Examine Rabbits Before Purchasing

How To Evaluate A Rabbit Before You Buy

Holland Lop Rabbit - Buck MaleBefore you accept a rabbit you plan to purchase, it is very important that you carefully go over the rabbit with the seller.   Even if you trust the seller or have worked with him/her before, sometimes they may have missed something that you can catch in the examination.   They should not take it as an insult if you look over the rabbit before you buy it, but as a sign of responsibility.  I have heard of several cases in which people purchased a rabbit with problems that could have been avoided by a simple examination.


I’m going to put this up top because I cannot stress it enough.  In an ideal situation, the seller will have the pedigree already printed and ready for you to view at time of sale.  Unfortunately – though there are few good excuses– this doesn’t always happen.  You hear tale after woeful tale of new owners waiting weeks, months, even a year before finally getting pedigrees in the mail.  Always get the pedigree from the seller at time of sale, if at all possible.  At least, ask him or her to jot down the rabbits’ parent’s names and ear numbers, so you have something to work with. 

Physical Exam

[Read our Rabbit Health section for more information on health problems you should be aware of.]

Check the sex together with the seller to make sure that the rabbit is a buck or doe as advertised.  Rabbits can sometimes be tricky to sex.  Even long-time breeders have shown rabbits in the wrong class several times before the gender is apparent.  Be sure you are both in agreement at the time of sale.

Do not buy a rabbit that has any sign of swelling, scabs, unusual redness, or discharge from the genital area.  Not ever.  These can be signs of vent disease.

Check both eyes carefully.  There should be no sign of matter in the eyes, no puckers in the eyelids, no cloudy spots or dimples in the surface of the eyeball.  Squinting eyes can be a clue to look for white spots.

Look in the ears for signs of redness or cankers.  Small nicks in the ear that do not detract from the overall appearance of the rabbit are not a problem, but there should be no large chunks missing or tears that you didn’t already know about.

Check the nose for crustiness or white discharge.  A clear moistness can be a sign of being overly warm from being held, for example,  and is not a sign of snuffles.

Check the front paws for matting or signs that the rabbit has recently had nasal discharge.

Make sure the rabbit has all of his nails (including the “thumb” nails on the front paws) and that the nails on solid colored rabbits match color.  Rabbits should have five toenails on the front feet and four toenails on the back feet.

Check the fur for white spots.  A white spot in a colored rabbit is a disqualification.  Common areas to look for white spots include under the forelegs in the “armpit” area, and under the chin.
Look at the rabbit’s teeth.  If you do not know how to evaluate teeth, ask the seller to allow you to show the teeth to another breeder, a judge, or a registrar.  The top front  teeth should overlap in front of the bottom front teeth.  Butting teeth are usually not a problem for pet, but are unacceptable for breeding and show rabbits.

Rub your hands over the fur looking for lumps, bumps, cuts, or scabs.

Evaluation of Body Type

very nice body type on a holland lop show quality rabbit
Good body type on a Holland Lop Rabbit

Be realistic in what you can get for the money you pay.  Breeders cannot sell you a fault-free rabbit.  Even a relatively fault-free rabbit is rare, high-priced, and takes a long time on a waiting list to get.  The rabbits I paid over $300 for have faults, as do the Best of Breed rabbit at Convention and every other rabbit on the planet.

On the other hand, do not accept a rabbit with a strong fault that you cannot deal with in your rabbitry.  If a rabbit has long shoulders, but you have several short-shouldered rabbits (of the opposite gender), that fault may be acceptable to you.  If all of your rabbits have long  shoulders, you do not need another one!

You should have discussed the strengths and faults of the rabbit prior to purchase.  At the time of purchase, have the breeder go over the strengths and faults again, posing the rabbit and showing the traits clearly.  If the breeder claimed that the rabbit has heavy bone, but you find it to be light, get a second opinion.  If the rabbit does indeed have light bone, do not feel that you must go through with the sale.

Visit our rabbit judging section for more information on what to look for in a show quality bunny.

Getting Advice

Take advantage of having a few minutes of the breeder’s time to ask questions.  Is this a slow or fast-maturing line?  Fast or slow to get started breeding?  What recessive genes are you aware of?  It makes no sense to find out from scratch what the breeder already knows.

Collecting Information

Find out which feed the rabbit is on and make sure you get some transitional feed.  Ask about treats and hay.  Find out if the rabbit has ever been wormed and when.  For brood does, make sure you know when she last kindled and whether she nursed or the kits were fostered (this information should help you get a feel for her recovery time after a litter).  Lastly, ask whether there is anything else about the rabbit that you should know.

Next Article: Starting right in show rabbits

Next Article: Hopping off on the right foot when starting in show rabbits