A rather fancy type of domestic rabbit, the Belgian Hare was developed specifically to resemble the wild hare in appearance. The Belgian Hare is instantly recognisable thanks to its lithe body and long, slim legs. Due to its breeding the Belgian Hare is one of the more intelligent rabbit breeds and they are also very active, needing lots of exercise and plenty of opportunities to run and play.
The breed is quite long-lived, with some examples living up to 10 years, and most animals weigh between six and nine pounds.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first examples of this breed were developed in Belgium in the early eighteenth century by crossing wild rabbits with domestic breeds in order to create a good meat animal. By the 1870s the Belgian Hare had made its way across the North Sea, where it was further developed by English breeders, who wanted to create a type that was more like its wild cousins in its behaviour.
By the late 1870s the Belgian Hare had started to appear in the US, where it was an immediate hit with fanciers there, prompting the setting up of numerous clubs across America. Many, many animals were bred to keep up with the demand and some changed hands for as much as $1000. The arrival of the Belgian Hare in the US and its subsequent popularity is even credited with the development of the American Rabbit Breeders Association – the foremost breeders group in the US. After the establishment of the National Belgian Hare Club of America and as more rabbit breeds made their way to US shores, the club extended to govern standards for these animals too and changed its name to the National Pet Stock Association, which eventually became the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
By the second decade of the 20th Century the popularity of the Belgian Hare was on the wane as many breeders had attempted to breed the Hare, a naturally slender animal, for the meat market. These attempts failed and because the breed had become polluted, and they are traditionally difficult to breed from, it’s not easy to find a genuine Belgian Hare.
Main colourways: tan, chestnut or red, with black ticking
Average weight: 2.7 – 4.1kg
A very lean rabbit, the Belgian Hare does indeed look like its wild ancestors. It has a long, slender body with a well-muscled flank, a very arched back and loin area and powerful hindquarters. They have a particularly long face and a tail which is always held straight and in line with the spinal column. The forelegs are fine and straight, while the back feet are also delicate, long and flat. The ears have the distinctive length and ‘spoon’ shape of the wild hare.
The Belgian is thought to be the only breed of domestic rabbit to display a rich red or chestnut coat with the striking black ticking that’s present in the coats of wild rabbits.
This is a very clever little animal that will require lots of physical and mental stimulation in order to keep him happy. They are extremely alert and as such can be skittish – many owners recommend keeping a radio playing nearby at all times so they get used to loud or strange noises. They can easily learn their names and will sometimes come when called.
The Belgian is not a beginner’s rabbit due to its speed, power and slightly nervous disposition, however for an experienced enthusiast they are rewarding to keep as ensuring the rabbit remains healthy and well is incredibly satisfying. They can also be taught to play simple games, which can be great fun. They will tolerate handling, particularly if they’ve been used to human company and being picked up from an early age, but again, because they can be unpredictable they should not be handled by children. A panicking rabbit is more powerful than you might think and can easily cause injury as he struggles to flee.
Belgian Hares Health
All rabbits are delicate creatures and handling, feeding and housing should all be considered carefully before you bring one into your life. Their digestive system is designed to deal with high levels of fibrous vegetables – he should not be fed anything he wouldn’t come across in the wild. Any new additions to the diet should be introduced gradually in order let the gut get used to the new material.
Plenty of good quality hay, rabbit pellets and green, fibrous vegetables should form the basis of his diet and these things will also help keep is continually growing teeth worn down too. Dental problems are common in rabbits and any owner should monitor their pet’s dental health carefully.
In larger rabbits who live in cages with wire floors or that haven’t been cleaned out well enough, sore hocks can develop, where the bristle hair on the hock wears away exposing the skin and open wounds can appear on the hock area. Flystrike is also a problem that can occur if your rabbit is allowed to become dirty or cannot groom himself.
Many rabbits can also suffer with respiratory conditions such as ‘snuffles’, which is the result of the Pasturella bacteria that lives in the animal’s respiratory tract getting out of control. Often though, snuffles is misdiagnosed as a runny nose could be due to stress, allergies or a sinus problem, while runny eyes could be ascribed to dental problems or a blocked tear duct.
All rabbits should be wormed regularly and vaccinated against myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. They should also be treated for ticks and lice.
Caring for a Belgian Hares
The Belgian has very specific needs compared to other rabbit breeds because of its naturally athletic nature. Any hutch should be fully waterproof and large enough to allow him to move around freely and any floor should be solid in order to prevent problems with sore hocks.
Indoor rabbits should also be provided with a large hutch or cage – a dog crate is ideal – and this should also have a solid floor. Whether indoors or out, he should have a large exercise area that’s totally secure and safe from predators or escape attempts!
Bedding should be carefully considered and only hardwood shavings and straw should be used. The outdoor rabbit should be provided with plenty of bedding material with which to make a nest and the area should be well ventilated to keep his respiratory system healthy. Shredded paper or straw can be used for the indoor animal. His cage should be cleaned out thoroughly once a week and can be treated with a disinfectant designed specifically for rabbit hutches. Old food and droppings should be removed daily and clean, fresh drinking water must be readily available. Many owners place their Belgian’s water quite high up in order to encourage their animal to stretch, which is good for his overall well-being.
The Belgian requires minimal grooming – a good rub over once a week will remove dead hair and encourage new growth.