Savannah cats have only been officially recognized as a breed in the last twenty years, making it one of the newer breeds of cats. They are also very popular because of their amazing spotted coats, huge ears, and high energy.
They are also not terribly common because males tend to be sterile. But if you’re looking for what basically amounts to a loyal mini cheetah, what should you know about the Savannah cat?
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History of Savannah Cats
Savannah cats were first bred in the early 1980s by a Bengal breeder in the US. Savannah cats came about as a result of breeding several cats (notably Siamese and Bengal) with serval cats, creating litters of hybrid crosses, and then carefully breeding for the coloration, build, and temperament. Further breeding with other Servals (medium-sized African wild cats) ensured the coloration of the breed.
Other breeds that were added to the Savannah include Bengals, Egyptian Maus, Oriental shorthairs, and some domestic shorthairs. Now that the breed is well established though, outcrossing is no longer permitted (or necessary).
The original breeders of the Savannah also worked hard to have the breed recognized, but it wasn’t made official until 2001. Now, the Savannah cat breed is recognized by several cat breeder associations and it is quite popular.
In 2012, it was given championship status by the International Cat Association. On the other hand, the Cat Fancier’s Association refuses to recognize this breed because they don’t want to encourage the breeding of wild cats to domestic cats. (It’s a fair enough point – a lot of the time, this sort of breeding doesn’t go over well. Only a few breeds like Bengal, Savannah, and Toyger have really worked out).
So, all in all, this is a pretty new breed, but it’s has really taken off in popularity.
Characteristics of Savannah Cats
Savannah cats have several very unique characteristics thanks to their lineage. The closer a cat is to its ‘wild side’, the more of these characteristics they are going to display which may be a good thing, or not, depending on your needs! (And how much you are willing to pay…)
Savannah cats are viewed as a medium-sized breed, but there is a huge weight range – 8-20+ pounds with males being larger and heavier than females. Savannah cats are considered to be one of the longest and tallest cats and deceptively heavy.
The most noteworthy feature of Savannah cats though is of course that gorgeous coat! Savannah cats feature cheetah-like coats with odd-shaped spots and bars all over their body and a tawny coat underneath the black markings.
This is the most common coloring, but their fur can also be black, brown, silver, or smoked (to be accepted by the International Cat Association) or marbled, pointed, blue, cinnamon, chocolate, lilac, and other dilute colors. They also have huge ears, long legs, a long tail, and even a longer neck than many other domestic cats.
The closer the cat is to its Serval heritage, the wilder it will look (and often act). Show Savannah cats have much stricter requirements for their appearance than ones that are going to end up as beloved family pets.
Male Savannah cats are more likely sterile the closer they are to their wild ancestry, so female ones are very valuable. As the generations trickle down, male sterility drops, (by the sixth generation, most males are starting to get fertile again) but this also means that subsequent generations will also be farther from their roots.
This is beneficial in some respects – by the fourth generation, their temperament gets more predictable and settled, but the further the generation is, the less wild the cat looks.
Many people like to have Savannahs at the fourth to sixth generation (roughly) to get the best of both worlds. In other words, by fourth generation, at least one great-great-grandparent was a serval cat.
Stud Savannah cats are at least four generations removed from the serval but have only Savannah cat parents for at least three generations.
Savannah cats tend to live a long time – 15-20 years and it takes about three years for them to reach their full adult size. They don’t need a lot of brushing; a weekly run with a brush is usually good enough. And this is one of the few breeds of cat which not only tolerates water but usually likes it¸ making them easy to bathe when they need it (although it might be messy since they may want to splash!)
Although fairly separated from servals by the time they reach the usual owner, savannah cats may still be restricted from ownership in some states and cities, and they can still be considered ‘exotic’ pets.
This will really depend on where you live though, so make sure to check your city or state laws. It also depends on how close your cat is to its wild ancestor – F1 (parent is the serval) and F2 (Grandparent is the serval) cats are more likely to be considered exotic than an F6.
Temperament of Savannah Cats
Savannah cats may be part wild cat, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have a wild temperament! Their breeding was carefully selected to bring out qualities that would make them better domestic cats, including intelligence, affection, and bonding (there was quite a bit of Siamese and Oriental shorthair in the mixes early on!)
As a result, even first-generation Savannahs aren’t as wild as their parent, though they can still act unpredictably.
By about fourth generation, their temperament settles and then they really start to shine for many owners. You can expect the following from many Savannah cats:
- Sociable and affectionate, but only with their owners. Around strangers, they can be fairly shy, so they require careful socialization to make them comfortable with other people and animals. Once they get to know someone though, they like to show off, get attention, and play.
