Learn more about this fascinating breed!
A Savannah cat is a cross between a domestic cat and the 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 accepted it as a new registered breed. In May 2012, TICA accepted it as a championship breed.
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.
How do they get their "F Ratings"?
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 F1 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. 75% F1’s (technically a Back-Cross BC1) are normally the offspring of a 50% F1 (true F1) female bred back to a Serval. There have been cases of 87.5% F1 (technically BC2)Savannah cats but fertility is questionable at those percent 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 SVxSV (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 letters are A, B, C and SBT. A designation of A means that one parent is a Savannah and the other is an outcross. B is used for both parents are Savannahs with one of then being an “A”. “C” is 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 generations Savannahs are always A since the father is a non-domestic outcross (the Serval father). F2 generation can be A or B. F3 generation can be A, B or C. F4 Generation is the first generation that can be a SBT. SBT stands for “stud book tradition” and is considered a “purebred” cat.
Being Hybrids, Savannahs typically exhibit some characteristics of hybrid inviability. Because the male Savannah is the heterozygous 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 starting to notice a resurgence in sterility in males at the F5 and F6 generation. Presumably this is due to the higher serval percentage in C and SBT cats. The problem may also be compounded by the secondary non-domestic genes coming from the Asian Leopard Cat in the Bengal outcrosses that were used heavily in the foundation of the breed.
Savannah Cat Myths
Myth #1 – All Savannahs are HUGE!!!
This is an unfortunate falsehood spread by some websites and uninformed or less-than-honest people.
Savannah size can vary from close to the very tall Serval ancestor to the more average domestic cat height. The most consistently large generation is of course the F1 generation as it has the Serval parent contributing half their genetic make up. Interestingly though, some of the tallest Savannahs around are F2 generation, but the range of sizes in the F2 generation is more variable. There are some pretty nice-sized F3s but further on most Savannahs of lower generations (and that is the MAJORITY of the Savannah population) are simply taller and longer than the average domestic.
Of course most breeders have produced a nice big Savannah and if we all wished to do so we could take a picture of that tall cat walking with a petite toddler and photograph it so that the cat was walking in front hence exaggerating this cat’s size…but most Savannah breeders feel it is more ethical not to create such a false image of our breed. This unfair impression of the breed’s size leads to buyer disappointment, and sometimes I fear the expectation of size can lead to the new owner not valuing the other great traits of their Savannah (exotic looks and great personality) because they are upset because it is not the Labrador-sized kitty they were dreaming of.
Myth #2 – Savannahs are “wild and dangerous”!!!
For many people, “wild” equates with “feral”, they figure that the exotic cat heritage must express in a cat like a Savannah as aggression and dominance. This is simply not true.
The African Serval is known to be one of the most “domesticatable” of the exotic cats, the reason it is more commonly kept as a housepet than most other wild cats. Savannah Rescue does NOT recommend this at all, it is still a wild cat and as such unpredictable and not easy to live with. But the fact remains that it is more gregarious and interactive with humans than most other wild cats. And most importantly it doesn’t view the human as prey. So by crossing this exotic cat with a domestic cat we do not get an F1 Savannah that is difficult to handle, antisocial or dangerous. We get a very high energy, interactive, housepet that although more suited to some pet households than others, makes a wonderful loving pet for many.
It is Savannah Rescue’s opinion that F2 and onwards are the better pets, F1s are more intense and more determined to have their own way than most cats and therefore take a more experienced and prepared household. Much like not all people should have certain dog breeds, I would counsel one about deciding on a Beagle as pet for example. I love my beagle, but he’s a lot of hard work!
Myth #3 – Asheras are Not Savannahs
Although presented by Lifestyle Pets Inc as a distinct proprietary blend of Serval, Bengal and domestic cats, the three Ashera cats that were confiscated at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam were definitively determined to be F1 Savannahs bred by Chris Shirk of Cutting Edge Savannahs from his Serval and his Egyptian Mau female.
It seems that Asheras were indeed Savannahs marketed heavily for an exceedingly inflated pricetag. Buyer beware, do your research!
Myth #4 – All Savannahs are Super-Expensive
Yes, the early generations of Savannahs are expensive. They are difficult to produce and a lot of work goes into them. The later generations, the F4s and F5s are a different situation. Being mainly domestic (an F5A is theoretically 97% domestic heritage for example) they are just as easy to produce and raise as a domestic cat. Therefore you just might see lower generation Savannahs offered for the same prices as many domestic cat breeds…and possibly by the same kinds of lower-quality breeders for cut-rate pricing. If a Savannah is offered for very very little money, there just might be a reason for it! That’s not to say that if a cat is priced very high it must be of good quality of course. There’s extremes both ways, and people that advertise “supreme” branding that are outrageously priced are as much to be avoided. Always do your research and ask questions about why a kitten is priced high or low.
