(c) Gryph- if you repost this article, please post with a link back to my website.
Guessing the Breed of a Rabbit
It's absolutely impossible to tell what a rabbit's genetic background is from sight alone. You can make some educated guesses of course. Even a rabbit with a pedigree offers no guarantees that a rabbit is purebred. Pedigrees are only as good as every breeder who entered data into them. Typos can be made, some breeders are outright unethical, and sometimes rabbits can get mixed up. Learn more about pedigrees here and here. As far as I know, no DNA or genetic test currently exists to test a rabbit's breed (like Embark but for rabbits). Technically according to ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association), as long as a rabbit meets the SOP (Standard of Perfection) for a breed, it can be shown as that breed whether it's a purebred or not. Learn more about ARBA and the SOP here.
Even specific varieties (varieties are colors and patterns) will not indicate a specific breed, although through understanding some varieties and genetics you can narrow down whether a rabbit is NOT a purebred (for example, purebred New Zealand and Flemish rabbits do not carry the tri/harlie gene). Learn more about genetics starting here.
Some online resources suggest that you can positively identify your rabbits breed by examining their size, weight, body shape, the shape of the rabbit, the set of their ears, coloring or markings or pattern of the fur, and/or the texture/length of the fur. A simple google search will bring up dozens of websites claiming to be able to help you ID your rabbit's breed. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. You can make some educated guesses, of course. But a rex-coated rabbit for example could carry the Rex gene or the Mini Rex gene, and these are two very different breeds (click here to learn more).
Some (in my opinion unethical) breeders will also call all rabbits with lop ears "Mini Lops" or "Holland Lops" or all large rabbits "Flemish Giants" or "Continental Giants" when they are actually a different breed or mix of breeds. I was working on a breeding project for a couple of years to make blue-eyed white Rex (for my own consumption, only a few buns with these genes left my barns to people I knew and trusted who were also working on the project) and I had some other breeds crossed in to bring in the Vienna gene which is the gene that creates blue eyes. I had several rabbits that could be considered "purebred" Rex (more than three generations of Rex on their pedigree) that still never managed to carry on the recessive Rex gene (which makes the coat short and plush like velvet), so even though they were technically 17/18ths Rex, they appeared to be a different breed. Fortunately, they were very tasty. On the flip side of that, I had a friend with an opal Flemish Giant that some breeders tried to tell her was not purebred because opal is not an ARBA-recognized variety, when in fact the parents were both chestnut rabbits (called sandy in Flemish) that carried the blue gene and threw a variety undesired to show breeders.
Now, that isn't to say that using all of these details you can't narrow down what your rabbit might NOT be, but with 51 currently recognized breeds (as of 2022 with the addition of the Czech Frosty breed), many which share similar characteristics, making it tough to narrow things down exactly. For example, there are five recognized lop-eared breeds (Amican Fuzzy Lop, Holland Lop, Mini Lop, French Lop and Giant Lop), two distinct breeds with Rex-coated fur (Rex and Mini Rex), two separate breeds with Satin fur (Satin and Mini Satin), and so on.
I'm not saying don't play the guessing game, because it can be a lot of fun! But don't depend on guesses to determine your rabbit's breed with absolute certainty. And never, ever claim that your rabbit is something you aren't 100% certain that it is.