Last updated: November 9, 2017
All cats are equal, right? But some are more equal than others! They are all other-worldly, mysterious, sometimes angelic, sometimes demonic little creatures. All cats are independent, user-friendly pets with an occasional [email protected]#$ off attitude. And they are all gorgeous, but there are some whose beauty just has to be seen to be believed. Yes, I know that Persians are stunning and a feline work of art, but I love the Savannah, this big, rangy, almost-leopard of a cat! Let’s find out about this truly majestic cat.
Well, have you ever fantasized about getting a pet leopard but didn’t ever have a hope of really doing it? Because leopards can’t be kept in condos – right? Wrong! Check out a Savannah cat! Savannahs were bred to have the look of a jungle cat without the tendency to rip your throat out! (Beware of your pet hamsters, though!) It is described as a medium-sized cat but has very long legs, and since 2006 has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s tallest domestic cat. The weight range is somewhere between eight and twenty pounds, with males being bigger than females. Coat colors are pretty spectacular!
They are brown, black, black-spotted tabby, black silver tabby, and black smoke. The black variety can have ‘ghost’ spots underneath, though! Some have black or dark brown spots on pale-colored backgrounds. These spots can be round, oval or long oval. There are some who, because of the breeds involved in their ancestry, develop non-standard colors like chocolate, cinnamon, blue, red, and colorpoint. Because these cats do not conform 100% to the breed standard, they can be registered but not shown.
Savannahs have pointed heads, long necks and great big ears that look a bit like radar dishes! Their eyes come in a wide range of colors. The noses can be any color from pink to black but the black variety must have a black nose.
In growing up-terms, Savannahs are late developers. They usually get to their full impressive height at around a year old and spends the next couple of years growing up and developing. Because of its Serval cat ancestors, the savannah has longer back legs – a bit like a Greyhound Cat really!
The Savannah cat breed happened when a Bengal cat breeder named Judee Frank mated her Siamese Sealpoint with Ernie, a Serval cat owned by her friend Suzy Wood. She was eight pounds and he was thirty! Nature took its course, resulting in one kitten, a little girl who was named Savannah. (Savannah is the type of open tree-spotted African landscape from which Ernie’s ancestors came) Two breeders called Patrick Kelly and Joyce Sroufe then decided to start a new breed in 1986. In the Savannah, gene pool are Bengals, Egyptian Maus, Oriental Shorthairs, and some Tom-Doe pavement special cats like mine! However, now that the breed has been established and the standard set, no more outcrossing is allowed. The Savannah breed was registered by The International Cat Association (TICA) as far back as 2001, but it was only completely recognized (championship status) in 2012.
Savannahs are known to be among the healthiest breeds around, but because of their ancestor, the Serval, the cat should be checked to see how big its liver is compared to its body. They do not react well to Ketamine in any anesthetic as it is metabolized in the liver and can be harmful to Savannahs. Savannahs also need to guard against a lack of Taurine in the diet. This is a necessary amino acid found in meat, fish and good quality cat foods. Low or no grain diets are recommended for these cats. Apart from these small problems, if you own a savannah you can congratulate yourself on making a very good choice! This is one of the toughies of the cat kingdom and you shouldn’t have to make too many trips to the vet.
If you’re breeding your Savannahs the first hurdle you will have to overcome is getting that first cross between a Serval and an ordinary cat. Because their pregnancies are different lengths there are often problems with miscarriages, stillbirths and kitten deaths.
Hybrid Male Sterility (HMS)
Many Savannah toms in the F1 and F2 generations have badly developed testes and this can remain a problem till the F4 generation. after that, it’s likely to be fine, and every subsequent generation is likely to be as fertile as any other cat.
Restrictions on Hybrid Cats
Because Savannah cats are hybrids and are very close to being wild cats, many countries and regions in countries have wholly or partially banned the breed for fear of them destroying their local fauna. If you fall foul of these regulations and do not get the appropriate permits and licenses your cat may be confiscated.
In the United States, some regions are more strict than others. Some ban them completely and some restrict them to F4 and below, for instance. Check out this website for clarification. HybridLaw.com
In Canada, you will have to ask the advice of a local breeder who will help you navigate your way through the minefield of local regulations that apply to each region.
In Australia the government has banned Savannahs since 2008, citing the fact that it might destroy local wildlife by breeding with feral cats and sharpening their hunting skills
Savannahs are cats that must conform to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) legislation. This is an international agreement of 170 countries designed to limit the trade in endangered species. Permits are needed to transport Savannahs, so you need to do your research to find out if you need a permit to take your cat to your destination. For Savannahs, you will also need a pet passport. If you don’t have one your Savannah may be taken away and not given back. You can get a CITES permit from your breeder but it may be expensive! Because of the costs of permits, health certificates and a rabies vaccine your international trip may cost you quite a bit more than your airline tickets!
If you are the sort of person who likes to come home after a hard day’s work, put on the TV, have a beer (or whatever else does it for you) trust me – the Savannah is not your cat. He doesn’t do the sit-on-your lap thing. Try a Persian. Savannahs need to be greeted, noticed, played with, loved to bits. They need attention and they need it YESTERDAY! They love playing with their owners and other pets and defy the stereotype that cats hate water. They will create their own little water fountain if you leave one of those easy to use faucets within reach of their questing paws. Think BABIES here. For their own good, they need to be kept out of cupboards where there are toxic chemicals, medicines, and lots of small objects that are just the right size for an inquisitive Savannah cat to swallow! If you own a Savannah (or should I say a Savannah owns you!) you won’t need to worry about a gym membership anymore, because this cat will keep you going all day long. He’s fiercely intelligent, and is clever enough to walk on a leash – in fact, he will probably lead you wherever he wants to go. Savannahs get on well with dogs and other cats, and can learn to play ‘fetch.’
And one BIG caveat: if you want to keep that heirloom tea set that’s been in your family since the War of Independence, lock it away in a display cabinet, because when your Savannah wants to knock something over, he doesn’t care if it’s worth one dollar or a million – it’s all fair game!
Buying and Caring cost analysis
Savannahs are pretty laid-back, easy maintenance dudes! Because they descended from wild cats and there aren’t any pooch parlors in the jungle, their fur is the kind that needs very little in the way of grooming. It is short and feels a bit more like dogs’ hair than cats’ hair. You don’t need to bath this guy (unless you want to – he likes water!) but spoil him occasionally and give him a lovely brush down, especially if he lives in the garden a lot. Please find him a vet who has experienced in treating hybrid breeds like Bengals and Savannahs, since their needs are a bit different from other cats.
F1 Savannahs – the first generation – are those which are closest to the wild Serval cats, and they are generally more expensive to buy than an F2, F3, or F4 cat, which has less Serval in its bloodline. Are you sitting down? Male F1s can cost from $12,000 to $16,000, with females even more so. These little girls can cost from $15,000 to $20,000 each. You really have to want these cats!