The Harlequin Rabbit — Breed Guide and Care Tips

Last Updated : January 26, 2022
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The Harlequin rabbit breed is one of the oldest rabbit breeds around, dating all the way back to the 1880s. But surprisingly enough, their longevity isn’t their main claim to fame.

Harlequin rabbits are far more famous for their colorful coats and unique body markings.

Come on, just take a look at these cheeky fluffballs!

A single glance at a Harlequin bunny rabbit is enough to amaze even the toughest crowd — and that’s why they inherited the name “Harlequin” from the colorful comic entertainers of the past.

And it’s also the reason why they’re lovingly referred to as “the clown of rabbits” by enthusiasts and pet owners alike.

Has this little critter stirred up your attention?

Excellent.

Read on and find out if the royal jester of the rabbit world is right for you.

Cartoon of a Harlequin Rabbit

Harlequin Breed History and Origin

The Harlequin rabbit is one of the oldest breeds around. But since you already know that, let’s skip straight to six Harlequin rabbit facts you (probably) have never heard of.

One:

The Harlequin rabbit breed was developed in 1880s France by crossing a semi-wild Tortoiseshell Dutch rabbit with truly wild rabbits.

The result was breathtaking.

Two:

Harlequin rabbits were first exhibited in 1887 in Paris, France.

Three:

Harlequin rabbits quickly spread from France to England, where they gained overnight fame as popular show animals thanks to their beautiful coats.

Four:

The Harlequin rabbit breed reached the USA in the 1920s, where it was initially named the Japanese rabbit. However, this name was changed as a result of World War II hostilities with Japan.

Five:

During the World Wars, the Harlequin rabbit became a popular meat animal thanks to its commercial body type, and it contributed to the successful war effort of the Allies.

Six:

Nowadays, the Harlequin breed is recognized by both American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) and the British Rabbit Council (BRC).

Physical Description of Harlequin Rabbits

General Appearance and Breed Size

Harlequin rabbits are medium to large-sized bunnies with a commercial body type, medium-length erect ears, and a round-shaped head.

This breed of rabbit typically weighs between 6.5 and 9.5 lb (3 to 4.3 kg).

Coat

Harlequin rabbits have a short, dense, and very soft coat of fur.

It’s a dream to pet and run your fingers through.

Their fur doesn’t require much effort to keep clean, and shedding is minimal.

We recommend you brush them once a week with a high-quality wire-bristled brush (like one of these options) as this prevents fur from dropping, clumping, and getting stuck on your clothes and furniture.

If you notice that your pet rabbit is dirty, use a damp towel to spot clean it.

Always try to avoid bathing your Harlequin rabbit (unless it’s strictly necessary due to a messy accident) because it causes them high levels of stress and could result in injury or a heart attack.

Colors

There are two types of Harlequin rabbits:

  1. Japanese Harlequin rabbits
  2. Magpie Harlequin rabbits

The most significant difference between the two types is coat coloration, a.k.a. do they have orange or white bellies?

Japanese Harlequin rabbits are generally orange and either black, blue, chocolate, or lilac, while Magpie Harlequin rabbits are typically white and either blue, black, chocolate, or lilac.

Here’s an example of a black Japanese Harlequin and a chocolate-black Magpie Harlequin to help you visually understand the difference:

Source: Wikipedia
Harlequin Rabbit (Image Credit: Lynn Gardner, via Wikimedia Commons)

Both types can have a large variety of body markings — bars, bands, patches, or a combination of all three.

However, in order to achieve the American Rabbit Breeders Association Standard of Perfection, a Harlequin rabbit must have a three-part front alternation.

In layman’s terms, this means that a perfect Harlequin rabbit has:

  1. An even mix of both coat colors
  2. A “half-and-half” head coloration, where:
  3. Their ears are two different colors
  4. Their face is split symmetrically into two different colors
  5. The ears and face alternate in color
  6. A “half-and-half” split in coloration between the chest and the front legs (which alternates with the face split and matches the ears)
  7. Hind feet that alternate in color with the front feet

Confused?

