For the pet owner who enjoys exotic animals but doesn’t want to be famous on YouTube for owning an illegal cheetah kept in the bathtub, the Savannah domestic cat is an excellent choice for a pet. They are beautiful and closely resemble their wild relatives (the African Serval cat) with long legs, a lithe, well-muscled body, large ears, and a strikingly beautiful face. Because they are so close genetically to wild cats and do not have the inbred genetic issues many other domestic cat breeds suffer from, the Savannah cats breed enjoys remarkable health and longevity. They are susceptible to health issues like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but many of the other diseases you typically see in cats rarely manifest in a Savannah.
Starting in the 1980s, Savannah cats were bred from an African serval and a domestic cat. They retained the beautiful spotted pattern of markings with gold or warm honey-colored shorthair fur, but are also black, brown, silver, or brown spotted tabby. Markings are unbroken circles or oval-shaped black spots in horizontal rows along their sides with stripes along the back. They should have specific markings around their eyes, a black “tear stain” line coming from the corner of their eyes curving over and down alongside the nose. They can weigh as much as 25 pounds, with a life expectancy of 10-20 years.
Types of Savannah Cats
Joyce Sroufe was the first to recognize Savannah cats as a new breed. Savannah cats are rated by the filial system, a measurement of the wild genes in each cat. Nomenclature includes an F (for filial) and a number denoting how many generations removed from the African serval the cat is. F1 is the highest number, a first generation domestic Savannah, considered 50% wild. The higher the numeral, such as F2, F3, etc. denotes less wild blood. Because of fertility issues with these crossbred males, the Savannah cat is difficult to breed.
The closeness to their wild ancestors can denote what kind of personality a Savannah cat may have. F1-F3 are still considered a hybrid wild animal in most places, and the F4 a domesticated hybrid.
F1 Savannahs are not as affectionate and don’t like to be held as much, but they are loyal and often bond with only one or two people at the most. They are very active, defensive and should only be considered by an owner with the time and familiarity to care for them responsibly. F1s are often far more solitary than their more domesticated cousins and can be aggressive. They may not use the litterbox as readily and have a high prey instinct. F1s are typically larger cats. They may not be the best choice for someone looking for a lap cat.
F2 Savannahs will likely get along well with a smaller family unit or a couple. They are more friendly, interactive, and affectionate than the F1. These are smaller than the F1s and respond better to training. They still have territorial and hunting instincts.
F3 and F4 Savannahs are much easier to train, socialize, and integrate into a family. These cats act a little more like your typical domestic cat with a big Savannah personality. They use the litterbox more readily and are friendly to other cats and dogs in the family. For families with children, F3s and F4s are a better choice. F4s are considered domesticated hybrids.
The Savannah cat may appear to be a fierce killing machine, but they are actually extremely friendly and loyal to their people. With a few exceptions, they get along well with other pets, including dogs and cats. These cats are sometimes afraid or distrustful of new situations or people. When considering a Savannah kitten from a breeder, be sure to ask a lot of questions about how well their cats are socialized. And the socialization should not stop with the breeder. An owner of a Savannah cat will need to be prepared to expose their cat to many new situations and people, and carefully introduced to new animals who are friendly and already well-trained.
The energy level for these cats is very high, especially if they don’t get regular exercise and stimulation. These are not the kind of housecat that operates on the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” mentality that could be left alone for long periods.
Think of the Savannah cat breed as a cat version of a Siberian Husky. They are a pack animal and are quite intelligent and can be trained well. The flip side of owning such a smart and intelligent creature is that if they are not regularly engaged and exercised, they can get anxious and destructive. Savannah cats need training, a clear hierarchy, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Your home will need to be Savannah-proofed.
Because they are so curious and sometimes need alone time, they may climb to places in your home you’d rather they not be, so they will need high perches and cat trees to be content. They love to interact with you, but they also need a den or safe place to retreat to for alone time. Giving them a safe spot as well as various toys and opportunities for play will keep a Savannah cat out of trouble. A Savannah’s prey instincts are high, and they do like to go above and beyond in bringing you small dead animals, so they should not be left outside alone. These cats can easily clear an 8-foot fence, so if you do want them to spend time in the great outdoors, investing in a Savannah-proof fenced enclosure will also be a necessity.
Because of their extremely high price tag, some Savannah breeders may charge as much as $20,000 for a Savannah kitten, and on the lower end for a quality F3, you could pay as much as $1,500.00. They are very expensive because Savannahs are harder to breed, require proper housing and special cat food. They have a high mortality rate as kittens. Unfortunately, some dishonest breeders will misrepresent the filial genes or the pedigree of their Savannah kittens and overcharge customers who don’t know better. It’s a good idea to choose a breeder who is registered with TICA, The International Cat Association. The International Progressive Cat Breeders’ Alliance also recognizes the Savannah cat.
Things to Consider When Buying a Savannah Cat
- Purebred Savannah kittens are extremely expensive. Male cats are often sterile until the F4 generation.
- Cats less removed from their wild ancestors may not be as easily trained with a litterbox, and training will take time and patience.
- A strong prey instinct in Savannah cats could put other pets such as rodents, fish, and birds at risk, and they will need to be protected and kept in a separate area from your kitty.
- Larger cats will eat much more food, and Savannahs need a high-quality diet.
- Savannah cats are extremely active and love to climb, jump, and explore.
- Savannah cats are much more like dogs in how they like to interact with their humans. Many of them love water, insist on excessive play, and can quickly become bored.
- Some states and cities still consider Savannah cats to be exotic cats, and you are not allowed to own them. Be sure to check what the laws are where you live.
In conclusion, we encourage you to reach out to Savannah cat owners, pet societies, and rescue groups to learn more about the breed and meet a few full-grown Savannah cats. If you are serious, consider fostering a Savannah cat before deciding to own one. You should never consider buying a Savannah cat as a status symbol. Shelters and cat sanctuaries regularly receive so many of these beautiful creatures because ignorant people purchased them without an understanding of their needs or the appropriate lifestyle and then dumped them.