Savannah Cat: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Savannah F6 Shorthair Cat
Tracy Morgan / Getty Images

The savannah cat is a hybrid cross between an African serval and a domestic cat. The savannah was named after the habitat of the serval and its beauty echoes the lush splendor of those golden plains in Africa. Much like its wild ancestor, the savannah is a tall, lean cat, with long legs, big ears, and a long neck. Its coat shows the typical spotted pattern, along with some bars, often on a golden or tawny background. The savannah is a smaller version of the African serval at about half of the weight or less. It is sociable, affectionate breed that gets along with other pets and older children.

Breed Overview

Weight: 12 to 25 pounds

Length: 20 to 22 inches

Coat: Short to medium length coat

Coat Color: Black, brown spotted tabby, black silver spotted tabby, and black smoke with a solid or tabby pattern

Eye Color: All colors

Life Expectancy: 12 to 20 years

Characteristics of the Savannah Cat

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Vocalize Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Savannah Cat

The first known breeding was in the early 1980s by Judy (or Judee) Frank, a Bengal breeder located in Pennsylvania. In the early 1990s, Patrick Kelley, founder of Savannahcat.com, enlisted Joyce Sroufe to help him develop the breed with Kelley using offspring of that first hybrid cross. Their efforts were successful, as were their efforts to convince The International Cat Association to accept the new breed.

Although the savannah cat is a relatively new breed, it has caught on like wildfire. There are already dozens of savannah breeders in North America and Europe with over 60 breeders worldwide.

Registries that accept the savannah cat include The International Cat Association and The International Progressive Cat Breeders' Alliance.

The genetics and nomenclature for savannah cats show how many generations a cat is from the serval. A male is not fertile usually until the sixth-generation removed from the serval parent. The females are usually fertile from the first generation.

An F1 savannah cat has one serval parent and one domestic cat parent and is 50 percent serval. Subsequent generations are bred with a savannah cat father (F6 or more generations removed). By F4 the cat's size and temperament are said to be more predictable. At that level, at least one great-great-grandparent was a serval.

A Stud Book Traditional Savannah cat is at least four generations removed from the serval but has only savannah cat parents for at least three generations, without further outbreeding with domestic cats.

Because of their hybrid ancestry, savannah cats are restricted from ownership in certain states and cities. Regional legislation may prevent the ownership of exotic pets. These laws can change over time, so check with your municipality or state guidelines as to what exotic pets are allowed.

Savannah Cat Care

The savannah cat has a coat that is easy to care for. You should brush your cat weekly to keep hairballs at bay. Trim your cat's nails as often as needed, which may be weekly. Brush your cat's teeth frequently and ensure you get the appropriate veterinary cleanings.

The savannah cat is said to make an excellent companion, sociable with other pets, highly intelligent, and always willing to greet their owners with friendly head bumps. They like a lot of interactions with their humans and may follow you around the house. They want to be a part of all of your activities. But they will often want affection only when they are ready, coming to join you on the couch once they want a warm lap, not before.

Their long legs and athletic grace will often find them in high places, (more convenient for head bumps). You will want to provide a cat tree or other safe climbing opportunities. With their long legs, they are notable high jumpers and some can jump eight feet or more high. Your counters and fences are not safe from this athletic cat breed. Like the serval, they love to play in the water.

They have been called dog-like in their love of playing fetch and being able to be trained to walk in a harness. You can clicker-train them to do tricks. They enjoy interactive toys. It's no wonder that these cats have so quickly attained popularity, both as family members and in the show ring.

They generally get along well with other cats and dogs and can be appropriate for a multi-pet household. They can be good with older children. When buying from a breeder, it is important to be sure the breeder has socialized the kittens in a home-like environment so they are not overly shy or fearful of humans.

Common Health Problems

Savannah cats are generally healthy and should be given the usual veterinary preventative care visits and treatments. They are more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy than fully domestic cats. Hybrid male sterility is to be expected until the F4 generation or later.

Diet and Nutrition

Savannah cats have the same nutritional requirements as domestic cats. Some experts recommend a combination of dry food, wet food, and raw or cooked meat. Some experts feel the breed needs more taurine and may recommend a taurine supplement. Others suggest that if you give dry food it should be free of grain or corn since its wild ancestors eat a whole protein diet.

Be sure to provide fresh, clean water for your cat (although a savannah cat is likely to play in the water dish).

If adopting a kitten, discuss the cat's diet with your breeder and your veterinarian. A cat's needs will change throughout its lifespan and you need to ensure your cat does not become overweight or obese.

Pros

  • Wild looking, yet acclimated to home living as a partially domesticated cat

  • Affectionate and social with other pets and respectful children

  • Highly intelligent and clicker trainable

  • Not averse to water

Cons

  • Some states ban the ownership of savannah cats

  • Breed is rare, hard to adopt or buy

  • Prone to a form of heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

  • May require a special diet

Where to Adopt or Buy a Savannah Cat

You may be able to find a purebred savannah cat through a breeder, but these cats are a rare find. If you would rather adopt from a rescue organization, check out the Savannah Cat Rescue.

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether a savannah cat is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other savannah cat owners, reputable breeders, and savannah cat rescue groups to learn more. In addition to the Savannah Cat Rescue, you can do research with the Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue, which specializes in rare species.

If you’re interested in similar, wild-looking cat breeds, look into the following cats to compare the pros and cons.

Otherwise, take a look at the other cat breeds that are available.