What's the big deal about Savannah cats?

Savannah cats are some of the most beautiful cats you can own. They have a wild look, yet they are bred to live indoors. And they are astonishingly amazing to look at.

These long-legged cats are among the largest of the cat breeds, even larger than the well-known Maine Coon. They are the size of a medium-sized dog and can weigh around 20-30 lbs. Their height makes them look heavier than they actually are.

But this is no regular feline. It’s actually a hybrid wildcat. This makes ownership of this breed rather questionable, and no question, a challenge.

What exactly is a Savannah cat?

Savannahs came about from a cross between a domestic cat and a serval. The serval is a wild cat that mostly lives in the sub-Saharan regions of Africa.

Servals are avid hunters of snakes, they have short tails, spotted coats and eye spots on the back of their ears, similar to tigers. Their ears are large and cone-shaped, giving their heads a small, wedge-like shape.

Strangely, the serval makeshissing noises that are not like the angry hiss of a domestic cat. They are more like prolonged snake hisses, and can signal displeasure or happiness. The hybrid Savannah is also capable of producing this unsettling noise.

Although it was kept in captivity in ancient Egypt by scribes and priests, the serval is not considered to be a good pet because it is a wild animal and has never been domesticated.

After laboratory experiments using domestic and wild cat hybrids ended in the 1970’s, the cats were given to the population at large. They soon created a demand for more of these hybrids, and breeds like the Bengal (a cross between a domestic cat and the Asian Leopard Cat) were created.

So, in 1986, cat breeders decided to create the Savannah because of a renewed interest in owning servals, which are very hard to keep due to their wild nature. By 2001, the breed standard was registered by The International Cat Association (TICA).

How are Savannahs classified?

The kittens from a domestic cat and serval cross are known as F1 Savannahs. Because the males are usually not fertile until four or five crosses later, the female kittens are usually crossed with other domestic cats to create the F2 Savannah. The grandparent of the F2 is a serval.

From that, the F3 Savannah is created, in which the great grandparent of the F3 is a serval, and so on.

Currently, Savannahs are now mostly crossed with Savannahs because there are now more fertile males available than in the past. Some breeders still perform out crosses with Savannahs to servals in order to preserve the wild appearance of the cat. But,in some places, it is illegal to have Savannahs from the generations that are too close to their wild ancestors, such as the F1 and F2 cats.

How big are they?

Because of how random their genetics can be, Savannahs have a great variation in their size. The F1 and F2 males tend to be the largest, but the cats can be anywhere between 12-20 lbs in late generations. In terms of height, they can stand 20-26 inches at the shoulder. Compare that to the height of a standard German shepherd, which stands between 22-24 inches at the shoulder.

What can be expected from their behavior?

This breed is not for everyone. Due to the fact that the bloodlines vary greatly in the percentage of wild genes, descriptions of their behavior are very variable.

There is no set standard, aside from their intelligence and rapid ability to learn. Some say the cats are very dog-like and friendly, while other are aggressive and prefer to hide instead of being in the company of their owners.

There are also reports of Savannah s having uncontrollable behavioral problems, such as urinating on everything in the house, not using the litter-box, and major aggression.

Although domestic cats can also be rather unpredictable in their behavior, apparently the Savannah cat can be harder to handle because of how close it is to its non-domesticated ancestor.

How much do they cost?

They are quite expensive. This is because of the fact that they are very difficult to breed. Servals require very specific care and their housing is expensive. On top of that, matings between a domestic cat and a serval can take years before they are successful.

The cost varies according to the generation and the sex. Females tend to be more expensive and males tend to cost less. F1 Savannahs usually sell for 12-20,000$ USD, and F2s can go for between 4-9,000$ USD. Even the later generation F5 Savannahs with about 11% serval blood are pricey; they are between 1-2,500$ USD.

Are they generally healthy?

One of the main health issues that affect this breed is obesity. Obesity can lead to diabetes, which is also genetic. In order to decrease the likelihood of this, these cats require a lot of physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.

Usually, their exercise requirements are greater than what most people can afford to give them. Like their wild counterparts, they are extremely athletic, and are capable of jumping 8 feet high from a standing position.

Their diet must also be kept in close check to prevent overeating from boredom.

What are the ethics of owning a Savannah?

Some animal care advocates claim that Savannah’s and all other hybrid wildcat crosses are impossible to domesticate, because they have been bred with wild animals. They do not condone the sale or keeping of hybrid cats and denounce breeders for falling into the hype of creating “designer cat breeds.”

Wild animals have no place in the home, and this is something that we are all aware of. Even if an animal has been crossed with a domesticated animal, the risks are great because it will retain some if not all the wild behavior of its ancestor.

 “What are you... Chicken?”  Why is this expression so totally wrong

More in Pets and Animals