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Savannahs

The History of Savannahs

 

The Savannah Cat

 

 

 

 

Size and Appearance:

All figures depend on the Generation of Savannah Cat

Shoulder height:  up to15 inches.

Body length:  up to 24 inches. (excluding the tail)

Weight: 8 to 30 pounds (males usually being larger than the females)

Tail Length: 8 to 14 inches long

 

Savannah Origination:

During the early 1980's, cat breeder Judee Frank successfully bred a male African Serval to a female domestic cat. In the early 1990s, Patrick Kelley, founder of Savannahcat.com, with an offspring of Judee Frank's original hybrid cross, set out to breed more of these cats and find breeders interested in working with him to start a new breed. He began going to cat shows and making phone calls and at first only one other breeder showed interest in starting this new breed. That breeder was Joyce Sroufe.  As Patrick's F2 Savannah gave birth to her third litter of F3 kittens (third generation Savannahs) Joyce's cat was having her first litter of F1 (First generation) Savannahs! With this breeding success fueling their fire, Patrick and Joyce wrote the first Savannah Cat Standard, and presented them to TICA (The International Cat Association).  Their efforts were successful, as were their efforts to convince TICA to accept the new breedin 2001, (TICA) The International Cat Association accepted it as a new registered breed.

The name Savannah refers to the African Savannah, the habitat of one of the breed's ancestors, the African Serval cat. The breed was named by Suzie Mustacio the lady who came to own Judee Frank's first Serval hybrid. The Savannah was named after the habitat of the Serval, and its beauty echoes the lush splendor of those golden plains in Africa.

When an African Serval is mated to a domestic cat, which is not easily accomplished, then the resulting offspring is called the Savannah cat. A Savannah cat is a cross between an African Serval and a domesticated house cat. Servals were bred with any number of domestic cats including the Bengal, Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair and Domestic Shorthair to produce Savannahs. . It is one of the newest breeds in the world and there are just a few breeders worldwide that have achieved their goal of successfully mating a Serval to domesticated cat.

 

Physical Traits:

Much like its Serval ancestor, the Savannah is a tall, lean cat, with long legs, long neck and very large ears. Savannahs are noted for their tall and slender bodies and their big ears. The African Serval was at times kept as a pet by natives in Africa but is not a suitable pet for the average house hold. The Savannah is however and still has many of the Serval's beautiful qualities but with a more amiable temperament and better house hold habits. The Savannah is a smaller version of the African Serval, weighing in at around 20 pounds, as opposed to 40 with its ancestor.  

The Savannah has a captivating exotic look. Individuals are sleek and tall with a golden to black coloring, brown or black-spotted and striped velvety coat with a light colored underside. The Savannah’s coat shows the typical spotted pattern, and sometimes has some bars, on a golden to black background. They have a triangular shaped head with large, high set ears. Their weight can vary from approximately 8 to 25 lbs., often depending on the percentage of Serval in the line and the breed of domestic cat used in the breeding.

The coat of a Savannah depends on the breed of cat that was used for the domestic cross. Early generations have some form of dark spotting on a lighter coat.  In the beginning many early breeders employed "wild-looking" spotted breeds, such as the Bengal and Egyptian Mau, for the cross to help preserve these markings in later generations. The overall look of an individual Savannah depends greatly on generation, with higher-percentage Savannah cats often having a more "wild" look.

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, 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.

Like the movement of a big cat, these striking cats are unlike any other breed. They can weigh more than 20 pounds and stand up to 15 inches at the shoulder. Later generations are also showing considerable size; with the males usually growing much larger than their female litter mates.  With such long legs the Savannah is an elegant jumper and like the Serval often performs high leaps, up to 8 feet, straight in the air. The Savannah loves water and enjoys a bath over the more usual cat games.

 

Desirable Traits:

Under TICA breed standard, ocelli are a desirable characteristic.  Like the Serval, the ears are black on the back with a distinctive white spot called Ocelli, which looks like eyes on the back of their ears. These markings are designed to protect the cat when threatened.  In the dark this white helps to ward off predators.  When the cat’s ears flatten and the backs of the ears face forward presenting two white, eye-like, spots, this would confuse and intimidate predators into thinking they are actually larger than they are.  Ocelli’s can also  serve to communicate the cat’s emotional state to other cats as well as communicate with the kittens. (src: Wikipedia).

In some cats you’ll see the black tear markings running from the corner of the eye and down along the nose.  Perhaps this form of marking is best known in the Cheetah.  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.  Being a newly developing, hybridized breed of cats, appearance can vary far more than cat owners may expect and change as they grow older.

The goal in both instances is to develop a domestic cat with the looks of an Exotic Wild Cat.  Also the goal is to have a cat that is totally unchallenging (well behaved with people and pets).  Breed standards demand this.  If you go to a cat show you will see some amazingly well behaved cats.

 

How Big Does A Savannah Get?

The size and weight of the Savannah Cat depends very much on the size and type of their parents, how far the generation is from the wild Serval, the breeding program and whether it is a male or female.  They are one of the larger breeds of domesticated cats. The Savannah’s tall and slim build gives them the appearance of being larger in size than their actual weight.  Savannahs grow for up to 3 years to reach their full size.

