A Savannah cat is one of the most amazing pets to own. They are a relatively new breed of cat, and as such are not very commonly seen in person. Your best bet for meeting a Savannah cat is to attend a TICA (The International Cat Association) cat show, or visit a breeder's cattery. You can find a schedule of TICA cat shows at http://ticamembers.org/calendar/.
This web page is intended to give you a variety of information about Savannah cats, and to familiarize you with the breed enough for you to know whether it's worth the trip to meet one!
Savannahs can be described as friendly, assertive, active, playful and interested in dogs and children. They are commonly compared to dogs in their loyalty, human attachment, and play behaviors. They will follow their owners around the house like a curious little puppy. They can also be trained to walk on a leash and play fetch, and many Savannahs love to play in water. A Savannah expects to be a family member that is involved in every activity rather than being just a usual house pet. They are not typical "lap cats" as they are very active and large, however they do love to be petted, and will show their affection for their humans through head-butting and kissing (licking).
Savannahs often greet people with head-butts, a friendly pounce, or a curious look. Most Savannahs are reported as being very social and friendly with other cats and dogs, but some may run and hide or revert to hissing and growling when seeing a stranger. Exposure to other people and pets as the Savannah kitten grows up is the predominant factor in sociability, however like any cat, they do exhibit differing personalities from cat to cat.
Vocally, Savannahs may either chirp like their Serval father, meow like their domestic mother, or do both, sometimes producing sounds which are a mixture of the two. Chirping, when present, is usually observed more often in earlier generations. Savannahs may also "hiss"—a Serval-like hiss is quite different from a domestic cat's hiss, sounding more like a very loud snake hiss, and can be alarming to humans not acquainted to such a sound coming from a cat. Hissing, and even aggressive behavior which involves hissing, is usually more frequent in F1 or occasionally F2 generations, and may subside or disappear as the cat is socialized. Some early generation Savannahs may hiss and growl as their normal "talk", and not to scare off those around them.
As Savannahs are produced by crossing African Servals and domestic cats, each generation of Savannahs is marked with a filial number that represents how many generations removed from the Serval it is. For example, the cats produced directly from a cross between an African Serval and a domestic cat are the F1 generation. This generation is typically 50% Serval, although if an F1 Savannah is used as the domestic parent, the percentage of Serval blood can jump to 75%. A few Savannah breeders have successfully bred higher percentage F1 Savannahs back to Servals enough times to produce F1 Savannah females with 90%+ Serval genetic content. The F2 generation, which has a Serval grandparent and is the offspring of the F1 generation, is 25% Serval (or higher, depending on the F1 Serval content). The F3 generation has a Serval great-grandparent, and so on. Earlier generation Savannahs are typically more expensive to purchase due to scarcity.
A Savannah breeding is identified with a letter after the filial designation. An A-level Savannah has one Serval parent. A B-level Savannah has Savannahs for both parents. Both parents of a C-level Savannah must be at least B-level Savannahs. For example, if you cross an African Serval with an F1A Savannah, you get an F1A Savannah offspring because one of the parents is a Serval. If you were to cross that same F1A female Savannah with a fertile F4B male, you would produce F2B kittens because the mother is only an A-level Savannah. If you cross an F4C male with an F3B female, you would get F4C Savannah offspring. The filial and level are always relative to the parent genetically closest to the Serval.
Physical Description of a Savannah Cat
Savannahs are the largest breed of domestic cat. Their tall and slim build gives Savannahs the appearance of greater size than their actual weight. In general, male Savannahs tend to be larger than females. On average, early generation Savannahs weigh 15 to 28 lbs. Average size is dependent on generation and sex, with F1 male cats usually being the largest. Later generation Savannahs are usually between 10 to 18 lbs. Because of the random factors in Savannah hybrid genetics, there can be significant variation in size, even in one litter. Breeders commonly agree that Savannahs can grow to weigh in excess of 30 pounds, reaching their full growth between 3 and 5 years of age.
The coat of a Savannah depends a lot on the breed of cat used for the domestic cross. Early generations have large dark spots on a lighter background like the African Serval, and breeders use spotted breeds such as the Bengal and the Egyptian Mau for the cross to pass these markings to later generations. The TICA breed standard for Savannahs calls for black, brown spotted tabby, silver spotted tabby and black smoke types. The more a Savannah cat looks like an African Serval, the more valuable the Savannah.
The overall look of an individual Savannah depends greatly on generation, with higher-percentage Savannah cats often having a more "wild" look. Almost all Savannah breeders use a Bengal for the domestic parentage, but if a different domestic breed was used, it will affect appearance as well. A Savannah's wild look is often due to the presence of many distinguishing Serval characteristics. Most prominent of these include the various color markings and tall, erect ears. The bodies of Savannahs are long and leggy—when a Savannah is standing, their hind-end is often higher than their shoulders. The head is taller than wide, and they have a long slender neck. The back of each ear has a light band bordered by dark stripes, which are called ocelli . The short tail has black rings, with a solid black tip. The eyes are blue as a kitten, and usually green or gold as an adult. Black "tear-streak" markings run from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose to the whiskers, much like a cheetah . The black tear marks help reduce glare from sunlight, which aid the Savannah's vision during hunting. The eye shape should resemble an African Serval, with a boomerang shape to the top of the eye, and an almond shape to the bottom.
