The Savannah is a hybrid cat breed. It is a cross between a serval and a domestic cat.
A Savannah cat is a cross between a domestic cat and a serval, a medium-sized, large-eared wild African cat. The unusual cross became popular among breeders at the end of the 1990s, and in 2001 The International Cat Association (TICA) accepted it as a new registered breed. In May 2012, TICA accepted it as a championship breed.
Judee Frank crossbred a male serval, belonging to Suzi Woods, with a Siamese (domestic cat) to produce the first Savannah cat (named Savannah) on April 7, 1986. In 1996, Patrick Kelley and Joyce Sroufe wrote the original version of the Savannah breed standard and presented it to the board of The International Cat Association. In 2001, the board accepted the breed for registration.
Physical features and breeding techniques
The Savannahs' tall and slim build gives them the appearance of greater size than their actual weight. Size is very dependent on generation and sex, with F1 hybrid male cats usually being the largest.
F1 and F2 generations are usually the largest, due to the stronger genetic influence of the African serval ancestor. As with other hybrid cats such as the Chausie and Bengal cat, most first generation cats will possess many or all of the serval's exotic looking traits, while these traits often diminish in later generations. Male Savannahs tend to be larger than females.
Early-generation Savannahs can weigh 8â"20 pounds (3.6â"9.1Â kg), with the most weight usually attributed to the F1 or F2 neutered males due to genetics. Later-generation Savannahs are usually between 7â"15 pounds (3.2â"6.8Â kg). Because of the random factors in Savannah genetics, size can vary significantly, even in one litter.
The coat of a Savannah should have a spotted pattern, the only pattern accepted by the TICA breed standard. The spotted pattern is the only accepted pattern because it is the only pattern found on the African Serval Cat. Non-standard patterns & colors include: Rosetted, marble, snow color (point), blue color, cinnamon color, chocolate color, lilac (lavender) and other diluted colors derived from domestic sources of cat coat genetics. These nonstandard colors should be placed as pets only to be culled out of the gene pool.
The International Cat Association (TICA) breed standard calls for brown-spotted tabby (cool to warm brown, tan or gold with black or dark brown spots), silver-spotted tabby (silver coat with black or dark grey spots), black (black with black spots), and black smoke (black-tipped silver with black spots) only.
Domestic out-crosses from the early days in the 1990s have greatly impacted the breed's development in both desired and non-desired traits. As of 2012 most breeders perform Savannah to Savannah pairings; using out-crosses is considered less than desired. There are no longer any permitted domestic out-crosses for the Savannah breed now that TICA championship status has been achieved. Previously domestic out-crosses for the Savannah breed that were permissible in TICA were the Egyptian Mau, the Ocicat, the Oriental Shorthair, and the Domestic Shorthair.
Outcrosses that are "impermissible" according to the TICA breed standard breeds include the Bengal and Maine Coon cats. These impermissible breeds can bring many unwanted genetic influences. Outcrosses are very rarely used as of 2012, as many fertile savannah males are available for studs. Breeders prefer to use a Savannah with the serval to produce F1s, rather than a non-Savannah breed in order to maintain as much breed type as possible.
A Savannah's exotic look is often due to the presence of many distinguishing serval characteristics. Most prominent of these include the various color markings; tall, deeply cupped, wide, rounded, erect ears; very long legs; fat, puffy noses, and hooded eyes. The bodies of Savannahs are long and leggy; when a Savannah is standing, its hind-end is often higher than its prominent shoulders. The small head is taller than wide, and it has a long, slender neck. The backs of the ears have ocelli, a central light band bordered by black, dark grey or brown, giving an eye-like effect. The short tail has black rings, with a solid black tip. The eyes are blue as a kitten (as in other cats), and may be green, brown, gold or a blended shade as an adult. The eyes have a "boomerang" shape, with a hooded brow to protect them from harsh sunlight. Ideally, black or dark "tear-streak" or "cheetah tear" markings run from the corner of the eyes down the sides of the nose to the whiskers, much like that of a cheetah.
Reproduction and genetics
As Savannahs are produced by crossbreeding servals and domestic cats, each generation of Savannahs is marked with a filial number. For example, the cats produced directly from a serval/domestic cat cross are the 1 generation, and they are 50% serval.
F1 generation Savannahs are very difficult to produce, due to the significant difference in gestation periods between the serval and a domestic cat (75 days for a serval and 65 days for a domestic cat), and sex chromosomes. Pregnancies are often absorbed or aborted, or kittens are born prematurely. Also, servals can be very picky in choosing mates, and often will not mate with a domestic cat.
