Flemish giant rabbits are among the world’s largest breeds of domesticated rabbits. They have a rich and varied history going back to medieval Europe.
Due to their large size, Flemish giant rabbits’ needs and care requirements differ from the guidelines for smaller breeds. This is an in-depth guide offering you all the information you need to know about what to feed your Flemish giant rabbit to ensure she is healthy and productive.
This guide is comprehensive enough to cover the needs of the giant rabbits, whether they are raised as family pets or for commercial purposes such as meat and fur production.
A Short History of the Flemish Giant Rabbit
Flemish giants are a very old breed and are believed to be amongst the first variety of rabbits to be domesticated and selectively bred. This happened in continental Europe several millennia ago.
Origins in Flanders
The most reliable evidence points to the rabbits first being raised in the sixteenth century in Flanders, modern-day northern Belgium. The “Flemish” in their name is an adjective describing things associated with the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, which borders the Netherlands and a small part of France.
By first spreading to France and the Netherlands, Flemish giant rabbits began their storied rise to the international fame they enjoy today.
Creating the Ultimate Dual-purpose Commercial Rabbit Breed
The original Flemish giant rabbit breeders combined a number of breeds to make a variety that had optimal qualities needed for the production of both meat and fur for commercial purposes.
The first written records mentioning the Flemish giant rabbit as the ultimate dual-purpose commercial breed go back to the middle of the nineteenth century. The breed’s popularity had crossed over from mainland Europe to the British Isles by then.
Commercial rabbit breeders published a breed standard guide for the Flemish giant rabbit in 1883. Around this time, rabbit husbandry was becoming a popular undertaking in Northern America, and the Flemish giant was one of the most bred commercial rabbit varieties in the United States in the 1890s and 1900s.
Breeding Standards Relaxed
For hundreds of years, the breed standards of the Flemish giant rabbit were strictly controlled by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA), the organization bringing together Flemish giant rabbit breeders and farmers in the United States.
In recent times though, the controls have been relaxed, and Flemish giants have been interbred with other domesticated rabbits to produce Flemish giant rabbits with different furs and other physical characteristics. This has led to the proliferation of different color fur coats of Flemish giants, including steel gray, light gray, and fawn.
How Big Are Flemish Giant Rabbits?
If you have never set eyes on a Flemish giant rabbit before, you may be taken aback by the sheer size of the animal when you first lay your eyes on one. Indeed, it is not uncommon for those who see a Flemish giant for the first time to think it must be a kind of dog.
To appreciate just how big a Flemish giant is, you need to keep in mind that an average pet rabbit weighs about 2 kilograms (some 4 pounds). On the other hand, though, an average Flemish giant weighs about 8 kilograms (some 15 pounds). In other words, a Flemish giant rabbit is about four to five times larger than your average rabbit.
A Flemish Giant Rabbit Holds the Ultimate Records for the Heaviest and Longest Rabbit in the World
The holder of the record for the longest Flemish giant rabbit is a specimen that measured four feet, three inches long (1.3 meters). The giant rabbit, known as Darius, also weighed a hefty 49 pounds (22 kilograms). Both measurements are the ultimate length and weight records in the rabbit world.
In general, a male Flemish giant rabbit is longer heavier than a female. It is also easy to tell a female Flemish giant rabbit from a male without having to examine the external genitalia. Check the section on the distinguishing features of Flemish giant rabbits below for more details.
Bigger Size Means Extra Space and Food
Flemish giant rabbits have the same sort of needs as those of smaller breeds. The only difference is that owing to their large size; Flemish rabbits will require more of what you would give to a rabbit of a smaller size.
Specifically, Flemish giants need a lot more space and more food as well as extra care and handling. They may also need more veterinary care than other rabbits usually require in the course of a lifetime.
Distinguishing Features of Flemish Giant Rabbits
There is a lot more than just a giant sizer in the identity of a Flemish rabbit giant. The following is a summary of the features (excluding body size and weight) that mark this giant rabbit breed from the rest of the rabbit family.
Flemish giants are described as having a semi-arch body type. This means the arch of the back starts just after the shoulders and gently arcs its way to the tail end. They have well-rounded and solid fleshed hindquarters. Their legs are very strong, and they can deliver a vicious kick with their hind legs if they feel threatened.
