Where Do Flemish Giant Rabbits Come From?


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Flemish giant rabbits are awe-inspiring in a word (or two words, to be exact). But even if they may be the largest rabbits you’ll ever come across; theirs is also likely to be the friendliest and most docile breed you will ever encounter. The giant rabbit is widely regarded as the gentle giant of the rabbit world. It is also one of the world’s oldest recognized breeds.

Origins and History of the Flemish Rabbits

The following is an account of how the Flemish giant came to be such a beloved member of the rabbit world.

Historical Origins

The best historical accounts show that the Flemish giants were first bred in their current form in the sixteenth century. This was in Flanders, modern-day northern Belgium. The original breeders who raised the rabbits interbred a number of local rabbit varieties to create a breed that was suited for both fur and meat production.

Start of the Global Rise of Flemish Giants

The first written records referencing the Flemish giant breed come from the 1860s in England. In addition, a detailed account of breed standards that was first published in 1883 has been unearthed.

The Giant Rabbit Breed as an American Success Story

Evidence shows that Flemish giants were being bred in the United States in the 1890s. This can be no coincidence, as it was at the turn of the twentieth century when rabbit husbandry really took root among Americans.

In the waning years of the nineteenth and those of the early twentieth century, there was a concerted effort by North American rabbit breeders to improve the quality of local rabbit fur and meat.

The Flemish giant was seen as an ideal breed to use to boost the local stock to meet standards set across the Atlantic in places like France and Belgium.

The popularity of the Flemish giant as a commercial rabbit breed took off in the 1910s. That is when the conspicuously large rabbits began to appear in livestock shows and agricultural fairs.

Physical Characteristics of the Flemish Rabbit

Here are the physical characteristics which set the giant Flemish rabbit apart from other breeds:

Physical Size

The Flemish giant are much bigger than your typical rabbit breed. This is why they were originally raised as meat rabbits. A full-grown male is comparable in size to a medium-sized dog, such as a Shetland sheepdog.

The average weight of a Flemish giant is 15 pounds (about 7 kilograms). However, it is not unheard of to come across some who grow bigger to tip the scales and twenty pounds or more.

Despite its large size, the Flemish giant rabbit has a very docile nature. This is so much so that the rabbits are affectionately known as gentle giants.

Appearance and Distinguishing Features

The Flemish giant’s versatility in features and appearance makes the breed a very special domesticated rabbit variety.


The Flemish giant rabbit is considered a semi-arch variety by the American rabbit breeders association. The semi-arch description means the arch of its back starts at the base of the shoulders, progressing all the way to the tail. This makes it one of the longest rabbit breeds on record.

Ears and Eyes

Even if they have been roundly bred to have their present characteristics, the giant rabbits still retain some features inherited from their wild cousins. These include conspicuously large ears and excellent eyesight. both adaptations were necessary to detect predators in the wild.

Colors and Hues

When they were originally bred in central Europe, the breed standards of the Flemish giant rabbit were strictly controlled. Today that is no longer the case, and the breed has been interbred with others to produce giant bunnies with different colors and hues.

The ARBA- American Rabbit Breeders Association, the national federation of Flemish giant breeders in the United States, recognizes seven breed colors. The rabbit’s glossy fur can have either of these seven colors and hues: black, blue, fawn, sandy, light gray, steel gray, or white.

It is rare to find a breed variety with seven colors, making this very old breed such a prized example of rabbit biodiversity. Nowhere else in the rabbit family will you encounter such color varieties, not to mention docile personalities. these two factors combine to make the various Flemish giant rabbit varieties the most sought after pet rabbit in the world.

Sex Dimorphism in Flemish Giants

It is not easy to tell which is male and which is female among many rabbit breeds. Therefore, it is often necessary to check the external genitalia to differentiate between the sexes. However, among Flemish gentle giants, there are significant and conspicuous differences in the physical appearance of does (females) and bucks (males). Such characteristics among animals are referred to as sexual dimorphism.

You can tell which Flemish giant bunny is female as these invariably have a dewlap. A dewlap is a fold of furry skin under the chin. Flemish giant does use the dewlap to keep their young ones warm as they nurse. On the other hand, the Flemish giant buck has a larger and broader head and broad hindquarters compared to a doe of a similar size and age.

How Many Flemish Rabbits Are There in the World?

It is not easy to establish just how many Flemish giants are there in the world. But there are some important clues:

Threatened Species Status

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list, Flemish rabbits are a near-threatened species. While their status is far from being designated as an endangered species, being threatened appears a misnomer considering that domestication of animals usually works to aid their survival.

