What Is A Savannah Cat?

Savannah cats are beautiful creatures that people the world over can look at and admire. They have long, lean bodies with sleek fur, large ears and bright eyes. These unique features make them very attractive to both people and other animals.

However, unlike a tabby or a calico, they can not be called truly domestic cats. For starters, they are big, very big. In fact, this cat is the largest of the supposed domestic cat breeds, even without their ears sticking up quite so dramatically, they could give a medium-sized dog a run for their money. 

This may shock some people, as overall they look like domestic cats, and they behave like them in a home environment. But that is just the surface image of them, under the coat and the fur, they are more than meets the eye.

So, just what exactly is a Savannah cat, and what should I know about mine? In this article, we will look far more closely at Savannah cats, determining just what exactly they are, and the intricacies of their unusual species. 

History Of Savannah Cats

As we alluded to earlier, Savannah cats are not true domestic cats, they are, in truth, hybrids of domestic cats and a type of African wild cat called a Serval. A Serval is a very slender, medium-sized cat, much larger than the common domestic cats we have in our homes.

They are between 54 and 62 cm tall and weigh at most 18 kilograms, which may seem light for a cat of this size, but their legs are the longest compared to the body size, much like a maned wolf.

Servals are solitary, intelligent hunters who stalk the African Savannah looking for any small prey they can find.

This is quite far removed from our feline companions in the home, in fact Servals are quite far removed from domestic cats in genetics as well, being in their own genus with their closest living relative being a Caracal, another fairly big cat. 

The hybridization between the Savannah cat’s domestic and Serval ancestor happened in 1986, just over 40 years ago. Judee Frank managed to crossbreed a male Serval with a Siamese cat, which gave birth to the first Savannah cat.

In 1996, the breed’s standard was written and presented to The International Cat Association and in 2001 the cat was accepted as a new and registered breed. 

Physical Features

When you see a Savannah cat in person, it looks very similar to a normal domestic cat; it has large ears and a long tail, though its tail is thicker and longer than the average domestic cat.

It also has a long face and a pointy nose. Its paws are slightly different from that of a typical domestic cat, featuring five toes on each foot.

These cats’ coats are short and silky, but they do have spots. In truth, the only way the cat can truly be considered of the breed is with a spotted pattern on its coat – generally, they have black spots as well. 

The coloration is usually solid black, white, gray, red, orange, yellow, blue or green, although there are many variations of these colors and patterns.

Some of the most popular colors include: Black, Blue, Gray, Orange, White, and Yellow. The coat colors will depend very much on the domestic cat ancestry, as Servals tend to have a similar coloration to one another. 

A Savannah cat’s genetics can cause the cat to vary greatly in looks, due to the random factors that are present in them, thanks to the hybridization of the breed. This is not uncommon, and you need only look at other hybrid breeds with a wild ancestor to see the occurrence, like Bengal cats. 

Over time, these vast variance of genetics will mellow out as this breed becomes more established, but at this point there are two types that display the most exotic traits closest to their Serval parents, that of the F1 and F2 Savannah cats. 

F1 cats are first generation, meaning their parents were a Serval and a Siamese cat, and F2 cats are second generation, meaning their parents were two F1 cats.

These two types are the largest with the longest, most slender legs compared to other types of Savannah, and they also have large, round, cupped ears with deep hooded eyes.

Lifespan And Health

Luckily, Servals and Domestic cats have pretty similar lifespans, meaning that a Savannah cat will have roughly the same lifespan with not too much variation. Servals can live up to 10 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity, while domestic cats can live between 15 and 20 years. 

As such, a Savannah cat can live from about 12 to 20 years. As with most hybrids, there can be concerns about their health due to the relatively new creation of the breed and our lack of knowledge of it. One of the biggest health concerns is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 

This is a condition where the heart begins to thicken, and it struggles to pump blood as effectively. The other concern with this condition is that the electrical signals that our body relies upon are not conveyed as effectively.

HCM is a concern for many purebred cats, but it also can deeply affect hybrid populations. This is due to the original wild breed normally having problems with this condition itself, and this is true of the Serval as well.

However, apart from this condition the only thing a Savannah cat may inherit is a smaller liver, but this is no cause for concern and has not impacted this breed in any way so far. 

The only other concerns that a Savannah cat may experience is infertility. As with a lot of hybrid breeds, Savannahs have a significant incompatibility issue in their chromosomes and the gestation period of their offspring has about 10 days difference (65 for a domestic cat and 75 for a serval). 

This means that most males of the Savannah cat breed are sterile, and a lot of females can be as well. Yet, this infertility disappears slowly with each generation, with the males being infertile until at least the fourth generation and females being fertile from the first generation for the most part.

As the breed becomes more established, this problem should disappear, something that cat owners will rejoice in.  


Savannahs are noted for a couple of their differences to other domestic cats, and for one big characteristic that you would not expect from a partially wild cat: loyalty.

Once they have attached themselves to an owner, a Savannah will remain with them, and they have been known to follow their owners around the house. They have even been trained to walk on a leash and to fetch sticks, much like a dog. 

Although they are social with what they consider their family, savannahs can be wary of strangers, especially other cats and dogs. Due to their wild ancestry, they have ingrained instincts which they will follow if you do not help them.

This is especially true with F1 Savannah cats and if not trained out of this habit early it will continue for the rest of their lives. Exposure to others and reassurance will make them much less timid, and they will become more social. 

If they have been exposed correctly, savannahs can actually become one of the most social breeds and their natural loyalty, curiosity, and inclination for play can mean they get on very well with dogs.

But this curiosity can get them into trouble, as like their ancestors, savannahs are amazing jumpers. From only a standing start, savannahs can easily leap 8 feet, so if you plan to get one you will need to prepare your house. 

Savannahs also have absolutely no fear or worry about water. This has good and bad points. The good thing is that they are happy to go outside when it’s wet or bathe when they are dirty.

The bad thing is that they have no qualms about leaping into the bath when you are trying to relax, or to push all the water out of the sink when you are trying to do the dishes. It is dependent on the situation. 


Even though the breed is a hybrid, Savannah cats can actually be fed the same diet as domestic cats. This is a big plus for the breed as, with others, it is not so easy.

Still, experts do recommend that the diet be varied, with the recommendation being a mix of wet or dry food and some raw or cooked meat. 

This is due to the Serval’s natural diet and our lack of knowledge of this relatively new breed. A Serval is a hyper carnivore, which means that between 80 to 90% of its diet is made up of meat.

As such, many experts recommend a little meat in the diet and some experts recommend dry food free of grains or corn, but this is not necessary. 

The other thing to consider is water. The water should be fresh and clean. There is no need for any special liquids or any other fluids that cats might drink, like the stereotypical milk that we see in movies.

Water is what is best and that is what you should give them, even if the Savannah cat is more likely to tip over the water bowl than actually drink out of it – they are a playful creature with no fear of water, after all.


Savannah cats are lovely creatures, and they make great pets. They are incredibly loyal to their families, very affectionate to those that they like, and they are very playful without being too destructive.

Although they can be energetic and wary, they are never malicious and if you teach them that there is nothing to fear from you or the rest of the people in your home, they will trust you implicitly.

One of the most amazing things is that they don’t need special treatment or care given to them, despite being a hybrid breed. Instead, all that they require is a loving home with a family that will give them lots of attention and play with them when they fancy. 

Courtney Trent
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