If you’ve ever daydreamed about living with a wild cat but recognize the dangers and drawbacks, the Savannah cat may be just the kitty for you.
Savannah cat basics
Descended from a cross between an African wild cat — the serval —and a domestic cat, the spotted creatures are beautiful and engaging. Like their wild ancestor, though, they can be a handful to live with.
Highly intelligent and energetic, the Savannah seeks out his own amusement if he’s bored, and you might not always like his decisions. Shredding magazines and paper towels and splashing in the toilet are just a couple of the ways Savannahs might entertain themselves.
Wise owners choose to laugh at their cats’ antics and learn to put things away that they don’t want destroyed. “The serval has been termed the clown of the veldt, and I find my Savannahs seem to know how amusing their antics can be and play to their audience,” says breed expert Brigitte Cowell of San Francisco.
With a spotted coat; large, tall ears; hooded eyes; long neck, body and legs; and bold markings, the Savannah’s exotic appearance attracts many, but he’s not the right cat for every household. Avoid this breed if you are away from home for long hours or want a cat who’s ornamental, not active. Choose a Savannah if you want a close and interactive relationship with a cat.
“They are suited to families, as they thrive with interaction,” Brigitte says. “They can be great companions for a child old enough to be able to play with a teaser wand with them. To a person living alone wanting a companion, they can be great also, as they bond strongly to their human.”
Living with a Savannah cat
Savannahs aren’t typically lap cats. Their active nature precludes long periods of sitting still and being petted. Savannahs enjoy walking on leash. Weekly brushing and nail trimming keep the Savannah cat stunning.
History of the Savannah cat
The Savannah cat descends from a breeding between a male serval and a female Siamese cat.
A relatively young breed, the Savannah cat dates to April 7, 1986, when the first kitten from the above cross was born. The kitten and the breed were called Savannah. It was some years before there were significant numbers of the cats.
The International Cat Association began registering Savannahs in 2001. The breed achieved championship status in 2012.
What you should know about this breed
This medium-size to large cat typically weighs 8 to 10 pounds or up to 30 pounds. “The weight range is a large one,” Brigitte says. “The largest Savannahs are generally F2 males, but there is considerable variation in size even within that.”
A Savannah cat has a short to medium-length coath with a slightly coarse texture that can be brown-spotted tabby, silver-spotted tabby, black and black smoke. Kittens born with rosetted, marble, pointed, blue, cinnamon, chocolate, lilac or other dilute colors make great pets but can’t be shown.
Generally healthy, the Savannah cat can live to 12 to 15 years or more. Brigitte knows of one who is now 22 years old and “very healthy for his age.”
Because the Savannah is a young breed, it is probably more genetically variable than other breeds. “So far we do not have any health issues that a domestic shorthair would not be subject to,” Brigitte says. “A good breeder tests for issues such as erythrocyte pyruvate kinase deficiency, progressive retinal atrophy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”
Four fun facts about the Savannah cat
- Smart and sly, Savannahs like to be up high. Expect to find them on kitchen counters, the top of the refrigerator and inside cabinets.
- It’s not unusual for Savannahs to play in water — keep those toilet lids down — and retrieve balls and other items.
- Sounds you may hear from a Savannah cat include chirps, meows and hisses.
- Two Savannahs have held the Guinness World Records title for Tallest Domestic Cat. Trouble measured 19 inches from shoulder toes in 2013 but was surpassed in 2017 by Arcturus, who stood just over 19 inches. Sadly, Arcturus and his fellow feline housemate, a Maine Coon named Cygnus, who held the Guinness record for longest tail at 17 inches, both died in a house fire last December.
What does F1, F2, F3 stand for with a Savannah cat?
If you’ve read much at all about Savannahs or spoken to breeders, you may have seen or heard the designations F1, F2, F3 and so on.
THE LETTER F stands not for feline or foundation but for FILIAL and refers to the specific generation of a particular cat. Savannahs began as a cross between a serval — a small wild cat — and a domestic cat.
The kittens from this breeding are the FIRST GENERATION, or F1.
The SECOND GENERATION — the grandkittens — are F2, and great-grandkittens are F3. A Savannah cat is considered to be “PUREBRED” at F4 and later generations.
Thumbnail: Photography ©Tetsu Yamazaki.
Tell us: Do you have a Savannah cat? What do you love about this breed?
Kim Campbell Thornton has been writing about cats and dogs for 32 years. She is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen books and hundreds of articles on pet care, health and behavior.
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