Rise of More Economical Breeds

In the early twentieth century, the giant rabbits were very popular for production of both meat and fur. However, since then, breeders have introduced breeds that have proved a lot more economical to raise, and this has led to the wane in popularity of Flemish giants.

Where Can I Find a Giant Flemish Rabbit?

Originally, Flemish giants were only to be found in their native area in Flanders. The earliest indication of their domestication and breeding can be traced to the northern Belgian city of Genk. Nearly half a millennium later, the rabbits are to be found in almost all areas of the globe. It is thought that it is only in the Antarctic and in Asia where the rabbits are not bred.

For most of the history of these giant bunnies, Flemish giant rabbit breeders were intent on making the breed an ideal dual-purpose rabbit fit for both meat and fur. However, today this is no longer the case with breeds that are considered a lot more suited to commercial breeding aplenty.

At the moment, you are more likely to find Flemish giants being kept as either family pets or trick rabbits which are put on show. The breed is also something of an attraction at zoos.

Reproduction and Longevity in Flemish Giants

Flemish giant rabbits live for between 8 and 10 years if they are fed well and taken care of properly.

When Is It Right for the Flemish Giant to Begin Reproduction?

To ensure they remain a healthy breed, breeders have come up with several recommendations about their reproductive health:

Senior Weight Range

The American rabbit breeders association recommends that Flemish giant females should not be made to breed until they attain certain age and weight requirements. This is referred to as delaying reproduction until the rabbits reach the senior weight range. The senior weight range of a female Flemish giant rabbit is set at 14.1 lb. (6.4 kg). The rabbits only attain this weight range after about nine months from birth.

Separating Males and Females

To ensure that female rabbits do not become pregnant before they have attained the senior weight range, the males and the females should be raised in separate cages. Separation should not be delayed beyond four months from the time the young ones are delivered. By this age, some females are mature enough to conceive.

Gestation Period and Litter Sizes

From conception to birth of a Flemish giant rabbit, the period of time is 30 to 32 days. Most litters have between five to twelve kits.

Feeding Requirements

Being such a large breed, you will need to provide plenty of food to keep your rabbit healthy. Here is a general guideline for how to keep the rabbit in good health:

Hay as a Staple Food

The major component of the diet of a Flemish giant rabbit is hay and grass. Flemish giants should be fed grass hay varieties such as timothy hay mainly. High protein diet hay varieties such as alfalfa hay should be given sparingly other than to Flemish giants, which are six months or younger. According to Flemish giant rabbit breeders, lots of protein at this age is not harmful as the giant rabbits are growing very rapidly.

Vegetables and Fruits

Flemish giant rabbits also require fresh vegetables and fruits in their diet. The American rabbit breed association recommends feeding your Flemish giant rabbit about two cups of chopped leafy vegetables for every 6.0 pounds (2.7 kg) of body weight daily. Fresh fruits should be dished out in small measures once or twice a week.

Pellets and Treats

To ensure the domesticated breed has all the nutritional elements wild rabbits get, they should also be fed pellet food as recommended by the vet. You are cautioned against giving the adult rabbits too many treats, leading to weight issues.

About Cecotropes

As is the case with other rabbits, a Flemish giant rabbit cannot absorb all the nutrients in its food through intestinal walls. This is why the rabbits also consume cecotropes (or cecals). Cecotropes are small mushy blobs of digested matter that rabbits lick off from the anus. They are different from the fecal matter you are likely to see in the rabbit’s litter box or where they range.

Care and Grooming Needs

Other than ensuring adequate food and water, Flemish giants do not require any special care. Here are some notable care and grooming guidelines, though:

Living Space

As one of the world’s largest breeds of domesticated rabbits, the Flemish giant needs fairly large space to raise and breed compared to smaller breeds. The hutch or cage should be big enough such that the erect ears of a full-grown rabbit do not keep brushing against the roof.


As the Flemish giant rabbit has considerably shorter fur than specialty fur breeds, it only calls for minor weekly grooming. Only when the rabbit is molting would you need to brush its glossy fur coat more than once a week.

Litter Box Training

If you keep your Flemish giant as a pet rabbit, it can make a mess around the house. However, being such an intelligent species, the rabbits can be toilet trained easily. Ensure the bunnies are litter boxed trained from as early an age as possible.

A Quick Summary

Diverse in appearance as well as adaptability, the Flemish giant rabbit is one of the world’s most easily recognizable rabbit breeds. Their history can be traced back to central Europe in the sixteenth century though it took over two hundred years for the breed to become the global phenomenon it is.

Learning the rabbits’ pedigree, care needs, and unique characteristics is essential for those looking to add the giant bunnies as pets or for commercial objectives. Whichever your choice, you will find raising these giant bunnies worthwhile and fulfilling.

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