Cat Breeds 101: The Savannah Cat

Savannah_Cat_portraitThe Savannah cat is a Serval and domestic hybrid, and one of the largest house cats, if you can call it that. Many people adopt Savannah cats for their large size, their exotic looks, and their dog-like temperament. The serval is a medium-sized african cat hailing from sub-saharan Africa, and mates with a domestic cat to produce the Savannah cat. The Savannah cat is revelled for having a temperament closer to that of a domestic cat but boasting the looks of the exotic serval.

Where do they come from?

The Savannah cat became popular in the early 90’s and was recognized by the International Cat Association in 2001. The first Savannah cat was produced in 1986 by breeding a male serval with a female Siamese. By 1996, the first breed standard was written only to wait to be considered an official breed in 2001. It is tricky to breed first-generation Savannahs, since the male serval is much larger than the female domestic cat. Servals tend to be choosy with their mates, and breeders consider themselves lucky if the male serval can look past the difference in size, smells, and cues that the domestic female has in order to mate.

Breeders must pay close attention to the mating, since the male serval could accidentally hurt the female because of his large stature. The gestation period is 74 days for a serval, and only 63 for a domestic cat. The kittens are more likely to survive the longer that the pregnancy is delayed. The Savannah is often bred with the male being the serval and the female being the domestic cat, since a female serval may confuse the extra-small kittens that she’s produced as prey.

What do they look like?

The Savannah cat is tall, slender, and looks bigger than it weighs. The size depends on the particular cat’s generation and sex. Generations that are closer to the first generation tend to be larger since they are closer in makeup tho the serval. The first generation will be at least half serval, and carry a more exotic look. The farther from the first generation, the more the cats will look like a standard domestic cat. Males tend to be bigger than females, as with most cats. Size can vary greatly, even in one litter. This is due to how many random factors contribute to a Savannah litter.

The general size of a Savannah cat is:
14-25lbs in an early generation
7-15lbs in a later generation

The Savannah cat is known for their distinctive spotted coat that is required for the cat to be considered breed standard. This pattern is unique to the Serval cat, and is a light brown-yellowish color with black spots. Non-standard Savannahs can be rosetted, marble, pointed, ble, cinnamon, chocolate, lilac, and any other colors derived from a domestic cat.

This first generation Savannah has the characteristically big ears like their serval parent.

This first generation Savannah has the characteristically big ears like their serval parent.

The Savannah cat is known for its tall, round, wide ears that tend to have color points at the end. They have very long legs, puffy noses, and hooded eyes. Their hind tends to be higher than their shoulders, and their head will be taller than wide. Savannah cats have a short, stocky tail with black rings around it and a solid black tip. Their eyes can be green, brown, or gold. Another noticeable marking of a Savannah cat is their cheetah-like marking on the outside of their eyes that flows down to the sides of their nose and whiskers.

Early in development of the breed, Bengals and Egyptian Mau were used to enforce the serval pattern. Today, the breed is more developed so most breeders use two Savannahs to continue the breed. Crosses allowed by the breed standard include crossing a Serval with an Egyptian Mau, an Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair, Domestic Shorthair. Crosses with a Bengal or a Maine Coon are not allowed.

What do they act like?

Male Serval Savannah KittenSavannah cats are not only dog-like in their stature, but in their behavior. They are known to follow their owners around the house, and can be easily trained to leash-walk and fetch. It is important for them, like most cats, to have early exposure to humans for good temperament. They can jump as high as 8 feet, which gives them an advantage for mischief. Many Savannah cats enjoy water and baths. They wag their stubby little tails in excitement, almost like a dog greeting their owner. The voice of a Savannah varies; some chirp like their serval lineage, others meow like a cat, and some do both. Savannah cats will hiss in a very loud voice that can certainly startle people that aren’t familiar with the breed.

The three main contributors to their behavior is their lineage, generation, and socialization. Later generations tend to act like your standard domestic cat, but all Savannahs have high activity and curiosity levels. The biggest factor overall for any cat’s behavior and temperament with humans has to do with their early exposure to humans. Early socialization teaches the Savannah cat to bond with humans in a way that they will likely adhere to their whole lives. Savannahs tend to choose one human to be “theirs”, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t be social with guests and live up to their dog-like behavioral traits.

What is their health like?

The only health ailment to look out for in a Savannah cat is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It is a type of heart disease that is the most common affliction for house cats. Savannah cats are one of the healthiest breeds of cats, likely due to their wide genetic pool. However, Servals have a tendency to have a small liver compared to their body size. For this reason, it is important that veterinarians do not administer ketamine as an anesthetic to a Savannah cat. Ketamine is metabolized through the liver, and this can cause serious health problems for the breed. The Savannah’s diet should be full of protein and little or no grains, especially corn.

It is hard to produce the first generation of Savannah cats for many reasons. Many pregnancies are premature, aborted, or absorbed by the mothers. As stated previously, servals tend to be very choosy with their mates and will turn their nose up at a domestic cat. Many male Savannahs are usually sterile until the fifth generation. This is why females within the first three generations are held for breeding, while males of the 5-7th generations are held for breeding.

If you are interested in adopting a Savannah to your family, you will have to baby proof your home. Savannahs are notorious for their high jumps and intelligent manner. They are great at getting into cabinets and opening doors. You’ll have to focus on reward-based socialization in order to make sure that your cat is behaving properly with your family and guests.

Many states have restrictive laws on hybrid cat ownership, so check your local jurisdiction before considering a Savannah cat. Some states have very specific laws; for instance, New York allows 5th generation Savannahs, but nothing before that generation. Check your laws, and find a responsible breeder. The cost of a Savannah cat is no joke, as a lesser generation starts at 1,200 and a first generation costs around $12,000. The closer you are to the first generation, the more expensive the cat will be.