Select Exotics, an established Savannah cat breeder say that their F1 (one removed from the wild cat) males weigh between 20-27 lbs. Remember that the average cat weighs 8-10 lbs; this gives a clue as to the size. Remember too that these figures come from this cattery. Their cats may be heavier than the average; F2s weigh 17-30 lbs, F3s between 15 and 22 lbs. They are big, leggy and therefore a very athletic cat.

F1 and F2 Savannah’s are usually the largest, due to the stronger genetic influence of the African Serval ancestor. Male Savannahs tend to be larger than the females.  Early-generation Savannahs can weigh 20-30 lbs. The largest Savannah’s are usually the males of the F1 and F2 Generations and the F2 or F3 neutered males.  They get about 2 and a half times larger than regular house cats, with their weight of 15 to 28 pounds, and occasionally, over 30 pounds. F3 males are often still considerably bigger than a regular house cat. F3 females and all cats of further generations decrease in size but keep their long legs, big ears and the wild appearance.

Later-generation Savannahs are usually between 7 and 20 lbs. Because of the random factors in Savannah genetics, size can vary significantly, even in the same litter.

Reproduction and Offspring:

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. Many breeders have tried and failed producing F1 generation Savannahs. Many pregnancies are often absorbed or aborted, or kittens are born prematurely.

Servals can also be very picky in choosing mates, and often will not mate with a domestic cat. You can have a Serval in with 20 domestic cats and he might not breed any of them or he might like them all! Many breeders raise the Serval in their homes, around their females to increase the chances of having a successful Savannah breeding. 

 

Personality and Traits:

Despite their exotic appearance, Savannahs do not differ much from other domestic cats in regards to care and behavior. Generally, Savannah cats can be kept like any other domestic cat but we have found them to have a lot of traits that are more like a dog in their loyalty.  They are much more social than typical domestic cats, and are known to have lots of energy.

The breed is very intriguing, and extremely intelligent animal. They are so intelligent that they can learn to turn on water faucets, open doors, open cabinets, turn on lights and even use and flush the toilet.  Outdoor spigots are fair game too; but they do not learn to turn OFF the faucets when they’re done!  Sometimes you can just SEE their thinking process and know that they are up to something!  You can only fool a Savannah once as they do not forget!

They are very trainable and can learn to walk on a leash, ride in a car and they love to play fetch indicating a high level of intelligence. They are apt to follow owners around the house, and exhibit other intelligent dog-like behaviors.  Combine this with a very athletic body and you have a cat that requires a lot of your attention and can be extraordinary escape artists! They also have a great ability to jump to very high places. Savannahs are known to jump up on top of doors, refrigerators and high cabinets. Some Savannahs can leap about eight feet high from a standing position!

Many Savannah cats do not fear water, and will play or even immerse themselves in water; mine loves to take a bath or a shower with me! Presenting a water bowl to a Savannah can also prove challenging, as some will promptly begin, using their front paws, to "bat" all the water out of the bowl until it is empty or try and put all four paws into the bowl!  It is a very funny thing to watch!

Savannahs are very alert and comical, and provide lots of entertainment for their owners. They like to be in physical contact with you, and are affectionate as well as "attention-hogs,”.  They enjoy travelling, and many owners routinely take their Savannahs with them in the car.  I take mine to the coffee shop on a leash and stir up a lot of attention!

The Savannah cat is said to make an excellent companion, sociable with other pets, and always willing to greet their owner with affection by eagerly giving them a welcoming "head-butt" where they literally bump heads with you to say hello. They also will give you an occasional “love bite”.  One of my Savannah’s loves to give me “love bites” under the arm or in my hair! This is just her way of giving me affection.  A Savannah expects to be a family member that is involved in every activity, rather than being just a usual house pet. As much as they love attention, they prefer for it to be on their terms.  Many do not like being picked up and confined in any way and prefer to initiate contact themselves.

Like their Serval ancestor they make sounds like chirping, purrs, hisses, snarls, calls, and growl sounds, which can be intimidating but are just their way of communicating just like a domestic cat meows. The Savannah is not a constantly talkative cat, but the sounds they do make are quite unique and unusual. They may either chirp like their Serval fathers, meow like their domestic mothers, or do both, sometimes producing sounds which are a mixture of the two. Chirping is observed more often in generations that are closer to their Serval ancestry.

Savannahs may also hiss – a Serval-like hiss is quite different from a domestic cat's hiss. This hissing sound is more like the hiss of a very loud snake. It can be alarming to humans not accustomed to such a sound coming from a cat! They have their own brand of “hiss”, which is apparently quite noticeable and somewhat intimidating. Their hiss mimics a Cobra snake’s hiss and is thought to originate from the snake hiss over the period of the cat’s evolution. The cat is pretending to be a snake so that other animals fear them and know to stay away.

