Flemish Giant Rabbits Are Docile Snuggle Bunnies

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 

Flemish giant rabbit
Bruno, a 3-year-old rescue dog, meets Basil, a 9-month-old Flemish giant rabbit, at Harbor Christian Church's Blessing of the Animals in Newport Beach, California. Flemish giant rabbits make great pets and get along well with other animals. Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Not to make anyone here feel inferior, but modern animals are pretty small compared to the goliaths that once walked our planet. For instance, Nuralagus rex was a rabbit that lived around 2.5 million years ago in the Mediterranean and averaged around 26 pounds (12 kilograms) — 10 times what a typical modern bunny weighs.

However, giants still roam the Earth. We might not be able to watch humongous cottontails lumber around on the shores of Menorca, but we still have the Flemish giant rabbit, the largest breed of rabbit in the world. And though it's smaller than Nuralagus rex was, a 20-pound (9-kilogram) bunny is still something to see.

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Modern Giants

"Flemish Giants are a large sized rabbit — size is the number one factor in what makes a Flemish Giant a Flemish Giant," says Louis Moses, a breeder and owner of Happy Tails Flemish Giants in Murrieta, California.

Just like a Chihuahua and an Irish wolfhound are the same species, bred for different physical characteristics, Flemish giants have been bred over the centuries to grow to super-duper huge proportions — a small one weighs in at around 13 pounds (6 kilograms), which is several times larger than your average domesticated bunny. A really hefty male can weigh 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and be up to 2.5 feet (.8 meters) long. They can live to be 8-10 years old.

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The Mystery of Their Size

Although the history of the Flemish giant is somewhat contested amongst rabbit scholars, the earliest mention of gigantic rabbits in Europe comes from the 16th century in Belgium, but some argue the first authentic record comes from 1860. Nobody knows how they became so big — theories mostly involve interbreeding with now-extinct rabbit varieties. At any rate, by the late 1800s, appreciation for these gentle, lazy giants had grown in Europe, and their popularity spread to the United States soon after.

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Not Good Eating

Why would humans decide to create a giant breed of rabbit in the first place? Food and fur, of course. However, a bigger rabbit doesn't necessarily mean good eating: It turns out Flemish giants cost a lot more to feed than standard rabbits, and they have a low meat-to-bone ratio, meaning they have large bones and not much meat. As a result, nowadays people mostly keep them as pets and for showing.

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Keeping Flemish Giants as Pets

Much like dogs and cats, "Flemmies" make affectionate, curious, laid-back pets, as long as they're trained and handled properly from a young age. They aren't very active — they like to spend their days eating hay and sleeping — plus they can be trained to use a litter box, so they can be easy to live with. Because they're strong and large, they're great with children since they can escape a bit of less-than-gentle treatment. One drawback is they reportedly love to dig, and can therefore be a bit destructive if they don't have an outlet for this behavior. They also really love to chew, so if you're considering allowing your Flemish giant to roam the house freely, charger and lamp cords are in danger — and could even injure the rabbit.

But just because Flemmies can hold their own with children and even other pets, it doesn't mean they shouldn't be treated with the utmost gentleness. In fact, in 2017, Simon, a healthy young Flemish giant who was a favorite for becoming the largest rabbit in the world — his father Darius grew to be 50 pounds (22.5 kilograms) and over 3 feet (1 meter) long — died in the cargo hold of a flight from London to Chicago. Although the cause of Simon's death is a mystery, it goes to show that Flemmies are less hardy that you might imagine:

"You've got to be mindful — even though they're big, they're still a prey animal," says Moses. "They're large, but they're sensitive. They're more sensitive to heat than cold, and they can die of fright like any other rabbit. They need lots of fresh water. Lots of vets don't treat rabbits, but they still need checkups."

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