The Savannah cat is an exotic-looking cat with a unique, spotted coat. The breed was originally developed by crossing the wild African serval with domestic cats. Today's Savannahs have varying percentages of serval blood depending on how many generations removed they are from their wild ancestors.
Despite this hybrid background, the Savannah cat is an affectionate pet known for its intelligence and playful nature. If you’re looking for an adventurous and energetic companion that will always be ready to play or even take a dip in a kiddie pool, the Savannah may be the right cat for you.
Characteristics of Savannah Cats
Savannahs are hybrid cats that are classified into several different “generations,” or types, based on their parentage. An individual Savannah cat’s percentage of serval blood will impact its appearance, personality, and even fertility. The generations of Savannah cats include:
- F1 generation: These Savannahs are 50% serval and 50% domestic cat. Because F1 Savannahs have a full serval parent, they tend to be more expensive than other types, costing up to $20,000. Their behavior and personalities are also the least domesticated of all of the generations, and they are generally less affectionate with their owners than later generations.
These are the biggest Savannahs, weighing as much as 25 pounds and standing 16 to 18 inches tall. Due to their large size and wilder natures, F1 Savannahs may not make good pets for families with children or small pets.
- F2 generation: These Savannahs have one serval grandparent, so they are 25% serval and 75% domestic cat. F2 Savannahs resemble F1s in size and temperament, but they are somewhat more affordable, costing up to $11,000, and tend to be more affectionate with their owners.
- F3 generation: These Savannahs have one serval great-grandparent. This generation is closer to a domestic cat in size and temperament than the F1s and F2s. They weigh up to 20 pounds and stand approximately 17 inches tall. F3 Savannahs are friendly companions while retaining their wild appearance.
If you're a novice Savannah owner, many breeders recommend starting with an F3 cat. Later generations, such as F4 Savannahs, can also make excellent pets. F4 through F8 Savannah cats tend to be similar to the F3s in personality and size, even though they're less influenced by serval genes.
The Savannah cat’s parentage will also impact its fertility. A female Savannah is generally fertile from the F1 generation. However, a male cat may not be fertile until the F6 generation.
All types of Savannah cats are known for their active, curious, and social personalities. They bond closely with their families, though they tend to prefer exploring and playing with their owners over sitting quietly in a lap. The breed is high-energy and thrives in households that can provide a variety of enrichment activities, such as trick training and walks on a leash.
Physically, Savannahs are striking, exotic-looking cats known for their tall, graceful appearances. They have small, triangular faces with medium-sized, almond-shaped eyes. Set high on the head, their large, upright ears have rounded tops. They have lean torsos and longer legs and necks than full domestic cats. Savannahs are muscular cats with medium boning. Females are generally smaller than males.
Savannah cats have slightly coarse, short- to medium-length fur. Their spotted fur comes in four standard color patterns:
- Brown spotted tabby: Brown or black colored spots on a brown background ranging from cool brown to golden.
- Silver spotted tabby: Black or dark gray spots on a silver background.
- Black smoke savannah: Black or dark gray spots backlit with white on a black background.
- Black savannah: Young cats will have spots, but these markings fade with maturity, leaving the adult Savannahs with shiny black fur. Also known as “melanistic.”
The cats also come in several nonstandard colors, including blue, cinnamon, chocolate, seal, and seal lynx.
Savannah cats have average lifespans of 12 to 15 years. The oldest known Savannah died in December 2018 at the age of 20 years old.
Caring for Savannah Cats
Savannah cats require more activity and care than some other breeds. They're easily bored and have lots of energy, so they need ample amounts of mental and physical activity to keep them entertained and fit. Regular enrichment activities can include:
- Playing with interactive or treat-dispensing toys
- Regular play sessions with their owners
- Trick training
- Walks outside on a harness and leash
Due to their serval ancestry, many Savannah cats enjoy playing in water and can use kiddie pools to cool off in the heat. They also love to jump, so provide cat trees and other climbing opportunities to allow them to exercise their athletic talents. Some Savannah cats even learn to play fetch like a dog and run on a wheel like a hamster.