Flemish giants have relatively short fur, which is even almost all over the body. The hair has a glossy sheen to it, and it often has a distinct tint at the hair ends.
The undercoat is dense and has hair of a lighter tint compared to the rest of the body. There are seven recognized colors for Flemish giants in America: black, blue, steel gray, light gray, sandy, fawn, and white.
Flemish giant rabbits are among the few rabbit breeds for which it is possible to identify the males from the females without having to examine the animal’s external genitalia. Species with such obvious distinctions are said to exhibit sexual dimorphism.
Flemish giants have distinctive heads with large ears held in a V-shape above the head. The buck (male rabbit) has a larger head than the doe (female rabbit) even when you account for the different body sizes.
Another distinguishing feature between Flemish giant does, and bucks is the doe’s distinctive dewlap. The female rabbit uses this furred fold of skin to keep her young ones warm as she nurses them.
Factors to Consider Before Raising a Flemish Giant Rabbit
If you are considering adding a Flemish giant rabbit as either a family pet or a herd of them for their commercial value, here are the factors which should guide your decision:
Living Space Requirements
You should ensure you have adequate space for your rabbit to live and thrive in. Standard rabbit hutches that you may find at your local pet supply store will not suffice for the needs of your Flemish giant.
Check the section on the living space requirements of a Flemish giant for more specific guidelines.
Food and Nutritional Requirements
As stated above, Flemish rabbit giants will consume a lot more food than your average-sized rabbits. They will also have specific requirements to ensure adequate nutritional balance.
Check the section on Flemish giant rabbits’ food and nutritional requirements for more specific details.
Grooming and Handling
A Flemish giant has much shorter fur than most rabbit breeds. They have a coat of almost uniformly even glossy fur. This calls for grooming and brushing about once a week.
Flemish giants belong to one of the friendliest rabbit breeds in the rabbit world. They relish and even crave human interaction. This means grooming and petting your rabbit friend is going to be a rewarding experience for you both.
Experts from the American rabbit breeders association recommend using a slicker brush to groom a Flemish giant rabbit’s fur. As you groom the fur, remember to look for external parasites such as ear mites and fur mites.
Food Requirements and Feeding Guidelines for Flemish Giant Rabbits
The question remains what the Flemish giant rabbit can eat? Once you have decided to raise Flemish giant rabbits either as pets or for meat and fur production, you should prepare to provide an enormous amount of food daily to keep the rabbits healthy and contented.
It is worth keeping in mind that even if Flemish giant rabbits have been domesticated for several millennia now, their biology is still largely similar to that of their wild ancestors. In particular, this means that you should feed your giant rabbit food that resembles what is fed on by wild rabbits as much as possible.
In the following sections, we will look at the main components of a Flemish giant rabbits diet, from what should be the daily staples to what should only be given as occasional treats
Hay and Grass as the Staple Foods in Your Flemish Giant’s Diet
In the wild, rabbits feed almost exclusively on fresh grass and any fresh shoots they find close to their grazing grounds. The variety and abundance of each depend on the local environment and what other animals who feed on the same diet compete with the bunnies.
Rabbits love to eat hay, but knowing what variety to use for the Flemish giant’s varying nutritional needs is important. You can buy a variety of these at your local pets supply store.
The main staple for your Flemish giant rabbit should be a grass hay variety such as Timothy hay. It has a lot in common with the kind of wild grasses rabbits have evolved to digest and extract nutrients from.
By eating hay as the main component of her daily diet, your rabbit will be able to digest the food she takes smoothly. Giant Flemish rabbits, in particular, have very delicate digestive tracts, and failure to get the right proportion of hay in their daily feed will lead to indigestion and other complications.
How Much Hay Should I Give My Flemish Giant Rabbit?
A healthy rabbit will consume grass matter that is equivalent to their body weight a day. The amount of hay that provides an equivalent nutritional value as fresh grass is a lot less in mass and volume. Conventional wisdom among Flemish rabbit breeders is that the rabbit should be provided unlimited access to fresh hay daily. There is no danger that the rabbit will eat too much hay than they should.
