What to Know About the Flemish Giant Rabbit

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 27, 2022
5 min read

The Flemish giant rabbit is the largest breed of rabbit in the world, as well as one of the oldest. Once raised for meat and fur, these rabbits are gentle and adaptable, making them excellent pets. 

The Flemish giant rabbit is a breed of domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus), a subspecies of European rabbits. They originated in Flanders, the northern portion of Belgium, and have been around since at least the 16th century. It’s thought that the Flemish giant rabbit may be the result of Europeans selectively breeding the Patagonian giant rabbit. The Patagonian giant rabbit is now extinct.

Originally, Flemish giant rabbits were bred for fur and meat. While still prized for those things, they also make excellent pets because they’re docile and gentle, even with children. They’re also bred and raised for show.

The term “giant rabbit” isn’t a misnomer. The Flemish giant rabbit is the largest type of rabbit in the world. They’re usually anywhere from 2.5 to 4 feet long and weigh 15 to 22 pounds, but the heaviest recorded Flemish giant rabbit weighed 50 pounds! The American Rabbit Breeders Association’s breed standards do not have a maximum weight for Flemish giant rabbits.

To get an idea of scale, compare that with one of the more recognizable rabbit breeds, the Dutch rabbit. These are another breed of domestic rabbit, but often weigh between 4 and 5.5 pounds.

There are seven colors that the National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders recognizes for Flemish giant rabbits. These are:

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Fawn
  • Light gray
  • Sandy
  • Steel gray
  • White

There’s a reason Flemish giant rabbits were bred for their fur: their fur is thick, glossy, and smooth. While beautiful, it means Flemish giant rabbits don’t handle hot weather very well, and it also makes them more prone to fur mites and ear mites.

Flemish giant rabbits have long, V-shaped ears and good eyesight, adaptations they’ve kept from their wild ancestors. Their bodies are arch-shaped, and they have rounded tails.

Male and female Flemish giant rabbits have distinct differences that make them easy to tell apart. Male Flemish giant rabbits are usually larger than females, and they have broader heads. Female Flemish giant rabbits have dewlaps, which are extra fur-coated skin that they use to keep their baby bunnies warm.

The large size of the Flemish giant rabbit can look intimidating, but these creatures are gentle giants. They’re friendly and love attention, so don’t be surprised if your Flemish climbs on your lap for a cuddle! Flemish giant rabbits prefer the peaceful life, and yours may nap frequently throughout the day. 

Just because they’re gentle, that doesn’t mean they’re pushovers. If you handle them roughly or get in their personal space when they’re uncomfortable, they may bite and scratch.

Flemish giant rabbits are generally healthy, and with regular veterinary care, they will often live for 8 to 10 years. 

While they are healthier than many other breeds, there are a few health issues they may deal with. The main ones include:

  • Heatstroke. Because Flemish giant rabbits are so large and have such thick fur, they’re more prone to overheating in hot weather.
  • GI stasis. GI stasis is a condition in which your rabbit’s digestive system slows or stops completely. This can be caused by stress, dehydration, or an underlying medical condition. GI stasis can cause a blockage in your rabbit’s intestines that if untreated can lead to death, but can be treated if caught early. Symptoms include lack of fecal pellets, loss of appetite, and lethargy.  
  • Malocclusion. Malocclusion is a general term for when your teeth don’t line up correctly. Rabbit teeth never stop growing, and when your rabbit has a misaligned bite, its teeth won’t wear down and can grow too much. In this case, regular dental checkups are even more important than usual.
  • Sore hocks. Sore hocks is a condition in which the sole of the rabbit’s foot becomes raw and inflamed. This can be caused by obesity, improper flooring like wire floors, loss of fur on the feet, and skeletal problems like arthritis.
  • Uterine cancer. Uterine cancer is the most common type of cancer in rabbits. Up to 60% of female rabbits over three years old get it. Treatment is available but usually requires surgical removal of the rabbit’s uterus.

The gentle, docile nature of Flemish giant rabbits makes them great pets. These rabbits can adjust to almost any home but should still be supervised around children because they will bite if upset.

Flemish giant rabbits need, for the most part, the same type of care as other rabbits. Because of their size, there are a few things to be careful of.

Enclosure. Because Flemish giant rabbits are so much bigger than other species of rabbits, they need an extra-large enclosure. The minimum cage size for a Flemish giant rabbit is 3 feet by 4 feet. Smaller cages don’t allow them to move easily, which can lead to them becoming stressed.

Flemish giant rabbits grow quickly and can reach their adult size by the time they’re about one and a half years old. They can also jump as high as 3 feet, so their enclosure needs to be tall enough that they can’t jump out.

Like dogs and cats, Flemish giant rabbits are easily domesticated. You can keep them indoors and even train them to use a litter box. Litter box training is easiest if you start when the rabbit is young.

Food. Flemish giant rabbits are herbivores and prefer grains, grasses, and vegetables. Due to their size, they need to eat more food than other breeds. To determine how much food to offer, consider your rabbit's age, size, and activity level. 

Your Flemish giant rabbit should be eating its body size in hay every day, as well as pellets and fresh vegetables. Timothy hay is best. Hay helps keep its digestion regular and also helps wear down its teeth. Your rabbit also needs constant access to fresh water to prevent dehydration.

Because Flemish giant rabbits aren’t a very active breed, they can put on weight quickly. Don’t give them too many treats, and make sure they have enough space to move around their enclosure. If their hutch is on the smaller side, try to let them out frequently so they can hop around.