Most F1 generation Savannahs will possess many or all of these traits, while their presence often diminishes in later generations. Being a hybridized-breed of cats, appearance can vary far more than cat owners may be used to. Photos of different Savannahs can be found at the Savannah Breed Section, the Savannah Cat Club and most Savannah breeders' websites.
Which Savannah Cat is Right for You?
Because Savannah are hybrid cats, one of the realities of breeding them is that the males are sterile until the 4th or 5th generation down from the Serval ancestor. As a result, F1 - F3 male Savannahs are of no use in a breeding program, but do exhibit many of the features Savannah pet owners desire. They are generally the largest of the Savannah cats, and have a tendency to possess beautiful wild-looking coats. For many people, these early generation male Savannahs are the perfect pet. Although they are sterile, they should still be neutered to prevent them from spraying, and to enhance the domesticated personality.
Female Savannahs of all generations are fertile, and breeders will evaluate them for use in their breeding programs. They are generally smaller than the males, which makes them less attractive as pets for people who are attracted to the large size of the breed. Because they are a hybrid breed, the offspring of a female Savannah has little to do with her size, and each kitten in a litter may vary greatly in size from others in the same litter. Early generation female Savannahs tend to be a little more expensive than males due to their value to a breeder. Once you get to the F5 generation, however, nicely shaped and marked fertile males become valuable to breeders because they are the first generation of males that can be used for Savannah to Savannah breeding. Beginning in 2008, Savannah cats that will be shown in TICA cat shows must be at least C-level Savannahs, which means all of the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents must be Savannah cats, and no other breed of domestic cat. For breeders to produce show-quality Savannahs, they must use F5 Savannah males to mate with as early generation females as they can, and use their offspring to produce C-level Savannahs.
When selecting the right Savannah for you, if the larger size males are what attracts you, it's important to consider the realities of owning a very large, very playful cat. It's not fair to ask them to live like a smaller domestic cat. They need larger litter boxes, larger play areas, less fragile home furnishings, and humans who will play BIG with them. They can run fast, jump high, and knock over many things in their path in the process. If you're really not ready for a 24-pound cat to run across your living room at full speed, please consider a female Savannah of a later generation, i.e. F3 or higher.
All Savannahs need time with their people, and love to be outside exploring, which means their human needs to take them out on a leash every day. Most of their interactive play with their humans will take place indoors because when they're outside, there are so many things for them to see and hear that a cat toy will not usually get their attention. Savannahs have a different sense of balance from other domestic cats, so riding in the car is quite fun for them. They are smart enough to know that their leash and a car ride usually leads to a fun adventure! Just be sure to give them many opportunities to visit places other than the vet when they go out. Two of our pet Savannahs love to go hunting at PetSmart on Sunday mornings. Captive mice, birds and chinchillas are like Disneyland to them.
Health Considerations for Savannahs
Savannah cats have no known special healthcare or food requirements. They do not require a special diet, although some breeders and owners recommend premium cat foods. Others recommend a partial or complete raw diet with at least 32% protein and no by-products. Some will also recommend a calcium supplement, while others consider it unnecessary, or even harmful. Issues of Savannah diet are not without controversy, and again, it is best to seek the advice of your veterinarian or exotic cat specialist before feeding a Savannah cat any non-standard diet. The best practice is to continue feeding your Savannah the same diet the breeder was feeding until your new pet is settled and secure in their new home. At that time, you should take your Savannah to your own vet for a checkup, at which time you can discuss dietary choices with them.
Savannahs receive the same shots and health care as a domestic cat. All our kittens are fully litter box trained, properly vaccinated, and microchipped before they go to their new owners. Declawing a Savannah is not necessary, as they are very careful with their claws. Declawing a cat is actually an amputation to the first joint of the toe, and our contract for Savannahs we sell expressly disallows declawing. Most Savannahs will agree to have their claws clipped regularly by their owners. Most vets and grooming salons offer this service for a reasonable fee ($8 from my vet the last time I checked).
Laws governing ownership of Savannah cats in the United States vary according to state. Hybrid cats, defined as a domestic / wild species' cross, are illegal to own as pets in some states. It is important to check with your state before purchasing a Savannah cat. The laws change with time, and like any laws, they ones related to hybrid pet ownership are subject to interpretation. Some are more clear than others. All responsible Savannah breeders will either know the laws concerning ownership of Savannah cats in your state, or they will research it for you. The timeliness of the research is important as the laws do change. A starting point for researching your state's laws can be found at http://www.hybridpride.org.
Call Allison Ward-Osborne for more information.
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