The Savannah Cat Breed: African Serval Meets Domestic Cat

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african serval domestic hybrid cat savannah cat breedThe Savannah Cat is a hybrid breed created by crossing an African Serval (Leptailurus serval) with a domestic shorthair. They have the looks of a wild cat with the more manageable size of domesticated cats.

Savannah cats are very intelligent and active. They make entertaining pets for cat owners who have the time and enthusiasm to devote to these exceptional felines.

An Exotic Hybrid: Domestic Cat Meets African Serval

Hybrid cats were first created to study the possibility of resistance to Feline Leukemia (FeLV) in wild cats. After their time in the research facilities, these hybrid felines were given away as pets. This gave rise to the breeding program of creating wild or exotic-looking cats.

The first Savannah kitten was born in April 1986. The International Cat Association (TICA) recognized the Savannah cat breed in 2001, fifteen years later.

The African Serval is a wild cat originating from the African continent. They weigh 20–30 pounds (9-14 kg) and have a shoulder height of between 15 and 25 inches (37 – 63 cm). The serval has distinctively long legs and a long neck as well as large ears. A serval is usually yellowish in color with black spots on the sides and stripes on the neck and shoulders.

F1 Savannah Cat

When cross-breeding between two different species, the first and subsequent generations of the hybrid are referred to as F1, F2, F3 and so on. The F stands for filial. The number indicates how many generations on from the original species the animal is.

For example, a first generation, or F1, Savannah cat, is the offspring of a Serval and a domestic cat breed. This animal has 50 % wild cat blood. An F1 Savannah most resembles the serval in size, appearance, and behavior. This cat is very energetic, territorial and intense. An ideal pet only for someone with time, energy and experience.

F2 Savannah Cat

An F2 Savannah cat is the offspring of an F1 Savannah mated with a domestic cat breed. This feline is 25 % serval. Correspondingly, the serval characteristics will be lesser than that of an F1 Savannah. For example, this cat will be slightly smaller and less territorial.

F3 Savannah Cat

An F3 Savannah is the result of a cross between an F1 and an F2 Savannah or between two F2 cats. F1-F3 cats are fundamentally still wild animals. They can display the aggressive behaviors that one would expect from a wild animal. State and/or local law regulates, and in some states, prevents, ownership of these animals.

african serval cat lying down

F4 Savannah Cat

F4 Savannah cats and subsequent generations are referred to as domestic hybrids. They are the first generation to be deemed as purebred Savannah cats and not wild cat hybrids. These generations are more freely sold to the public. They are purported to have the look of a wild cat with the temperament of a domestic cat breed. This is not always the case. You should select your Savannah cat breeder and the cat itself very carefully.

F5 Savannah Cat

An F5 Savannah is the result of an F4 Savannah cat being bred with another F4, F5 or F6. Theoretically, this cat is only 3 % wild cat. The size of F4-F6 generation Savannahs is comparable to that of medium or large domestic cats. They may, however, give the impression of bigger cats. This is due to their long legs and muscular bodies.

F6 Savannah Cat

The furthest removed from the original serval cat and the most like a domestic cat in temperament. The F6 Savannah cat should still have the appearance of a wild cat. It should be smaller in size and have a more manageable demeanor.

Servals are Wild Animals, Not Status Symbols!

Some people keep servals as exotic pets. Most servals in captivity, however, are to be found at zoos or large cat rescues. This is because they are wild creatures with needs that cannot easily be fulfilled in a home environment. They need space to roam and the stimulation of defending their own territory and hunting for their food.

The Sad Truth About Servals Living in Captivity

Servals are hunters by nature. They spend the better half of their time hunting and defending their territory. If not given the space and opportunity to do so in a domestic situation, a serval will become bored and frustrated. Bored servals will engage in undesirable and harmful behaviors. These include self-mutilation through excessive grooming, regurgitation, and re-ingestion of cat food and aggression towards family members.

Servals are wild animals. Legislation restricts the ownership of serval cats in many U.S. states and other countries.

The Appearance of Savannah Cats

The goal when breeding these felines is to create a cat which closely resembles the African Serval in appearance. I.e. a long, lean body atop long legs. Big ears and a shorter than average tail. The most common coat color is honey with solid black spots.

Other accepted coat colors in the breed standard are brown, silver, smoke and black. The pattern of the markings is solid round or oval spots which flow horizontally across the body (similar to those of the Egyptian Mau). Stripes run from the back of the head over the shoulders and disperse over the back.

