What to Know About New Zealand Rabbits

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 29, 2022
5 min read

New Zealand rabbits are a large, easygoing rabbit breed that can make great pets. Consider New Zealand rabbit care, behavior, and costs before adopting or buying one.

The New Zealand rabbit came from California. There’s no consensus on the origin of the name. Breeders mixed Flemish Giants, Golden Fawns, and Belgian Hares to make a good meat rabbit.

The resulting large and quick-growing New Zealand became a popular meat rabbit.

Some New Zealand rabbits have albinism that gives them white fur and pink eyes. The fur industry uses these New Zealand white rabbits for their easy-to-dye pelts. Researchers use them for laboratory testing.

Other New Zealand rabbits have black, bluish-gray, reddish-orange, or mixed-colored fur. Most have dark eyes.

The average New Zealand rabbit size ranges from 9 to 12 pounds. A New Zealand rabbit’s lifespan is usually 5 to 8 years.

New Zealand rabbits are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are most active at dawn and dusk.

New Zealand rabbits are gentle and outgoing. They’re social and benefit from living with humans or other rabbits.

New Zealand rabbits tend to do better with handling than smaller breeds. This makes them a good pet option if you have kids, dogs, or cats.

Make sure to supervise young children and other pets when near your New Zealand rabbit. They may stress your rabbit with loud noises or sudden movements.

New Zealand rabbits can act territorial if they’re not neutered or spayed.

Keeping your New Zealand rabbit indoors protects them from predators and extreme weather. Avoid housing your rabbit in areas you rarely visit, like a basement or garage.

Commercial rabbit cages are too small for New Zealand rabbits. You can use a variety of materials, like dog playpens, to give your rabbit a larger space.

Try to use a pen that's at least four times your rabbit’s stretched out length. Let your rabbit out of the pen for at least five hours a day to exercise.

You can keep your rabbit in a room without a pen or let them roam your entire home.

Make sure to rabbit-proof any spaces your rabbit has access to. New Zealand rabbits have a natural instinct to chew and dig. This can lead them to damage things like carpet, cords, curtains, furniture, or rugs.

New Zealand rabbits need constant access to fresh water and hay. You can use timothy hay or various mixed grass hays. Don’t feed your adult rabbit alfalfa hay.

Provide your rabbit with fresh leafy vegetables every day. Give at least one-fourth cup of veggies for every 1 pound of body weight.

Some good vegetables for rabbits include bok choy, carrots tops, dandelion greens, green and red lettuce, radish tops, and romaine lettuce. You can also feed your New Zealand rabbit herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley.

Some non leafy vegetables may be unsafe for New Zealand rabbits. Feed carrots sparingly, as they’re high in sugar. Talk with your veterinarian if you’re unsure about a certain food.

You can supplement your New Zealand rabbit’s diet with store-bought pellets. For an adult rabbit, use a timothy pellet with at least 18% fiber content. Pellets should be a small part of your rabbit’s diet. Give no more than the amount listed on the pellets’ packaging.

New Zealand rabbits can eat small amounts of fruits like apples, berries, melon, and pears. Don’t give more than 1 tablespoon per 3 pounds of body weight.

Store-bought or homemade toys give New Zealand rabbits exercise, mental enrichment, and deter them from destructive behavior.

New Zealand rabbits enjoy homemade toys like cardboard boxes, paper bags, and toilet paper rolls. They may like wicker baskets, cotton towels, and rabbit-safe wood.

You can provide your New Zealand rabbit with foraging games to mimic natural behavior. Hide pellets or other food in toys, on a ruffled blanket, or across your rabbit’s enclosure or play space.

New Zealand rabbits don’t need baths. They groom themselves to keep their fur clean. 

Brush your New Zealand rabbit’s hair weekly. This helps remove extra fur that can cause digestive problems. Brush several times a week during your rabbit’s seasonal shedding cycles.

Cut your New Zealand rabbit’s nails every 6 to 8 weeks. Long nails can feel painful to your rabbit. Your vet can show you how to safely trim them.

New Zealand rabbits are generally healthy animals, but they do need veterinary care. Schedule regular exams with a veterinarian who specializes in rabbits.

New Zealand rabbits easily gain weight, as they were bred to grow quickly. Check your rabbit for signs of obesity.

Ear mites and flystrike can harm New Zealand rabbits. Keeping your rabbit inside can help prevent these.

New Zealand rabbits’ teeth constantly grow. They can become overgrown if not regularly worn down. Give your rabbit safe chew toys and unlimited hay to keep their teeth healthy.

New Zealand rabbits can suffer from a digestive disorder called gastrointestinal (GI) stasis. A rabbit with GI Stasis may not eat, drink, or poop. 

GI stasis can be deadly if not treated. Treatments can include hydration, medication, or surgery. A healthy diet, exercise, and rabbit-proofing can help prevent GI stasis.

A dangerous strain of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus appeared in the U.S. in 2020. This disease spreads from contact with infected rabbits and often leads to death. Your vet can vaccinate your rabbit to protect against this disease.

A protein found in rabbit saliva can trigger allergies in some people. Rabbits spread their saliva on their fur while grooming. Shedding allows the allergens to spread further. 

Owning a New Zealand rabbit means handling hay. Many types of hay are common allergens.

Rabbits are the third most common type of pet given up to animal shelters. Check with shelters or an adoption agency in your area if you’re interested in seeing a New Zealand rabbit.

You can also buy a New Zealand rabbit from a breeder. Look for a breeder that is knowledgeable, has references, and keeps their rabbits in proper housing. Ask a New Zealand breeder club for referrals.

Prices for New Zealand rabbits vary depending on whether you adopt or buy from a breeder. Some adoption agencies include initial veterinary care like spaying in their adoption price. 

Other initial expenses include an enclosure, a water bowl, grooming tools, rabbit-proofing supplies, and a litter box.

New Zealand rabbits may have a higher ongoing cost than smaller rabbit breeds due to their size. Expect to regularly buy hay, vegetables, pellets, litter, and toys.