- Bonds tightly with ‘their’ humans, including children who are respectful of them. They like to follow their people around and see what they are up to, or supervise them from a good perch for headbutts and ear scratches.
- They are very vocal (Thanks Siamese and oriental shorthair breeding!). This is a breed that may enjoy ‘commenting’ on what you’re up to.
- They are affectionate on their terms, but not necessarily on yours. Once they have had enough attention, they tend to leave.
- They love to jump and play – providing a lot of vertical play space is important or you’ll find them on your fridge, counters, and fences.
- They can be trained to walk on a leash and harness and to play fetch as well as other tricks
- They are smart and love interactive toys and puzzles. They are also very curious and since they can jump so high, they can get into just about anything
- Many Savannah cats enjoy pulling pranks. But since they are cats, the pranks are often in the line of things like pushing things on you, putting things in your food, or waking you up at night. Hey, we never said they had a sophisticated sense of humor
- They have a hiss that sounds more like a snake than a cat – this is the serval parentage showing itself.
Assuming you go through a breeder who properly socialized the kittens, most Savannah cats will be fine with children and other animals as long as everyone is introduced properly. But they can be big cats, so make sure you have space and lots of places for them to jump, climb, and play.
They are high-energy animals, high social need animals, and smart – if you don’t provide entertainment, they’ll provide their own with likely destructive results!
Savannah cats are, in many ways, unique among domestic cats. They have physical prowess that many domestic cats don’t have, they are very sociable, they have very high energy, and they love pulling pranks.
Giving them plenty of socialization, training, and plenty of your own time and energy are all key to a successful relationship with these cats.
Health Conditions of Savannah Cats
Savannah cats are, in general, fairly healthy cats, but they can have a few quirks, especially the closer they are to their wild ancestors. The main issues are:
- Being more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy compared to domestic cats. This is a heart condition that causes thickening of the left ventricle which can lead to heart failure
- Male sterility is expected until at least four generations in and sometimes as many as six
- Most savannah cats are fine with the normal cat food diet, but you should talk to your vet if you have concerns. Cats that are closer to first-generation may require a more specialized diet to stay healthy – they often respond well to raw diets, for example
- PK Def is pyruvate kinase deficiency which causes red cells to break down too easily, leading to anemia
- Progressive Retinal atrophy can affect vision
Otherwise, it’s important to do your regular vet checks, make sure your cat gets plenty of exercise and quality food and is kept indoors or on a leash regularly to prevent them from getting lost, stolen, or injured.
Savannah cats also pick up parasites like any other animal, so it’s important to keep them checked up and keep them indoors as much as possible.
Just like any other cat, it’s important to brush your cats’ teeth regularly to prevent periodontal disease. Daily is best, but weekly is better than nothing.
What is the Ideal Owner of a Savannah Cat?
Savannah cats are definitely not for everyone, no matter how beautiful they are. From a wider perspective, it’s important to ensure that you can legally own one where you live – in many classes, they are classed as exotic animals and have additional rules around ownership or you may not be able to own one at all.
Then, assuming you can have one, it’s important to take stock of your time, energy, and space. Savannah cats need a lot of room to play, they love to be up high (so they need places to jump and perch) and they are very smart and curious, so they will figure out how to get into cupboards and other places if you don’t keep them securely locked!
Savannah cats also do much better when they can tightly bond with members of the family and while they aren’t quite as socially demanding as other breeds, they still don’t do well on their own for too long. They need the mental and emotional stimulation of other people, often other animals, and good toys in order to stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy.
Savannah cats generally live for a long time too, assuming they are kept safe and healthy, so be ready for a very long-term commitment. They can also cost a lot of money just to purchase – anywhere from a thousand to over twenty thousand, depending on gender, the generation, and conformation to breed standards and show value.
Savannah cats are generally fine with children and other pets, as long as everyone is introduced properly, and young children are supervised. They are smart enough to simply leave when they have had enough, and they can jump to just about anywhere to get away.
Savannah cats would likely not do as well in a small space like an apartment since they need more room to play and jump. Neighbors may also worry about it causing damage or being too noisy, so make sure to talk to those you share space with.
Summary of Savannah Cats
Savannah cats are a popular breed of cat! With their wilder appearance coupled with their intelligence, affection towards their humans, and overall good health, they become real showstoppers for cat lovers. They are also fun to play with, enjoy walking on leashes, and even enjoy playing in water!
This is a really overall fun breed with a beautiful appearance, but make sure that you are legally allowed to own one and that you are prepared for a steep price tag.
Have you ever owned a Savannah cat? Did it enjoy playing ‘pranks’ on you?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.