Savannah Cats are beautiful, striking and full to the brim of immensely feline traits. They tend to be larger than the average domestic cat, and are very active and athletic. Descended from wild cats in very recent history, they have quickly gained in popularity, perhaps helped by some celebrity owners such as Justin Bieber. But are they really suitable as pets, comfortably slotting into our modern day lives and environments?
Let’s find out more.
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What is a Savannah Cat?
Savannah Cats are a recent breed, developed in the 1980s in the United States. The breed was formed by crossing a Serval cat – a wild African cat with striking markings – with a domestic cat. It has become very popular in the last 40 years, especially in the USA.
Savannah Cats are categorised determined by how many generations they are away from their wild Serval cat ancestor. F1 Savannahs have one Serval cat parent and one domestic cat parent, so are closest to a wild cat. They are large and very active, and least easy to domesticate. An F2 Savannah Cat has a Serval grandparent, the F3 has a Serval great-grandparent and so on.
Earlier crosses (F1 and F2) are generally larger and retain more ‘wild’ characteristics compared to the more diluted serval cat genes in the F3 and below categories. It is important to note that an F1 Savannah Cat cannot be kept in the U.K. without a Dangerous Wild Animals License.
What do they look like?
Tall, long-limbed and athletic, Savannah Cats are graceful and alert. They have large, deep, upright ears and large round eyes. Coat colours can vary from tawny to black and they are boldly striking with a spotted or marbled pattern.
Savannahs are much more closely related to wild ancestors than most of our domestic cats. This can lead to certain traits, such as a strong hunting instinct and a need for plenty of mental and physical stimulation. They are also physically large and need space and entertainment to avoid causing chaos. These active felines can become bored if not provided with enough space and activity; which can lead to destructive and aggressive behaviours. They also love to climb.
Although certainly not your average lap cat, Savannahs can be sociable and affectionate if they form social bonds with humans. This usually depends on whether their extensive needs are met, and if they were well socialised as kittens, and is more common in filial designations of F4 and below. They are highly territorial, however, and can be extremely aggressive towards other cats. Their strong prey drive also makes them difficult to keep with other pets, especially small mammals.
One slightly unusual feature of this breed is that they absolutely love water!
Requirements in the domestic setting
Savannah Cats are large, energetic pets with a long list of needs. They require a home with an experienced owner, and are certainly not recommended as a first-time family pet.
These graceful felines require plenty of activity; including access to outside space, plenty of hunting and chasing games to satisfy their high prey drive, as well as lots of opportunities to climb and jump and run. If indoor, they will need a whole host of enrichment, from cat trees to high perches, puzzle games to chasing practice.
Their large size and potential for aggressive tendencies if their needs are unmet calls for an experienced owner, well-versed in feline body language and communication. Wrestling a Savannah Cat into a cat carrier for a trip to the vets is not for the faint-hearted, especially if they haven’t been handled consistently and conditioned early to scenarios such as transport, grooming and handling.
The highly territorial nature of Savannahs often leads to conflict with other cats – usually won by the large, bold and muscular Savannah. The earlier generations may also struggle to adjust to life with a dog, although much depends on their early socialisation. Any small pets must be rigorously protected from the high prey drive of the typical Savannah.
Sociable, intelligent and active, these cats require a good deal of time and attention and cannot be left alone to amuse themselves without proper preparation, environmental medication and enrichment.
Are Savannah Cats recommended as pets?
So, can Savannah Cats be good pets? In general, I would recommend them only to a very experienced home, in the right circumstances and full knowledge of what they were taking on. Being so large and strong, any behaviour problems such as aggression can be much more serious in a Savannah than other breeds, and problems are always best prevented rather than acted upon.
Sourcing from a reputable breeder is also essential, with those early experiences being so very important when it comes to temperament and behaviour in later life.
Savannah Cats as Pets: a summary
Savannah Cats are fairly recently descended from their African Serval cat ancestor. Although gorgeous, graceful and striking, it is advisable for most people to admire this beauty from afar. Savannah Cats are high maintenance and require more time, resources, space and exercise than your average pet cat. In the right environment, they can be affectionate, intelligent and enriching pets, but they can swiftly become unhandleable, destructive and aggressive in the wrong home.