The only caution concerning providing hay to Flemish rabbits has to do with high protein varieties of hay such as alfalfa hay. Only rabbits who are one year old or less should be given access to an unlimited supply of alfalfa hay.
Is It Okay to Let My Flemish Giant Rabbit Eat Grass From the Yard?
Flemish giant rabbits can eat grass by grazing it in the yard. But Flemish giant rabbits need to get used to feeding on fresh grass before this can become their primary source of nourishment. So if your pet rabbit has been feeding exclusively on cut hay, you have to introduce her to grazing on fresh grass gradually.
It is worth noting that rabbits can get into some serious health trouble if the grass they feed on is contaminated. If, for instance, the grass in your yard has been recently sprayed with insecticide or fungicide, you should not let your rabbits eat it.
Rabbit Pellets as Supplements to Grass and Hay
Flemish giants require a lot more nutritional value than what they can get from eating hay or even grazing on grass and shoots in your yard. In the wild, rabbits are able to supplement their diet with a variety of foods that have essential minerals, vitamins, and other components of a balanced diet as they forage.
Domestic rabbits need rabbit pellets to supplement whatever nutritional elements are lacking or inadequately provided by the hay and grass staple. There are different pellets infused with different nutrients to ensure your Flemish giant gets all the nutrients it needs to grow healthy.
If the pellets you bought have 18% or higher protein content, they should not exceed a third of your rabbit’s daily diet. The only exception to the rule is for juvenile rabbits who have been weaned of their mother’s milk but are still less than a year old. These can be given almost unlimited access to pellet food.
Flemish giants should be fed green vegetables to provide the nutritional boost they need to keep healthy. However, the leafy greens you should feed your gentle giant are not so important, provided the rabbit enjoys them and is available while fresh.
You should feed your Flemish giant 2 cups of chopped leafy veggies daily for every 3 pounds (6 kilograms) of body weight. For this purpose, some good leafy vegetables include spinach, parsley, carrot tops, sweet potato leaves, bell peppers, and basil.
Fruits and Other Colored Vegetable
Forget all the TV content that depicts bunnies feeding exclusively on a diet of carrots. Instead, highly nutritious food such as carrots, fruits, and other forms of nutrient-rich vegetable foods should be fed to rabbits very sparingly.
Do not give your Flemish giant rabbit more than two tablespoonfuls of fruit, carrot, or other colored vegetables for every three pounds (six kilograms) of body weight. The digestive tract of a rabbit is not suited to digesting such matter in more than minuscule quantities, but overfeeding could lead to negative health issues such as obesity.
The best approach to use when it comes to feeding your rabbit is to consider fruits and nutrient-rich vegetables as treats. They should be given only occasionally and in very minute quantities.
Cecotropes are a special form of a fecal matter passed by all rabbits that are regular from the regular dry and round droppings. Cecotropes are instead darker in appearance than normal droppings and look shiny because of a fine sticky membrane covering their surface. They are also usually clumped together like grapefruits.
You may not have noticed your giant rabbit dropping drop cecotropes because they rarely get to the floor. Instead, they often lick them off and swallow them again right from their anal region.
Rabbits consume cecotropes because they are an important source of proteins. If you have seen your rabbit duck beneath the tummy and emerge chewing on something from the nether regions, she is getting her regulation dose of cecotrope proteins.
Provide Clean, Fresh Water for Your Rabbit Daily
To ease digestion and other metabolic functions in the rabbit’s body, you should provide plenty of clean water. The water container should not be too far from where the rabbit feeds from. This will encourage regular drinking but also increase the chance of the water getting dirty and even spilling over if the rabbits tip the container over.
To ensure that the rabbits do not keep knocking the water container over, you should opt for a heavy porcelain bowl. You should empty the water at least once a day, clean and rinse the bowl before adding a fresh water supply.
Housing and Living Space Requirements of Flemish Giant Rabbits
A Flemish giant rabbit is often four times or larger than an average rabbit. This means the standard rabbit cages and hutches you can find at your local pets supply store will not be enough to house these giant rabbits.
Minimum Length and Height of Rabbit Enclosure
To determine which size of the enclosure is sufficient for your giant pet rabbit, assess whether the bunny is able to hop three consecutive times across its length. Then, even more practically, you can multiply the body length of the rabbit by four to determine if the enclosure meets the minimum length.
