE YOUR RABBIT TO A RABBIT SAVVY VET OR KNOWLEDGEABLE BREEDER TO ASSIST WITH LANCING AN ABSCESS. ANY RECOMMENDATIONS ON THIS SITE IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER VETERINARY CARE***) To do so, one would need to: Wearing clean, sterile gloves, clean the external area with alcohol, and swab with betadine. (Optional, but recommended- spray with a lidocaine spray and allow a few minutes to pass to numb the skin) Use a STERILE and sharp scalpel or blade to carefully puncture the skin, drawing a small line across the abscess. Very slowly, and very carefully, squeeze the infectious pus and blood out of the abscess. Apply steady, gentle pressure to both sides of the mass to coax the purulent material out. Rabbit pus is VERY thick, about the same texture as toothpaste. Once you have emptied the abscess, carefully rinse the site with alcohol, apply antibiotics, and place in a clean, dry cage. Check and reapply antibiotics daily. Depending on the size of the abscess, oral or subQ antibiotics may be required. Repeat as needed. Most rabbits will make a swift and full recovery.

The rabbit to the right has a particularly bad case of fur mites. Fur mites will crop up from time to time, and will look like dandruff. You may even see the dandruff moving. Fur mites are highly contagious. All rabbits should be treated with Ivermectin. The dosage is .01 per pound oral, repeated in one week. DO NOT USE IVERMECTIN PASTE FOR HORSES. I understand that this is the cheapest way to treat your herd, and you may hear many people recommending a dose "about the size of a pea". However, the ivermectin paste for horses is designed to be given as a single dose to one animal. The active ingredients are suspended in the apple flavored paste and are not evenly mixed. By selecting a small dose, you can not be ensured how much medicine you are actually giving your animal. You may be giving the correct dose, no dose, or a massive overdose. While ivermectin is not a particularly easy drug to overdose on, it is possible and can be fatal. It really isnt worth the risk to safe a few dollars. Take the plunge and purchase the $50 bottle of Ivomec injectable for cattle and swine. The bottle will treat MANY rabbits and will last most rabbitries a long time. It is worth the investment to be able to accurately dose your rabbits.

A note on Snuffles: (Also known as rhinitis, rabbit colds and pneumonia) This is defined as an acute, subacute, or chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes of the air passages and lungs, induced primarily by Pasteurella, but also caused by Pseudomonas, Bordetella bronchiseptica, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. The initial sign is generally a thin, white discharge from the nose and eyes that later becomes purulent (pus filled). The fur on the inside of the front legs just above the paws may be matted and caked with dried yellowish matter or this area may be clean with thinned fur as a result of pawing at the nose and washing the face. Infected rabbits almost always sneeze and cough. The sneeze is generally how the disease is spread- a rabbit will "blow snot" quite a far distance, infecting other animals. Prognosis in infected animals is poor, although heavy and lengthy support with antibiotics may cause the symptoms to fall back a bit. Almost all rabbits that exhibit a white nasal discharge are suffering from an infection of pasteurella. You may also note abscesses, wry neck, weepy eyes and a general listlessness. If you suspect pasteurella, the animal should be terminally and humanely culled, as quickly as possible. Your entire herd should be put into lock down and any exposed animals quarantined. There is absolutely no excuse for selling or giving away an animal you suspect has pasteurella. If you suspect that it may not be pasteurella, or the rabbit has a clear/foggy discharge, a culture with a rabbit savvy vet may give you a better answer. Bordetella, staph and streptococcus are often treatable with correct antibiotics, however the rabbit will still need to be quarantined. 

Bottom line, we have a rule here in our barn. If it BLOWS it GOES. A single sneeze will earn a stern and wary look, a series of sneezes will earn a quarantine, and the appearance of white snot will earn a trip to freezer camp.

I highly and enthusiastically recommend the BunnyVac vaccine available from Bob Glass. All breeder rabbits, and all JRs at Lily Patch Farms are vaccinated using this vaccine to prevent pasteurella infections.

Thank you for reading our article! I will be adding more over time. If you have pictures of medical conditions or faults, please feel free to send them to me!

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