How to Care for a Pet Harlequin Rabbit

Adult harlequin rabbit in grass outside.
Harlequin rabbits can come in a few different colors but the most common are primarily orange and black.

Getty Images/LadyElizabeth

Harlequin rabbits are considered a separate breed by most but only a specific color pattern by some. Regardless of how you classify them, harlequin rabbits are known for their unique, colorful coats and can come in a variety of sizes. Knowing what kind of care they require can help keep your rabbit happy and live a long life.

Species Overview

Common Name: Harlequin rabbit, Japanese harlequin rabbit, Magpie harlequin rabbit

Scientific Name: Oryctolagus cuniculus

Adult Size: 6.5-9.5 lbs.

Lifespan: About 5-8 years but can live up to 12 years

Harlequin Rabbit Behavior and Temperament

A harlequin rabbit can make a great pet for the right person. They are easygoing animals and are known to be playful and smart. Rabbits are not aggressive creatures and are more likely to run away than to try and nip if they are scared or threatened. They are most active at dawn and dusk but can often be found lounging around and napping both during the day and evening when they're not busy playing.

Size Information

Harlequin rabbits can vary in size. They range anywhere from 6.5-9.5 lbs with the females typically being a little larger than the males. They are considered a small- to medium-sized rabbit breed.

Housing

Rabbits need a lot of space to run and play, but when they aren't hopping around, they also need a secure place to sleep. If your harlequin rabbit is an indoor rabbit, a minimum cage size of 3 feet by 3 feet should be provided. Store-bought cages are available, but many people create their own rabbit enclosures using exercise pens, dog crates, and other items. Outdoor rabbit hutches can also be bought or made but should be especially secure to prevent your rabbit from escaping or being injured or killed by a predator.

Specific Substrate Needs

If you choose to use a substrate in your rabbit's house, avoid cedar and pine shavings. These can be aromatic and contain oils that can cause respiratory and skin issues. Opt for aspen or recycled paper materials instead if you want to provide your rabbit with some bedding to sleep in. Litter boxes can also contain this substrate or you can use hay or unscented, dust-free cat litter.

What Do Harlequin Rabbits Eat & Drink?

Like other rabbits, harlequins eat a variety of vegetables and hay. Depending on the size of your rabbit, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of rabbit pellets without seeds or colored pieces can be provided, but the majority of their meal should be composed of grass hay and dark, leafy greens. Occasional treats of sugar-free cereals, crackers, fruits, and vegetables that aren't green can also be given. Remember, if your rabbit's diet is not appropriate, it is more likely to develop ileus.

Common Health Problems

Harlequin rabbits can, unfortunately, develop a variety of health problems. Some of the most common issues seen in rabbits include:

  • Dental issues
  • Ear mites and infections
  • Skin mites and infections
  • Eye problems
  • Respiratory issues
  • Ileus
  • Reproductive organ issues

All of these health problems and many others will require the help of a veterinarian experienced in rabbit care.

Training Your Harlequin Rabbit

Harlequin rabbits are very smart and can be trained to do simple tricks, come when called, use a litter box, and more. Some people even teach them to walk on a harness and leash and fetch toys.

Leash Training 

If you want to train your rabbit to walk on a leash, be sure to attach it to a harness that is designed for a rabbit. Verbal coaxing, as well as treats, can help encourage your rabbit to walk toward you while it gets used to being attached to a leash.

Potty Training 

With a little patience and consistency, you can train your rabbit to use a litter box. This will make you more likely to let your rabbit roam around in a rabbit-proofed environment since you won't have to worry about cleaning up any accidents.

Exercise

Exercise is vital to your rabbit's mental and physical health. Your rabbit needs space to run and play so that it can forage for food, be mentally stimulated, find things to chew on, maintain muscle mass, and keep its digestive tract moving. Gastrointestinal motility can decrease or stop due to stress as well as a lack of physical mobility.

Grooming 

Harlequin rabbits have short hair but that doesn't mean they don't have grooming needs. Nail trims, ear cleanings, baths, and perhaps even tooth trims may be necessary depending on your specific rabbit and their lifestyle.

Shedding

Rabbits shed on a regular basis but major molts or sheds occur twice a year in the spring and fall. During these major sheds, more fur will be lost by your rabbit than normal.

Brushing

While harlequin rabbits don't have very long hair, you may still need to occasionally brush them. Brushing can help decrease the amount of fur you find around the house and on your clothes.

Baths

Rabbits are typically very clean animals so bathing them may not be necessary, but if they get messy, a quick bath may be warranted. Use dish soap and lukewarm water while carefully cleaning your rabbit and towel dry them thoroughly.

Upkeep Costs

Caring for a harlequin rabbit may cost more than you expect. Due to daily fresh vegetables, hay, and pellets, expect to spend around $50 a month just for food and another $10-$20 on toys and bedding. Additionally, you'll want to budget for routine and emergency vet visits for when your rabbit requires medical attention.

Pros & Cons of Keeping a Harlequin Rabbit as a Pet

Rabbits require a lot more space and attention than many people think, but they are also very personable pets. They require fresh vegetables to eat each day but can be cuddly and live to be 12 years of age.

Similar Pets to the Harlequin Rabbit

If you’re interested in pet harlequin rabbits, check out:

Otherwise, check out other types of rabbits that can be your new pet!

Purchasing or Adopting Your Harlequin Rabbit

Harlequin rabbits are not a common breed so they aren't usually found in pet stores. You will most likely need to purchase your harlequin rabbit from a breeder online or at a rabbit show, but you may occasionally find one with a rescue group. If you are looking to rescue a harlequin rabbit, you can contact your local House Rabbit Society chapter to see if they have recommendations for rabbit rescues or contact local rabbit rescues directly.

Reproduction/Breeding

The American Rabbit Breeders Association lists upcoming shows as well as harlequin rabbit breeders on their website that have paid to list their contact information. You should expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $100, depending on the color and pattern quality. If you decide to get more than one rabbit and they are of opposite sexes, you'll want to get your female spayed to prevent unwanted litters. Alternatively, you can get two females. If you want to get two males, you'll need to get them neutered if you want to keep them from fighting with each other.

FAQ Block

FAQ
  • Does a harlequin rabbit make a good pet for kids?

    Yes! Harlequin rabbits can make great pets for kids. Rabbits love to play and have unique personalities, so they can be a lot of fun. Young children will need help handling, feeding, and cleaning a harlequin rabbit, however.

  • How much does it cost to buy a harlequin rabbit?

    The price of a harlequin rabbit will vary depending on the color and pattern of the fur. Show quality patterns will cost more than a pet quality pattern but they can range in price from $20-$100.

  • Is a harlequin rabbit hard to take care of?

    A rabbit is more work than a hamster, but they are not hard to take care of. They do need adequate space and playtime as well as fresh food daily. Rabbits are not simply caged pets.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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