The most distinctive characteristic of the African Serval cat is its larger than life ears. The serval has the largest ears, proportionally, of all the feline species. A Savannah cat should share this distinguishing trait.

The eyes of a Savannah should be medium-sized and moderately deep set. Most Savannah cats have yellow gold eyes. There should be tear stain markings running from the inner corner of the eyes down to the nose.

savannah cat serval cat domestic cat hybrid

Average Cat Weight

These exotic-looking felines are about the size of a medium to a large domestic cat. The average F1 or F2 Savannah weighs between 17 and 22 pounds (3-10 kg). The average F3-F6 Savannah weighs 12-16 pounds (5.5-7.5 kg). Due to their lanky legs, they might seem bigger than what their weight accounts for.

Savannah Cat Size

The Savannah breed is the tallest domestic cat. They tend to become smaller with subsequent generations. For example, an F1 or F2 cat will have a shoulder height of 14 – 17 inches (35-43 cm). A Savannah from the F3, F4, F5 or F6 generations will have a height of 10-13 inches (25 – 33 cm).

Average Cat Lifespan

You must be very sure of what you are letting yourself in for when choosing to make a Savannah a part of your life. They have a longer than average life expectancy.

Savannah cats can live for 12 to 20 years. A healthy diet of a combination of veterinary approved dry food as well as wet food should be sufficient for your Savannah. Also, include plenty of stimulating play and exercise to keep your exotic cat in good physical condition.

Their Unpredictable Temperament

Lest we forget. These are wild cat hybrids. Almost all wild cats are solitary by nature. They might not adjust suitably to being in social settings with people and other animals.

If you take the time to socialize your Savannah kitten well and keep it active and engaged with appropriate activities, you will be rewarded with a loving and entertaining pet.

If, however, your petite panther is neglected and under-stimulated, it will become destructive and perhaps even aggressive.

Savannah Cat for Sale? They May Be Banned in Your State or City!

Dishonest breeders will be very eager to sell you a Savannah cat regardless of whether they are allowed in the state that you live in. They often report that authorities are very relaxed about enforcing these laws. This is not true. Do your due diligence to find out what the regulations are for the area in which you live.

Most states allow all generations of Savannah cats, but limit ownership in the more populated areas like big cities. States such as Alaska, Iowa, and Massachusetts allow F4- F6 Savannahs but not F1 – F3 generation Savannahs. Georgia, Nebraska, Hawaii and Rhode Island do not allow any form of Savannah cat ownership.

large cat breeds f1 savannah cat looking down

The Ugly Truth About the High Savannah Cat Price!

Wildcat hybrids like the Savannah, the Bengal, and the Chaucie have become hugely popular in a very short space of time. A huge factor driving the exorbitant cost of these wildcat kittens is their high demand. A well-bred Savannah kitten is no more special than a well-bred kitten of any other breed.

Breeders do, however, incur several costs in raising a healthy litter of Savannah kittens. Savannah cats are considerably more costly to keep than your average house cat. They require large, secure enclosures as well as plenty of stimulation. Savannah cats and kittens that meet the Savannah Cat Standard better than other cats will also have an inflated price.

Not a Match Made in Heaven: When the Cat Gestation Period Differs

The gestation period of a serval is approximately 74 days and that of a domestic cat is roughly 63 days. This results in most kittens being born prematurely. Many of them don’t survive.

These premature kittens require extra special care for the first few weeks. This is a very hands-on and time-consuming task for Savannah breeders, which can lead to elevated prices for the Savannah cats and kittens.

Still Convinced You Want One? Foster One First!

If you have your heart set on bringing a little leopard into your lounge, be sure to find out as much as possible about this breed of cats. Are you aware of all the potential risks of owning a wild cat hybrid? A good way to ensure that you are up to the task would be to foster an adult Savannah cat from your local rescue group or welfare society.

Savannah Cat Rescue Groups are Full of Surrendered Cats!

Because this cat breed is so misunderstood, many of them end up in big cat sanctuaries as they are not fitting into a domestic set up. Contact your local Savannah cat rescue group to find out a bit more about the breed and if they perhaps know of a feline that would be a good fit for your lifestyle.

Common Questions about Savannah Cats

How Much Does a Savannah Cat Cost?

How Big do Savannah Cats Grow?

What Does a Savannah Cat Eat?

In Which States is it Legal to Own a Savannah?

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