F1 Savannahs can be as high as 75% serval. All 75% F1s (technically a backcross, or BC1) are the offspring of a 50% F1 (true F1) female bred back to a serval. Cases of 87.5% F1 (technically BC2) Savannah cats are known, but fertility is questionable at those percentage Serval levels. More common than a 75% F1 is a 62.5% F1, which is the product of an "F2A" (25% serval, female) bred back to a serval. The F2 generation, which has a serval grandparent and is the offspring of the F1 generation female, ranges from 25% to 37.5% serval. The F3 generation has a serval great grandparent, and is 12.5% Serval.
A Savannah/Savannah cross may also be referred to by breeders as "SV xSV" (SV is the TICA code for the Savannah breed), in addition to the filial number. Savannah generation filial numbers also have a letter designator that refers to the generation of SV-to-SV breeding. The designation A means one parent is a Savannah and the other is an outcross. B is used for both parents are Savannahs with one of them being an A. The C designation is when both parents are Savannahs and one of them is a B. Therefore, A x (any SV) = B; B x (B,C,SBT) = C; C x (C, SBT) = SBT, SBT x SBT = SBT. F1 generation Savannahs are always A, since the father is a nondomestic outcross (the serval father). The F2 generation can be A or B. The F3 generation can be A, B or C. The F4 generation is the first generation that can be a "stud book tradition" (SBT) cat, and is considered "purebred".
Being hybrids, Savannahs typically exhibit some characteristics of hybrid inviability. Because the male Savannah is the heterogametic sex, they are most commonly affected, in accordance with Haldane's rule. Male Savannahs are typically larger in size and sterile until the F5 generation or so, although the females are fertile from the F1 generation. Currently (2011), breeders are noticing a resurgence in sterility in males at the F5 and F6 generations. Presumably, this is due to the higher serval percentage in C and SBT cats. The problem may also be compounded by the secondary nondomestic genes coming from the Asian leopard cat in the Bengal outcrosses that were used heavily in the foundation of the breed.
Females of the F1-F3 generations are usually held back for breeding, with only the males being offered as pets. The reverse occurs in the F5-F7 generations, but to a lesser degree, with the males being held as breeding cats, and females primarily offered as pets.
The cats are commonly compared to dogs in their loyalty, and they will follow their owners around the house like a canine. They can also be trained to walk on a leash and to fetch.
Some Savannahs are reported to be very social and friendly with new people and other cats and dogs, while others may run and hide or revert to hissing and growling when seeing a stranger. Exposure to other people and pets is most likely the key factor in sociability as Savannah kittens grow up.
An often-noted trait of the Savannah is its jumping ability. They are known to jump on top of doors, refrigerators and high cabinets. Some Savannahs can leap about 8 feet (2.5Â m) high from a standing position. Savannahs are very inquisitive. They often learn how to open doors and cupboards, and anyone buying a Savannah will likely need to take special precautions to prevent the cat from getting into trouble.
Many Savannah cats do not fear water, and will play or even immerse themselves in water. Some owners even shower with their Savannah cats. Presenting a water bowl to a Savannah may also prove a challenge, as some will promptly begin to "bat" all the water out of the bowl until it is empty, using their front paws.
Another quirk Savannahs have is to fluff out the base of their tails in a greeting gesture. This is not to be confused with the fluffing of fur along the back and full length of the tail in fear. Savannahs will also often flick or wag their tails in excitement or pleasure.
Vocally, Savannahs may either chirp like their serval fathers, meow like their domestic mothers, both chirp and meow, or sometimes produce sounds which are a mixture of the two. Chirping is observed more often in earlier generations. Savannahs may also "hiss" â" a serval-like hiss, quite different from a domestic cat's hiss â" sounding more like a very loud snake. It can be alarming to humans not acquainted to such a sound coming from a cat.
There are three basic factors that affect the character of the Savannah cat behavior: lineage, generation, and socialization. These three factors all follow the nature and nurture argument with nature being breed lines combined with generation and nurture being social upbringing. As of 2014 the Savannah breed development is still in its infancy and most Savannah cats have a very broad range of behaviors.
If a breed line has a tendency for a specific behavior over other behaviors it is likely to be passed to the breed lines offspring. As outside lines are used there is a merging effect of the base behaviors.