Don’t sweat it; breeding the perfect Harlequin rabbit is no easy feat, and it takes years and years of experience and a healthy dose of luck.

However, adopting one or two as companion pets is a cakewalk, even for first-time rabbit owners. 🐰❤️

P.S. If you want to see more Harlequin rabbit coat colors, then check out this fantastic video from the Rabbits Breeders Youtube Channel (and turn up the sound, the background track is worth listening to!).

Harlequin Rabbit Personality and Temperament

Harlequin rabbits aren’t just bright in color; they’re also bright in character.

They’re full of personality, they thrive on human interaction, and they’re as adorable, outgoing, and entertaining as pet rabbits come.

Harlequins are an excellent-natured breed, with above-average intelligence and tons of playfulness and cheekiness to match their “clown-like” fur coat.

No wonder they’re considered to be ideal pets for kids and anyone else that needs some daily cheering-up (like seniors or people struggling with chronic illnesses).

But don’t think of them as the Energizer Bunny; they also enjoy cuddling and relaxing in their owner’s lap, thanks to their calm, sweet temperament.

All in all, you’ll forge a strong, loving bond with a Harlequin in no time.

Fun fact: rabbits are more intelligent than guinea pigs and hamsters and can even be trained to learn their names.

Harlequin Rabbit Behavior

Harlequin rabbits are curious and outgoing creatures.

They love to roam free and hop around your house (or garden), exploring every nook and cranny, even though they’ve already done it hundreds of times before.

You never know what might be hiding in plain sight. 😛

To make their lives a bit more exciting and varied, you should provide them with plenty of toys and things to climb on, crawl through, chew on, and dig through.

You can either buy these rabbit accessories and toys online or get creative and make some DIY rabbit toys at home. Cardboard boxes and wicker baskets are great starting points.

Either way, you’ll need to test and see what types of toys your rabbit prefers, as every single bunny has slightly different likes and dislikes when it comes to playtime.

And one more thing:

Definitely don’t forget to get your Harlequin rabbit a litter box (or five).

Because it’s 100% possible to litter train your pet rabbit.

It’s not easy, but as long as you follow a proven litter training method, you’ll gradually teach your pet buns to go to the bathroom in their litter boxes.

We suggest you place a box in every room of your house to make it as easy and quick as possible for your Harlequin rabbit to jump into one when nature calls.

Harlequin Rabbit Care Requirements

Harlequin rabbits require the same level of care any other breed of rabbit deserves:

  • A safe, comfortable home
  • Yummy, nutritious food
  • Daily exercise
  • The occasional trip to the vet
  • Plenty of love (way more than the occasional pat)

A rabbit’s enclosure is one of the most important elements of rabbit care. No wonder it was first on our bullet point list. After all, they’ll spend the majority of their lives chilling in there.

You should get your Harlequin rabbits the biggest possible cage that fits into your home or garden (depending on whether your pet rabbits will be outdoor or indoor rabbits).

If you need to get a smaller cage, make sure your rabbits have enough space to stretch out comfortably and get a moderate amount of exercise.

And if you decide on an outdoor hutch, double-check to see if it has several compartments — at least one raised off the ground to provide a safe, sheltered space, and at least one at ground level (with an accessible ramp) for your Harlequin rabbit to roam around and enjoy the grass between their paws.

The PawHut Backyard Wooden Coop Style Rabbit Hutch is a great example of an excellent outdoor hutch.

After you’ve picked the perfect rabbit cage or hutch, you need to worry about filling it with soft bedding and keeping it nice and clean for your rabbit. We advise you spot clean it daily and do a full cage clean (with litter replacement and disinfection) once a week.

Next up, your rabbit’s diet.

Harlequin rabbits, like most rabbits, need to enjoy a nutritious diet that’s made up of 70-80% hay and 20-30% fresh vegetables, rabbit pellets, and fruits.

They love things like leafy greens, watercress, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, apples, and fennel.