A rabbit’s hutch or cage should also be high enough to allow the rabbit to stand on its hind legs comfortably. The length of a typical Flemish giant is two and a half feet. This works out to a rabbit hutch or cage that is at least four feet long and about three feet high as a minimum.
The Floor of the Cage
Owing to their enormous weights, Flemish giant rabbits cannot afford to stand for too long on wire mesh floors. This would cause the rabbits to develop sore hocks. The floor of the cage of the hutch should therefore be either made of wood or lined with a soft material to preclude the possibility of the rabbit getting hurt.
Ventilation and Weather Exposure
The Flemish giant rabbit is a rabbit breed that is known for being able to withstand quite cool temperatures without being worse off for it. However, this is a truth that applies to adult rabbits, not young ones. Relatively mild cold temperatures can even kill nursing Flemish giant babies.
Avoid Exposure to Precipitation at All Costs
The resilience of Flemish giants against cold should not be taken to mean that you can leave them out in the open under freezing conditions.
As an owner, you should always ensure your rabbit is under shelter, especially at night and when there are inclement weather conditions outside. Under no circumstances should you expose a rabbit to precipitation of any sort, be it rain, snow, frost, or hail.
Extreme Heat Is Bad for Your Flemish Giant Rabbit
If very cold temperatures are bad for the health and wellbeing of your Flemish giant rabbit, then very hot temperatures are exactly toxic to your giant bunny. Flemish giant rabbits suffer terribly if left in extreme heat, especially if this is compounded by their shelter having poor ventilation.
Always ensure your Flemish giant pet is sheltered in a cool, well-ventilated room. If it is necessary, you can move them into an air-conditioned room at the height of summer heat. Alternatively, you can use portable fans to keep the air in their shelters fresh and cool.
Lifespan and Health Concerns for Flemish Giant Rabbits
With proper diet and proper care, Flemish giants are a healthy breed with very few health issues to cause you concern.
The Lifespan of a Flemish Giant Rabbit
Flemish giant rabbits have an average lifespan of five years. However, when properly fed and taken care of, they can live to ten years and beyond.
Flemish giants are known as the great Danes of the rabbit world. As is the case with the giant dogs, Flemish giant rabbits are known to fall dead suddenly and without warning.
The risk of sudden death from heart failure increases considerably once the rabbit is five years old and beyond. Overweight rabbits are also more at risk than those with regular body weight.
You can forestall the possibility of such a sudden demise by having a vet carry out regular checkups on your pet Flemish giant to diagnose any potential heart issues.
As explained in the shelter and living space section, a poorly designed cage or hutch may make your Flemish giant susceptible to sore hocks, also known as pododermatitis.
You can tell your rabbit may be suffering from sore hocks if you notice symptoms such as localized alopecia and bleeding around the skin of the hind legs. Other indicators include thickening of the skin on the hind legs and anorexia due to pain.
Flemish giants are voracious eaters and can easily exceed their recommended nutrient intake unless they are fed a strictly balanced diet. To avoid weight issues, you must always feed your Flemish giant plenty of hay or fresh grass and very few treats such as fruits or carrots.
If you find your Flemish giant panting on the floor or otherwise having trouble breathing, the reason could be that she has suffered heat exhaustion. Follow the shelter guidelines under the “Extreme heat is bad for your Flemish giant” section above to prevent this from happening.
We have already mentioned the threat posed by fur and ear mites. Flemish giant rabbits can also be attacked by other external parasites such as ticks, fleas, and lice. The risk increases if the rabbits spend plenty of time in the open and interact with other animals such as farm animals and other domestic pets. To control external parasites, speak with your vet so they can advise you on which is the best topical application insecticide to use.
Flemish giants are some of the most popular pets owing to their large size and docile nature. These qualities have led to the moniker “gentle giants” of the rabbit world being coined in their honor. They call for a bit more attention and have to be fed a lot more food than what you would give a typical rabbit.
Flemish giants make good pet rabbits due to their unique features and docile personality. They are also fit to raise for commercial reasons to produce meat and fur. Whichever your goal for keep one or a herd of Flemish giant rabbits, you will find the breed fascinating, friendly, and very rewarding.