Savannah cats often enjoy outdoor walks on a leash or time in a safe "catio" enclosure, but they should never be left outside to roam free without supervision due to the risk of animal attacks, theft, and traffic accidents.
Savannah cats need quality food that will support their high levels of physical activity. Recent research suggests that feeding cats grain-free food may cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart disease caused by nutritional deficiencies. Consult your veterinarian about the appropriate diet for your Savannah cat and avoid grain-free food for daily feeding.
Along with high-quality food, Savannah cats need constant access to clean, fresh water. Place a water bowl or fountain at least 3 feet away from food to encourage cats to drink and stay hydrated.
The breed’s short coat is easy to care for, requiring only weekly brushing and regular nail trims. You should also brush your Savannah’s teeth daily to maintain optimal dental health.
Savannahs also require routine healthcare. Both indoor-only cats and those that venture outside should receive monthly preventative medications to protect them from fleas, heartworms, ticks, and other parasites. Additionally, Savannah cats need certain vaccines. At a minimum, all Savannahs should be vaccinated against:
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus
- Feline leukemia virus
Consult your veterinarian to develop an individualized vaccine schedule for your Savannah cat.
Health Problems to Watch for With Savannah Cats
Savannah cats are generally hardy, but they can develop several serious health problems. They should be screened for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), a genetic condition that causes degenerative, late-onset blindness. Savannah cats should also receive health screening for pyruvate kinase (PK) disease, a condition that results in intermittent anemia.
Savannah cats are more likely than domestic cats to develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This heart condition causes thickening of the heart walls and the left ventricle, and it can lead to heart failure if left untreated. You can use genetic testing to determine if your Savannah has a genetic mutation that will increase their risk of developing HCM. However, the presence of the mutation does not guarantee that a cat will develop HCM, so it’s important to review genetic test results with a veterinarian.
Prospective Savannah cat owners should seek an experienced, reputable breeder to ensure that they buy a healthy, well-socialized Savannah. The Savannah Cat Association provides a registry of breeders who have signed a Member Pledge, meaning that they've agreed to meet the organization’s high standards of cleanliness, health, and socialization. The directory includes information about health screenings that each breeder conducts for their litters, including PK deficiency and PRA testing.
Special Considerations for Savannah Cats
Generally, Savannahs make good family companions. However, the Savannah Cat Association recommends that breeders don't place F1 cats — who tend to be large and less domesticated in nature — in homes with young children.
Many Savannahs live peacefully with dogs and other cats, though they may hunt flying pets or small rodents. If you spend long periods of time away from home, consider adopting a cat-friendly dog or another cat to provide your Savannah with a companion and playmate.
These hybrid cats are banned or regulated in many U.S. states. For instance, Georgia, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Rhode Island currently ban all Savannah cats. Some other states, like Iowa and Vermont, only allow F4 and later generations. Check your local and state laws to make sure that Savannah cats are legal to own in your area before adding one to your household.
History of Savannah Cats
In 1986, the first Savannah cat was born in the home of Judee Frank as the result of an accidental crossing between a serval and a Siamese cat. Originally called Miracle, this F1 kitten was later renamed Savannah, giving the breed its name. Savannah was bred in 1989 and had two living kittens, including a red tabby daughter.
Later, Patrick Kelly learned about Savannah and purchased two of her daughter’s kittens, an F2 female named Kitty and an F3 son. Using these offspring, Kelly joined forces with serval breeder Joyce Sroufe to develop a new breed of serval and domestic cat hybrids. Today, Kelly and Sroufe are known as the founders of the Savannah cat.
In 1996, Kelly, Sroufe, and Karen Sausman wrote the first Savannah breed standard and submitted it to The International Cat Association (TICA) to request recognition for the breed. In 2001, TICA accepted the Savannah for recognition after a 4-year moratorium on adding new breeds.
Finally, in 2012, the Savannah received Championship status with TICA. As a result, the Savannah can now compete against other breeds at TICA cat shows. In 2006, the Savannah was recognized by the Canadian Cat Association due to the efforts of breeder Lisa Jeffrey.
Though the Savannah is still a relatively new breed, it has rapidly gained popularity among cat fanciers and pet owners. Today, the Savannah Cat Association includes breeders in Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States, among other countries.