Myth #5 – Savannahs Need to Have a Raw Meat Diet
Savannahs do not require any care that another domestic cat breed doesn’t also need. Savannah breeders recommend a high quality diet of course, but it doesn’t have to be raw meat.
Sure there are Savannah breeders that prefer to feed their cats a raw diet, but there are also Birman, Ocicat and Tonkinese cat breeders that do the same and swear their cats are healthier for this diet. It’s easy to assume that these things must be true due to the “wild heritage” of the Savannah.
Myth #6 – Savannahs Cannot Be Around Small Children or Pets
Along with the assumption that because they have “wild” heritage then they must be dangerous, some folk assume they must be kept in cages and away from other pets and small children. The reality is that Savannahs are no different from any high energy domestic cat breed, and all small children should be supervised around pets. Children can move and act unpredictably, they can decide to see how soft a cat’s eyes might be if they poked them, or how hard they can pull the tail before they get a reaction…all things that might get a child scratched when the kitty is startled. A Savannah is unlikely to be at all different in this case, therefore we recommend children are supervised around all pets and taught to interact properly.
Most Savannahs live in houses not only with humans but with other pets, in particular other cats and dogs. They do very well with dogs, maybe as they tend to be on the more confident outgoing end of cat personalities. Like most cats though, they think fish tanks and mice cages are toys, and would love to get into their toy and play more directly. Therefore we recommend that all those kinds of pets are kept in very secure accommodations, and possibly with a door between them and the kitty when not supervised.
Myth #7 Savannahs are Super-Predators
The Australian Government passed a ban on Savannahs due to an ill-researched “report” gleaned from online sources, none of those sources actually included Savannah breeders nor cat judges that had some experience with the breed. They believed a few sensational websites that claim outrageous sizes for their Savannahs, and put that together with a presumed innately superior hunting ability and came up with a “super-predator” that would climb their trees and kill endandgered koalas. Laughable though it seemed to those of us that live with these cats, this ban passed! Due to this action, many people now claim that the Savannah is indeed some sort of superior predator cat, yet no actual proof has ever been presented to back up such a claim. The Savannah is high energy therefore likely to be enthusiastic, yet being an indoor pet is no more likely to be efficient as a hunter than any other domestic cat.
Myth #8 – ALL Savannahs Love Water
Servals hunt in creek beds, they will hunt for small fish and frogs. Therefore there is the assumption that all Savannahs are going to inherit a love of water. This is not true, just like because your grandfather or great great grandfather was an Olympic athlete does not mean you will be breaking any world track records.
It does however seem that a lot of Savannahs are comfortable with water in a way that most domestic cats are not. They may still not be impressed when you dunk them in a bath, but they may join you in the shower to bat at the spray and they may get under the tap in the bathroom making it impossible to wash your face easily at night. How much of this is due to Serval and how much is due to them being a highly interactive and enthusiastic personality breed, I don’t know. In any case, when you get your Savannah kitten, don’t assume it will enjoy being thrown into a full bathtub. Run the tap and see how interested your kitten is… make the water lukewarm in temperature and inviting. Run a bath with a couple of inches and throw in some ice cubes or bath toys. It can be very amusing, but only if your particular kitty enjoys water sports!
Myth #9 – Savannahs are Hypoallergenic
This particular myth is not confined to the Savannah, I’ve read this about the Bengal also. I’m not sure if this is because some think that there is wild cat heritage therefore this would mean hypoallergenicity. Or else the fact that these are both low-shedding breeds of cat might mean that people tend to react less to them than other cats and assume it is “hypoallergenicity”. If you are allergic to cats, be very careful! There is no substantiated data on these cats and allergies. You may have less reaction, it most likely depends on what triggers your allergies and what threshold you have to that allergen.
Myth #10 – Savannahs Need Special Housing
This comes back to the “wild” heritage, people assume this means the Savannah is unpredictable hence cannot live in a house like a regular domestic cat. This is simply not true. Every generation from F1 through F100 is suitable to live in a house. Savannahs may not be suitable for every house, their energy and exuberance may make living in a house with a lot of breakable antique vases a bad fit. We as breeders and rescuers sometimes suggest “Savannah-Proofing” as something similar to toddler-proofing a house from floor to ceiling but mainly as a way for you to keep your valuables safe and intact while you work out just how klutzy your Savannah might be and just how much fun your belongings might be to them.
Myth #11 – Savannahs Need an Exotic Animal Veterinarian
Many websites state that Savannahs need special veterinary attention; only killed vaccines, no ketamine, etc and many assume that the same vet that treats exotic cats is going to understand a Savannah better. In reality, many domestic cat breeders also advocate only killed vaccines and to avoid ketamine as an anesthetic. The only difference between the average domestic and a Savannah is really that they look “wild” and hence a vet that has never met one before might be worried and extra-cautious, while a vet that treats wild cats on a regular basis wouldn’t give them a second glance.
Resources taken from: http://www.svrescue.com/myths.html