Savannah Cats

The Savannah cat is slowly becoming an internet sensation. More and more people are starting to notice this type of cat and are wanting to adopt it. The question is will a savannah cat work for your home and your budget. Read on to learn more about these amazing cats.

History of the Savannah Cat

The Serval is a species of wildcat native to many parts of Africa. These carnivores have distinctively large ears and beautifully spotted coats that closely resemble a cheetah. It is known for its keen sense of hearing, as well as having long and powerful legs that allow it to jump several feet into the air when hunting. In late April of 1986, when breeder Judy Frank successfully paired a wild Serval with a domestic Siamese cat, the first-ever Savannah cat was born. The name originates in reference to the African plains the Serval calls home.

Through the efforts of Patrick Kelly and Joyce Sroufe, the breed was recognized by The International Cat Association (TICA) in 2001. In 2012 TICA recognized the Savannah Cat as a championship breed.

The Savannah cat has remained popular since the 1990s. It is an exotic looking breed that has retained many of the characteristics of it’s wild ancestor, the Serval, but has been domesticated into a popular pet with a big personality (and a big price tag, too). It is a desirebale pet because of the awe striking beauty inherent to the breed, and are very social, easy to train pets.

A Note on “Generational Differences”

The physical attributes, size, personality, and cost of a Savannah cat can vary widely depending on it’s generation, or how far removed a particular cat is from it’s wild lineage.

Higher filial generation Savannah cats (F1, F2, F3) retain many of the characteristics of the wild Serval, in both size and temperament. Subsequent filial generations (F4, F5, F6, etc.) are smaller in size, and tend to be more manageable as they retain less of the wild tendencies that could present behavioral challenges to pet owners.

It’s important a prospective owner has realistic expectations of a Savannah Cat. In general, even later generation of this hybrid breed do not behave as lap cats, and require active and committed owners. Savannah Cats have a high need for stimulation and exercise, making their level of care more comparable to that of a dog’s, rather than a typical domestic cat.

Physical Attributes of the Savannah Cat

Height: 14 – 20 in.
Weight: 12 – 25 lbs.
Lifespan: 12 – 20 years

The Savannah Cat has been successfully bred to very closely resemble the African Serval in appearance. They are known for their vibrant coats and distinct markings typical to wild cats, such as the cheetah-like spots and dark “tear stains” characteristic of the Savannah Cat’s eyes.

Savannah Cats are the largest domestic cat breed, though they are often perceived to be bigger than they are due to their long legs and svelte body types. Their individual sizes vary based on genetic factors and background, and they weigh from 12 – 25 pounds.

Their height ranges from 14-20 inches. (For comparison, a typical domestic short-haired cat is around 9-12 inches.) They take up to 3 years to reach their full size.

Males are generally bigger than females, and the further removed from the Serval ancestry, the smaller they are, while still maintaining a remarkable amount of the wild-looking physical traits found in the wildcat.

Aside from their strikingly marked coats, the Savannah Cat’s large, high set ears are perhaps the next most distinctive feature passed down from the African Serval Cat. Their sense of hearing is impeccable.

Distinguishing their looks further are the “ocelli markings,” an evolutionary adaptation common in wild cat species. These high-contrast markings on the back of the ears look much like an extra set of eyes and are meant to ward off potential predators, and are significantly less common in other domestic breeds.

Like all cats, they thrive on a healthy and high-quality diet. With proper nutrition and regular vet care, a Savannah Cat with a healthy bloodline can have an expected lifespan of up to 20 years. They require the same level of medical care as a typical house cat, with a slightly higher emphasis on dental care. They are carnivores and expert hunters.

Savannah Cat Personality

Savannah cats are highly intelligent and engaging pets, with a high need for stimulation. They are often compared to puppies as they are very loyal and attached to their owners, whom they will often follow around. They are affectionate and crave attention from their family. Some people have success leash-training their Savannah, and they are also known to really enjoy the water.

Much like having a puppy (or litter box trained toddler), Savannah cats are excited to explore and get into everything – with a high propensity for mischief! This can be both fun and frustrating, and a certain level of preparedness is necessary when considering them as a pet. They are highly trainable and can be well suited to domestic life, provided that their owner can meet their needs. Because they are highly intelligent, a Savannah cat may “act out” when it is bored, or fall into a certain kind of sulkiness if it feels left out of things going on with the family.

Early socialization and exercise are both important, particularly for Savannah cats that have a higher percentage of Serval blood and are therefore more susceptible to “wild” behaviors. A weariness of strangers is somewhat common, but they are naturally social and curious and will easily become accustomed to people. Depending on their generation, some Savannah cats may be headstrong and unwilling to fully play the part of a polite, domestic house cat. There is a certain lack of predictability over what traits an F1, F2, or F3 cat may exhibit.

Individual cats will have differing temperaments, but in general Savannah cats have been known to make excellent family pets, getting along well with children and other animals. This is especially true when they are brought up in the environment as kittens, by engaged owners who are well informed of their needs. They are very loyal and form strong attachments to the people closest to them.

Cost of Savannah Cat

The cost of adopting or buying a Savannah cat vary depending on a number of factors. Because a Serval is a wildcat, it is both more complicated and expensive to breed it with a domesticated cat, and this is reflective in the typical cost of a Savannah cat.

The more “wild” a Savannah cat is, the more prospective owner should expect to pay.

Prices range widely, from $1000 and sometimes exceeding $20,000 for a high filial generation Savannah. This all depends on the background of the cat, and how close it is to the Serval. It is unwise to bargain hunt in this breed, because there is a good reason behind their high price tag, as any reputable breeder can attest.

Registered purebred Savannah cats from a reputable breeder will have proof of lineage and fit the official breed standards set forth by TICA. There is a high level of expertise and time needed in breeding Savannah cats. They are a serious commitment for both breeder and potential owner, both financially and time-wise.

As with any pet, it’s also important to consider the cost of regular, routine expenses, including veterinary care. Savannah cats are generally a healthy breed, not requiring any more routine medical work than a typical cat.
Note that some veterinarians might not be comfortable working with what is perceived to be an exotic breed, and so proper research should be done to make sure one has a regular vet lined before bringing their new pet home. This is ideally true for all pets, regardless of species or breed!

Other potential expenses may include training classes, equipment and toys, and other miscellaneous costs in preparing for a Savannah cat. Some people may find it’s necessary that they undertake certain remodeling projects (or move altogether) in order to “Savannah-proof” their homes and yards from the mischievous, prolific jumpers. There’s also the possibility of damage done to the home that requires repair costs, though this is potentially true with any pet.

It’s important to do a lot of research into the breed and breeder when buying any animal, but it’s especially important with highly sought-after hybrid breeds like the Savannah where unethical practices and cost-saving shortcuts can have a negative impact on both the animal and consumer.

Other Considerations

The legalities of owning a Savannah cat vary by region. It’s important to properly research the laws relevant to your area.

While some people may experience a bit of “sticker shock” when researching the cost of a Savannah cat, those who own them as pets find them incredibly rewarding. They can be a great fit for those with means and inclination to own something exotic, but who still want to be able to have the level of affection and interaction of a cat or dog.

Aside from the financial commitment, it’s important to consider the time commitment. A Savannah cat who is well looked after might live up to twenty years. A prospective pet owner needs to consider their life not just now, but in the future, and what factors might impact their ability to provide care for their high-needs pet down the line. It is a long-term commitment that requires research and planning.