Savannah Cat

Savannah cats are a large, athletic breed that’s especially affectionate with its owners, but can be a bit standoffish with strangers. Learn more about this highly intelligent cat. 
By Doug Jimerson
Savannah
Coat Length
Pattern
Other Traits
Temperament

Savannah

height
  • 14 to 17 inches
weight
  • 12 to 25 pounds
life span
  • 12 to 20 years
good with
  • families
temperament
  • affectionate
  • bold
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • normal
playfulness
  • high
activity level
  • active
vocalness
  • frequent
coat length
  • short
colors
  • black / ebony
  • lavender / silver
  • chocolate / brown / sable
patterns
  • solid
  • tabby
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • friendly toward humans
  • friendly toward other pets
  • highly territorial
  • high prey drive
  • strong loyalty tendencies

Tall and elegant, the Savannah cat was first introduced in the 1990s. The Savannah cat is actually a hybrid, the result of breeding a Siamese cat with the wild Serval cat of Africa. The breed retains the large perked ears, long legs, and spotted coat of its wild heritage along with the domestic cat’s friendly demeanor. First generation crosses (called F1 and F2) are generally larger than later crosses and have beautiful spotted coats in a variety of shades of brown, tan, and black. Later generations are further removed from their wild ancestor, yet retain the colors and patterns of earlier generations. They are just smaller in size and a bit more docile. Savannah cats are fiercely loyal, intelligent, and inquisitive cats, but might not be the best choice for first-time pet owners. Adult cats can grow up to 17 inches tall and weigh 25 pounds, depending on what number generation each cat descends from.

Savannah cats are still relatively rare. A few states have bans on them, often depending on what generation the cat comes from—so checking state ordinances is a good idea before purchasing a Savannah cat.

Appearance 

Talk about elegance! The Savannah cat’s tall, lean body and striking spotted coat makes these gorgeous animals look a bit like miniature cheetahs. Savannah cats can stand 17 inches tall and have been crowned the world’s tallest domestic cat by the Guinness Book of World Records. Male cats can weigh as much as 25 pounds, while females can be as light as 12 pounds. Their height and weight is totally dependent on how many generations removed an individual cat is to its wild Serval ancestor.

Recognized coat colors of the Savannah aren black, brown spotted tabby, silver spotted tabby, and black smoke. The coat is short and dense, and super easy to maintain with a quick brushing every week or so. Another trait that separates Savannah cats from other breeds are their eyes. Slightly hooded and almond-shaped with a dark tear duct line, the Savannah’s eyes give them a friendly-yet-piercing gaze. Eye color generally reflects the coat color, but not always.

Temperament 

If you’re looking for a lazy lap cat, a Savannah cat is probably not the best choice. This athletic and active breed is more likely to leap onto the top of your refrigerator (they can leap 8 feet in height) than it is to sit idly by its food bowl. Always looking for new challenges to explore, the Savannah cat is often said to be more dog-like than cat-like. These lithe and agile cats also love water—they certainly won’t hesitate to wade around in your bathtub or kiddie pool. Savannah cats are also easily trained (some owners choose to leash train for outdoor adventures). Like canines, Savannah cats are exceedingly loyal and will follow their favorite humans around the house simply for companionship.

Early socialization is important when during kittenhood, as they can become suspicious of strangers. Although Savannah cats make great family pets they may not be a good choice if you have young children who want to hug or chase them around the house. The cat won’t hurt them, but there’s no need to add to the chaos in your home. It’s probably a better idea to get a Savannah cat when your children are calmer and older. Savannah cats, when socialized in their youth, will do just fine with other cats and dogs.

If you are thinking of obtaining a Savannah cat, remember that since it is a hybrid animal, litters are listed as F1, F2, F3, etc. These numbers represent how many generations have passed since the original wild serval cat genes were introduced into a particular line of breeding. So, the smaller the number, the more likely you’ll see a bit more wild behavior. Earlier generations of Savannah tend to be larger and heavier.

According to cat behaviorist, Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant in San Francisco (aka The Cat Coach® and author of Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement), it’s important to provide mental stimulation for all breeds of cats—but Savannah cats in particular.

“Savannahs are highly intelligent and need lots of enrichment and activities,” she says. Krieger recommends clicker training to help keep them mentally and physically stimulated.

Savannah cats have a reputation of being very talkative with a variety of distinctive vocalizations, though this isn’t always the case.

Living Needs 

With Savannah cats, the size of your home really doesn’t matter. What matters is whether your home provides plenty of places for them to hide, run, and climb. This means having at least one cat tree and plenty of challenging toys to keep your pet occupied. And, because they are so active, it probably won’t hurt to have several scratching posts throughout your house or apartment to give them plenty of opportunities to stretch and scratch. You may also want to keep all plants or breakable objects from open shelves where your cat can knock them down. Remember, they are capable of leaping up to 8 feet in height from an almost standing position. Savannah cats can get bored easily, so having a feline or canine roommate is helpful. If you can, provide them with a safe space outdoors such as a screened porch or patio (your cat will thank you). 

Savannah cats are also good candidates for on-screen entertainment in the form of videos designed just for housebound kitties. Or, if you have the space, Savannah cats will appreciate a shallow pool or pan of water with floating toys.

Before you adopt a Savannah cat, check with your local government. Some municipalities have more restrictive ownership laws due to the animal’s wild heritage.

Care 

Mental stimulation is probably the main thing (besides standard veterinary care) your Savannah cat needs from you. Their tight, short coats require little care other than an occasional brushing to eliminate loose hair and dead skin. Like other breeds, Savannah cats need their nails trimmed regularly and good dental care. Just remember to start nail and dental care while your pet is still a kitten—that way you won’t end up wrestling your adult cat when it’s time for basic maintenance. Make any grooming experience a fun one for the animal when it's young by offering treats or toys after every session. And, if you dream of walking your Savannah on a leash outdoors, start early. It’s important to take baby steps and never force your kitten to do something against its will.

Health

Like all pet cats, Savannahs should be spayed or neutered as soon as your veterinarian determines the time is right. Male cats in the F1, F2, and F3 generations are often sterile, but neutering is still highly recommended to help with behavioral issues. 

Being hybrids, Savannah cats can live a long time and have few health problems. They can live between 12 and 20 years, so only make the commitment to own one of these amazing animals if you’re willing to share your life for the long haul. 

History

The first Savannah cat was introduced to the world in 1986. The first member of the tribe was conceived by crossing a male wild African serval cat with a domestic Siamese cat. The resulting offspring mirrored the gorgeous spotted coat and build of the wild cat, but retained the friendly, domestic demeanor of the mother cat. It didn’t take long for breeders to see the potential of this spectacular animal. By 2012, the breed was accepted into the International Cat Association.

Fun Facts

  • Savannah cats love water. They bravely swim where other kitties fear to go. Savannahs have lots of energy and are very athletic. They can leap high enough to peer down on you from the top of your kitchen cupboards (they can also leap over fences, so never leave your pet outdoors unattended).
  • Much like their canine friends, Savannah cats can be trained to walk outside on a leash. They are super playful, inquisitive, and loving.
  • A California Savannah cat named Scarlett’s Magic was twice named “Tallest Cat in the World” by the Guinness Book of World Records. She measured 18.07 inches tall and also was named “Longest Cat in the World’ with a length of 42.72 inches from nose to tail. 
  • Singer Justin Beiber reportedly spent $35,000 dollars on two Savannah cats named Tuna and Sushi.
  • Ralph Lauren model Valentina Zelyaeva also owns a Savannah cat named Mr. B that she takes with her when she travels for her job.