Cute as a button, this old favourite is the smallest breed of rabbit and is often the one many breeders start out with. Some stay with the Nethies, others move on (in the cat fancy, the Burmese seems to serve the same function).
The breed standard calls for a short, compact, cobby body with a full chest and wide shoulders, front legs short and straight. Ears are to be 5 cm, well furred, slightly round at the tips, head to be round and broad, eyes round, bold and bright, coat soft, short and dense with good roll back. Weight ideally for an adult should be around 907 grams or 2lbs in the old money. Being over 1.13 kg is a disqualification. Faults include narrow shoulders, ears not erect, bent or over length, narrow face, white hairs and toenails in coloured rabbits, ticking on shaded rabbits, flyback coats. Disqualifications include racy type, crooked legs, odd coloured eyes, white patches in coloured rabbits, putty nose, overgrown teeth, runny nose or not in a fit condition to be judged.
They come in any acceptable colour including, black, white, blue, brown, lilac, sable, smoke pearl, tortoiseshell, agouti, lynx, chinchilla, squirrel, tan, fox, sable marten, smoke pearl marten, otter, orange, steel and Himalayan.
The Netherland Dwarf was created in Holland from the Polish rabbit. In the late 19th century selected breeding caused the Polish rabbit to separate into two types – the British Polish (the fine-boned rabbit we know today) and the European Polish. Around 1940 German and Dutch breeders started to create and consciously breed even smaller rabbits of the dwarf type. In 1950 these ‘Polish’ rabbits were introduced into Britain where they were called "Netherland Dwarf’ (as they had been imported from Holland) to distinguish them from the British Polish (the German name for the Netherland Dwarf is hermelin). They reached the US in the 1960s where again there was confusion with a similarly named rabbit though this time it kept its name (Netherland Dwarf) and it was the Polish who had to change its name, becoming the Britannia Petite.
Wherever they have been introduced they have become extremely popular, partly because they are small, cheap to feed and house and are terminally cute with their little ears, round heads, big round eyes and round little bodies. And they come in so many pretty colours.
SO, A NETHERLAND DWARF, THEN?
This is a highly intelligent little rabbit generally friendly and bright who is up for whatever it is you are doing. (Think Abyssinian cavy and you have it). My first Nethie used to sit on my shoulder and chitter in my ear and the ones I bred were easily handled and good at exhibitions as patting bunnies though the last of them, Merula, is not above putting irritating children (and adults) in their place. The important thing is to buy them from a reputable breeder to be sure of their temperament and size. This applies to any breed of animal, of course, but needs pointing out here because of this breed's popularity and the fact that so many pet shops sell so-called "Netherland Dwarfs" or simply "Dwarfs" which are no such thing and often lack the correct temperament.
If you intend to breed them, you have to watch the size and weight. Another thing breeders should watch for is malocclusion because of their head shape. This is hereditary so don’t breed from any rabbit which develops it and you can’t sell on such a rabbit even as a pet because it will need its teeth trimmed every so often.
Another problem is the double dwarf gene which is lethal. The gene for dwarfism is Dw. One of these gives us the Netherland Dwarf in a rabbit’s genetic makeup. Two of these, DwDw, gives us a very small baby rabbit with a big head which only lasts a few hours or at best a couple of days. These are often called peanuts. They are an unfortunate side effect of the dwarf gene mutation but at least, as Phil Birch points out, they show the Dw gene is in your stud.
As the Netherland Dwarf is still so popular, it should not be hard to obtain good stock. See the Breeders Directory for contact details.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Netherland Dwarf should be compact, cobby, and close-coupled like a tennis ball placed on top of a slightly larger ball. No neck to speak of, small ears, straight not bowed and neither too short nor too long. Big bold, somewhat protuberant eyes. Beware of the pet-shop ‘Dwarf’ with its bigger body, thicker, broader somewhat wide-set ears and slightly pointier head. This may be fine in a doe of good lines – this type is known as the BUD (Big Ugly Doe) and she throws good typey babies of the correct size. Watch for malocclusion.
CARE AND HOUSING
The Nethie is a dwarf breed so needs a 90 x 60 x 60 hutch if outdoors. Most breeders keep them in 60 x 60 cages. An odd thing is that they don’t like being kept in a cage too large for them, they can become aggressive. They should not be overfed so they become fat – easily done as they are so small. They don’t require any special care – grooming when moulting, a good diet of mix and pellets, hay to keep them regular and fresh water.
ORGANISATIONSAmerican Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club
National Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club (Australia), PO Box 968, Melton Vic. 3337 firstname.lastname@example.org
National Netherland Dwarf Rabbit Club (UK),
Birch, Phil, A Fancier’s Guide to the Netherland Dwarf. Coney Press, 1997
British Rabbit Council, Breed Standards 2006-2010
Brown, Meg & Richardson, Virginia, Rabbit Lopaedia. Lydney, Gloucestershire, Ringpress Books, 2000
Sandford, J. C., The Domestic Rabbit. 5th ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 1996
Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998
Vriends-Parent, Lucia, The New Rabbit Handbook, Hauppage, NY, Barrons, 1989.
Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992