 

Savannah Diet:

Some Savannah breeders recommend a raw meat diet, while others recommend only a premium domestic cat food. There are no special dietary demands for Savannah cats as far as I am aware, but we prefer to feed homemade raw diet, while others mix raw and commercial and yet the third group provides commercially sourced cat food. Savannahs can be fed with a high premium cat food: nevertheless a more natural diet is beneficial in some breeder’s opinions.  It is a good idea to discuss diet with your kitten’s breeder well before he/she arrives in your home. Lower generation Savannahs can be fed regular good-quality cat food and receive the same shots and health care as a domestic cat.

There is a leading UK cattery, named Strawbell Pedigree Cats that feed their cats boiled chicken including the livers and no salt. It is served cooled with the water in which it was boiled. Their cats also eat raw chicken. They found, as we have found, that some wet packaged food is unattractive to cats. Unless we are fully informed as to dietary requirements of a cat, one thing worth noting is that it is unwise, as I understand it, to only provide a homemade diet as it will not necessarily contain the added supplements such as taurine that are vital to a cat’s health

 

Savannah Vet Care: 

Unlike purebred Servals, Savannah cats can be treated by any small animal veterinarian, but higher generations might require an Exotic Veterinarian. While there is some evidence that suggests that Savannahs tend to inherit the smaller sized liver of the Serval, this has not been unanimously agreed upon.

Also, some breeders believe that only killed virus vaccines should be used in Savannahs. They may, however, be more sensitive to certain anesthetic drugs. If you need to have your cat anesthetized, there is talk that an anesthetic called Ketamine is unsuitable for Savannah hybrids. No doubt the veterinarian will be able to confirm or deny this.

Some breeders believe that the hybrid vigor serves to improve health as Servals have a high immune system. The scientific term is heterosis. It is also known as outbreeding enhancement and is the opposite of inbreeding depression (ill health or a propensity to ill health caused by inbreeding). Cross breeding from different breeds creates a more robust individual cat genetically it is believed by some breeders.

 

How do Savannahs get along with other Pets or Children?

Just like other cats, the Savannah cat is very adaptable and will get along with well behaved children and socialized dogs. They seem to be very instinctive and friendly with children. They have been known to bond with dogs but tend to assume the alpha status. If your current cat or dog is social, your new Savannah will most likely end up sleeping in the same bed with them or maybe even you!

 

Generations Explained:

What is F1, F2 etc?

All Foundation Savannahs have an F and a number associated with it to indicate how many generations it is from its Serval ancestor. How much Serval is in their blood depends on the various generations from the Serval cat.

% of Serval (src: A1 Savannahs)        % Serval (src: Wikipedia author)


F1        53%                                                     50-75% depending on breeding

F2        29%                                                     25-37.5% depending on breeding

F3        16%                                                     12.5%

Male Savannah cats are sterile until the 5th generation (F5). Sometimes the 4th generation (F4) is fertile, but how long they are fertile will also be questionable. Since there have been more of the lower generation Savannah's produced, some breeders have been breeding back to the Serval and this will change the Serval percentage of an F1 range from 50% up to over 75% in some rare cases.

The allowable outcrosses under TICA breed standard are: Serval, Egyptian Mau, Ocicat, Oriental Shorthair and the domestic shorthair (not a member of a recognized breed). Sometimes breeders go outside these guidelines.

 

What is a SBT Savannah?

The History of the SBT Savannahs started at A1 Savannahs. An SBT is also bred down from the Serval but it is at least 4 Generations removed from the Serval.   The Savannahs, F1 through F5, are mixed with blood of domestic cats but the SBT Savannah is a "pure" Savannah that has only Savannah’s as parents for at least 3 Generations.

The size or appearance of an SBT Savannah can be compared to an F4 or an F5 Savannah but there are several advantages to owning an SBT. The SBT Savannahs is more consistent in their type, personality and size and the temperament is more predictable. An SBT Savannah is the perfect choice for a family with other pets and children.

 

Why Are Savannahs So Expensive?

Higher percentage Savannahs are rare and very difficult to breed. It takes many years and a lot of luck to mate a Serval with a domesticated cat. Only a few breeders worldwide have been successful.  You can put a Serval with a domestic cat and there is no guarantee that they will breed at all.

It takes a lot of time, money and experience to raise Savannah’s but they are well worth it!  Not many people have the time, money or patients that it takes to breed this remarkable breed. Where else can you get a gorgeous, exotic looking animal that is a household pet that will cherish you and give you love for up to 20 yrs!

 

Legalities

Some generations of Savannahs are considered an exotic hybrid cross. While they don’t have many of the legal restrictions of a full-blooded Serval, some states do have laws governing the ownership of hybrid pets. It is important to check the legality of owning a Savannah cat where you live.  Most states in the US regard the Savannah cat as a domestic cat, however in some states or cities they are not allowed and are considered a hybrid. Please check with your area to find out the requirements for owning a Savannah before purchasing one.

 

Registries That Accept the Savannah:

  The International Cat Association (TICA)

  The International Progressive Cat Breeders' Alliance


Savannah Organizations and Groups:

  The International Savannah Cat Club

  The International Savannah Breeders' Association (TISBA)

Sources:

          Personal experience

          A1 Savannahs

          Wikipedia

          Avalon Savannahs

          Select Exotics

          As stated in the text

          Various websites