When breeding lines starting from early generations such as first filial and second filial generations (F1 and F2 Savannahs), behavior stemming from the wild out cross, the Serval, is more apparent. Behaviors like jumping, fight or flight instincts, dominance, and nurturing behaviors are more noticeable in early generations. Since fertile males that are F5 and F6 are used in most breeding programs, later generation Savannah cats behaviors tend to act more like traditional domestic cats. Overlying behavior traits for all generations are high activity and high curiosity.
Probably the most influential factor is early socialization. Kittens can be socialized with human contact from birth, and human interaction each day reinforces kitten and cat human interaction behavior that lasts throughout the cats' life span. Kittens within litters will tend to have varied social skills, with some that like human interaction and others that fear it. If kittens that fear humans never grow past that fear they will tend to exhibit a more shy behavior and are likely to hide when strangers are present. Kittens that look forward to human visits and likely to engage in play with humans tend to grow to cats that are more welcoming of strangers and less frightened of new environments. These cats tend to become the life of the party versus a cat that will find a hiding place until the party is over. Human cat socialization should be practiced each day with positive reinforcement for a kitten to grow into a well rounded social Savannah cat. Kittens that go for long periods of time without human interaction and only interact with their mothers or siblings usually do not develop a strong bond with humans and tend to be less trusting of humans. These kittens tend to be shy and are likely to hide when unknown people are present.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a health concern in many pure breed cats. A link has recently been found between Bengal cat (a similar hybrid) and HCM; there are cases that indicate that HCM may also be a reoccurring health issue in servals. Several responsible Bengal Breeders have their breeder cats scanned for HCM on an annual basis, though this practice is not as widespread in the Savannah community.
Some veterinarians have noted servals have smaller livers relative to their body sizes than domestic cats, and some Savannahs inherit this, but the medical consequence of this is unrecognized and is likely to be of no consequence. There are no known medical peculiarities of hybrid cats requiring different medical treatments than that of domestic cats, despite what many breeders may believe. The blood values of Savannahs are not known to be different from the typical domestic cat, despite its serval genes.
Like domestic cats, Savannahs and other domestic hybrids (such as Bengals) require appropriate anesthesia based on their medical needs but do not have specific requirements as breeders sometimes erroneously infer. It is unclear among the veterinary community how a particular anesthetic agent, specifically ketamine, has been listed as causing ill effects when this has not been found to be accurate. It is possible this comes from a misunderstanding of the drug and its common effects, since ketamine is an anesthetic that cannot be used alone.
Ketamine has been proven safe, when used in servals, together with medetomidine (Domitor, Dorbene, Dormilan, Medetor, Sedastart, Sedator, Sededorm) and butorphanol (Alvegesic, Dolorex, Torbugesic, Torbutrol, Torphasol) with the antagonist atipamezole (Alzane, Antisedan, Atipam, Revertor, Sedastop).
In the United States, rabies vaccines are recommended but not approved for non-domestic cats. If a non-domestic cat bites someone it will be treated as "unvaccinated" whether it has been given a vaccine or not. This means a state veterinarian may require a cat who has bitten someone to be euthanized or quarantined according to state laws.
Some breeders state Savannah cats have no known special care or food requirements, while others recommend a very high quality diet with no grains or byproducts. Some recommend a partial or complete raw feeding/raw food diet with at least 32% protein and no byproducts. Some recommend calcium and other supplements, especially for growing cats and earlier generations. Others consider it unnecessary, or even harmful. Most Savannah breeders agree that Savannahs have a need for more taurine than the average domestic cat, and therefore recommend taurine supplements, which can be added to any food type.
Laws governing ownership of Savannah cats in the United States vary according to state. The majority of states follow the code set by the United States Department of Agriculture, which defines wild or domesticated hybrid crosses as domesticated. Some states have set more restrictive laws on hybrid cat ownership, including Hawaii, Massachusetts, Texas and Georgia. Some cities may have laws that differ from the state. For example, Savannahs more than five generations from the serval are allowed to be owned in New York state, but not in the city of New York.
The Australian Federal government has banned the importation into Australia of the Savannah cat, as the larger cats could potentially threaten species of the country's native wildlife not threatened by smaller domestic cats. A government report into the proposed importation of the cats has warned the hybrid breed may introduce enhanced hunting skills and increased body size into feral cat populations, putting native species at risk. The report states the Savannah cats are not worth the risk.
Savannah cats are legal in every province of Canada, although some provinces have restrictions on the ownership of F1 and F2 generations, and importing Savannahs from the United States requires rabies vaccination and special permits.
Many other nations have few or no restrictions on F2 and later generations.
- Hybrid Ownership Laws in the USA
- TICA's Official Savannah Breed Section
- Savannah Cat Association