This dietary mix ensures they get constant access to all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins they need for proper health and long, happy lives.

N.B. Do your research before feeding your Harlequin rabbits anything new as it’s very hard to guess what might be harmful to bunnies (i.e., leeks and mustard greens are actually bad for your bunnies).

So don’t take any risks and turn to your vet for some expert advice if you’re unsure about anything!

We’ve already mentioned that the Harlequin rabbit breed is very active and outgoing, so don’t overlook the importance of letting them out of their enclosures for at least a few hours every day.

This gives them enough time to run, hop, and binky to their little heart’s content.

Just don’t forget to supervise them as a Harlequin rabbit can quickly get up to no good if left to their own devices.

Plus, the extra bonding time helps pet parents and their fluffballs build closer relationships.

Harlequin Rabbit Health

Luckily, Harlequin rabbits aren’t prone to any breed-specific health problems and are generally quite hardy animals.

This healthy breed has an average lifespan of about five to eight years, which unfortunately is less than other breeds like Himalayans and Holland Lops.

Like other rabbits, these colorful beauties suffer from a range of species-specific issues such as:

  • Malocclusion
  • GI stasis (wool block)
  • Ear mites
  • Overgrown teeth and nails
  • Flystrike

Overgrown teeth are one of the biggest problems to look out for as your rabbit’s teeth continue growing even in adulthood. If left unchecked, they could cause a range of potentially life-threatening issues in your poor rabbit’s mouth.

The best way to keep them in check is by including plenty of delicious hay in your rabbit’s diet and by monitoring their teeth at least once every couple of weeks.

It’s also advisable to keep your rabbit’s nails nice and short by clipping them whenever you notice they’re too long.

This prevents them from accidentally hurting themselves or other rabbits and people. You have the choice between using sharp nail clippers to do the clipping yourself or taking your pet to a veterinarian. If you’re doing it, make sure not to cut their nails too short, or you’ll cause bleeding and need to head to the vet anyway.

Where To Get a Harlequin Rabbit?

The Harlequin rabbit is a fairly common and widespread breed, so you should have no problem finding one near you.

However, you should always purchase Harlequin breed rabbits from a reputable breeder, regardless of whether you’re looking for a stunning show animal or a cuddly pet rabbit.

How can you tell if a breeder is reputable?

  1. Check the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) and the British Rabbit Council (BRC) websites to see if they are listed as official breeders.
  2. Speak to other Harlequin rabbit owners and past customers.
  3. Look for online reviews and recommendations.
  4. Ask for proof they’re only raising captive-bred harlequin rabbits and that their bunnies don’t have any sort of genetic health problems.

If you’re looking for picture-perfect rabbits, you should take some time to visit trade fairs and rabbit shows to get in contact with breeders focused on developing ARBA-perfect Japanese Harlequin rabbits and Magpie Harlequin rabbits.

Pro tip: a Harlequin rabbit costs between $20 and $100 depending on various factors, including the breeder, coat color, pedigree, and quality of their fur markings.

But don’t get too bogged down with coat coloration and body markings if you’re looking for an animal companion — even the most imperfectly colored Harlequins make for good pets!

Summary

By this point, you’re well-versed in Harlequin rabbit knowledge.

You know how to spot a Harlequin based on their gorgeous coat. You know the difference between Magpie Harlequins and Japanese Harlequins. You know all about their long and colorful history. And of course, you know how they behave and how to take care of these adorable little fellows.

A congratulation is in order! Thank you for dedicating so much time and effort to this remarkable bunny breed!

But don’t leave it at that — put your learning to good use by adopting a Harlequin rabbit and adding a fun, playful member to your family!

P.S. If you have any comments or further questions about these beautiful animals, please reach out to us. There’s nothing we love more than talking about Little Furry Pets!

1 thought on “The Harlequin Rabbit — Breed Guide and Care Tips”

  1. I have just purchased some registered Harlequin rabbits and I’d like to start breeding them. Can you hook me up with Harlequin clubs and Breeders?

    Reply

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