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 cousin, the savannah cat is a tall, lean cat with long legs, big ears, and a long neck. Its coat bears a characteristic spotted pattern that gives it a wild appeal.
Unlike servals, savannah cats are affectionate and sociable with other pets and older children. Because of their hybrid ancestry, though, savannah cats cannot be legally owned without a permit in many locations and are illegal to own in some states.
Personality: Affectionate and social with owners, pets, and older children; intelligent and trainable
Weight: 12 to 25 pounds (depending on the generation)
Length: 20 to 22 inches (depending on the generation)
Coat Length: Short to medium hair
Coat Color: Tawny, Black/brown spotted tabby, black/silver spotted tabby, or black smoke with a solid or tabby pattern
Coat Patterns: Spotted, striped, or solid
Eye Color: Amber or green
Lifespan: Up to 20 years
Origin: Africa (serval), Varied Locations (domestic cat)
Savannah Cat Characteristics
The savannah cat makes an excellent companion; it's sociable with people and pets, highly intelligent, and always willing to greet its owners with friendly head bumps. This cat may look wild, but it enjoys domestic life and interacting with its owners. A savannah cat may follow its owner around the house like a dog but also relishes its feline independence.
Savannahs generally get along well with other cats and dogs, and they're good with older children (toddlers may be easily overwhelmed by these large, playful cats). When buying a savannah cat, choose a breeder who has socialized the kittens in a home with pets and kids so that they are not shy or fearful of these interactions.
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History of the Savannah Cat
The first known breeding was in the early 1980s by Judy Frank, a Bengal cat breeder located in Pennsylvania. In the early 1990s, Patrick Kelley, founder of Savannahcat.com, enlisted Joyce Sroufe, founder of A1Savannahs (formerly New Horizon Bengals), to help him develop the breed using the offspring of Frank's first hybrid cross.
Although the savannah cat is a relatively new breed, it is extremely popular. There are dozens of savannah breeders in North America and over 60 breeders worldwide.
Registries that accept the savannah cat include The International Cat Association and The International Progressive Cat Breeders' Alliance.
Savannah Cat Training and Care
Savannah cats' long legs and athletic grace lend themselves to leaping, and these cats love landing on high surfaces. Provide a tall cat tree or other safe climbing opportunities. Of course, you must also expect your savannah to spy high places—cabinet tops, shelves, refrigerators—and attempt to scale them as well. It's a quirk that many owners learn to love; just make sure there are no breakable items in your cat's way.
Like servals, many savannahs also love to play in water. Fill a kiddie pool and let your cat explore the water at its own pace (don't plunk the cat into the pool). An enclosure around the pool can allow outdoor fun without the risk of escape. Just make sure to provide shade on hot summer days.
In addition, savannah cats will often accept wearing a harness and accompanying their owners on outdoor walks.
The savannah cat has a short coat that is easy to care for. You can brush your cat weekly to help keep hairballs at bay, and trim your cat's nails as often as needed to dull their sharp tips for indoor living. Brush your cat's teeth frequently and get appropriate veterinary cleanings.
Savannah cats have been called dog-like in their love of playing fetch and their ability to be trained. You can clicker-train them as you would a dog to do tricks and obey commands.
Common Health Problems
Savannah cats are generally healthy and should be given the same veterinary preventative care visits and treatments as other domestic cats. However, they are more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy than fully domestic cats. This heart condition causes thickening of the heart's left ventricle, which can lead to heart failure.
Also, hybrid male sterility is to be expected until the F4 generation.
The savannah cat is tall and lean with long legs and a long neck (its cousin, the serval, is sometimes called the "giraffe cat" because of these characteristics). Its large ears sit high atop its head and are more rounded than most domestic cats' ears.
The savannah's coat ranges in color from light tawny to smoky black and bears a characteristic black spotted pattern with occasional bars. Occasionally, a savannah cat may be solid black, lacking spots.
Diet and Nutrition
Savannah cats have the same nutritional requirements as domestic cats. Some experts recommend a combination of commercial dry food or 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, then 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.
Where to Adopt or Buy a Savannah Cat
Types of Savannah Cat
The types of savannah cat are expressed in terms of filial generation (i.e. the number of generations a cat is from the serval in its lineage), and the nomenclature includes designations from F1 through F8.
- An F1 savannah cat has one serval parent and one domestic cat parent, so it is 50% serval. These cats are the largest and least affectionate of the savannahs because they are closer to wild animals than later generations. They weigh up to 25 pounds and stand about 16 to 18 inches at their shoulders. They are the least suitable for households with small pets or kids and are the most expensive to purchase (up to $20,000).
- An F2 savannah has a serval grandparent. It is similar in size and temperament to an F1, but it will tend to be slightly more affectionate and less wary of new interactions. They are more suitable for family life and cost significantly less (ranging up to $11,000).
- An F3 cat has a serval great-grandparent. It weighs up to 20 pounds and is about 17 inches in height. They still look wild, but their personalities are tamer and even more affectionate than F2s.
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.
A male is not fertile usually until the sixth generation from the serval parent. The females are usually fertile from the first generation.
Savannah Cat Overview
The savannah cat is a fantastic family pet with wild appeal. Not only is it beautiful and exotic-looking, but it is also large and playful, and it enjoys interacting with kids and other pets. Unfortunately, savannah cats are not easily acquired; their breeders are few and far between, and the cats are very expensive. In addition, state laws may ban them or require permits for ownership.
Exotic and wild appearance
Affectionate and social with pets and children
Highly intelligent and clicker trainable
Some states ban the ownership
Relatively rare and expensive
Prone to heart disease
More Cat Breeds and Further Research
If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:
Otherwise, check out all of our other cat breed profiles.
How much does a savannah cat cost?
The cost can range from $5,000 to $20,000 (F1 generation cats are the most expensive).
Are savannah cats good house pets?
Savannah cats are playful, intelligent, and active, so they can be challenging house pets that require patient, loving owners.
Are savannah cats legal to own?
Savannah cats cannot be legally owned without a permit in many locations and are illegal to own in Georgia, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Rhode Island.
Guide to Savannah Cat Generations. Savvy Paws.