Savannah is a hybrid domestic cat breed. It is a cross between a serval and a domestic cat. The first was bred with a Siamese.
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/domesticated hybrid crosses as domesticated. Some states have set more restrictive laws on hybrid cat ownership, including, but not limited to: Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Georgia. See HybridLaw.com for specific state-by-state laws regarding ownership of Savannah cats. Some cities may invoke 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 that the Savannah cats are not worth the risk.
Savannah cats are one of the larger breeds of domesticated cats. The savannah's tall and slim build gives 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 hybrid and F2 hybrids are usually the largest, due to the stronger genetic influence of the African Serval ancestor. A female F1 Savannah Cat named "Scarlett's Magic," measuring 45.9 centimeters or 18.1 inches from shoulder to toe, is the tallest domestic cat in the world, and measuring 108.5 centimeters or 42.7 inches from nose to tail. Male Savannahs tend to be larger than females. It is possible for early generation Savannahs to weigh up to 20 lbs or more, with the higher weight usually attributed to the F2 or F3 neutered males, though this is not the norm. Later generation Savannahs are usually between 10 to 15 lbs. Because of the random factors in Savannah hybrid genetics, there can be significant variation in size, even in one litter.
The coat of a Savannah depends a lot on the breed of cat used for the domestic cross. Early generations have some form of dark spotting on a lighter coat, and 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 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.In addition, the Savannah can come in nonstandard variations such as the classic or marble patterns, snow coloration (point), and blue or other diluted colors derived from domestic sources of cat coat genetics. Most breeders are trying to cull these non-standard colours out of the gene-pool, by selling non-standard coloured cats as pets, but some Savannah Breeders are interested in working with these colours to introduce them as new traits.
The overall look of an individual Savannah depends greatly on generation, with higher-percentage Savannah cats often having a more "wild" look. The domestic breed that is used will influence appearance as well. The domestic out-crosses for the Savannah breed that are permissible in TICA are the Egyptian Mau, the Ocicat, the Oriental Shorthair, and the Domestic Shorthair. In addition, some Savannah breeders use "non-permissible" breeds or mixes such as Bengal (for size and vivid spotting) and Maine Coon cats (for size) for the domestic parentage, but these "non-permissible" outcrosses can bring many unwanted genes as well. Outcrosses are rarely used these days, as there are now many fertile males available, and as a result, most breeders are exclusively doing Savannah-to-Savannah breedings. The main exception would be when using a Serval to produce F1 cats, and even then breeders prefer to use a Savannah with the Serval, rather than a non-savannah female.
A Savannah's wild 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 nose and hooded eyes. The bodies of Savannahs are long and leggy—when a Savannah is standing, their hind-end is often higher than their prominent shoulders. The small head is taller than wide, and they have 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.
Most F1 generation Savannahs will possess many or all of these traits, while their presence often diminishes in later generations. Being a newly developing, hybridized-breed of cats, appearance can vary far more than cat owners may be used to.
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 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.
Savannah F3 at 1 year
F1 Savannahs can be as high as 75% Serval. 75% F1's are normally the offspring of a 50% F1 female bred back to a Serval. There have been cases of 87.5% F1 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.
Females of the F1-F3 generation are usually held back for breeding, with only the males being offered as pets. The reverse occurs when you reach F5-F7 generation, but to a lesser degree, with the males being held as breeding cats, and females primarily offered as pets.
Savannahs 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 even fetch.
Savannahs often greet people with head-butts, or an unexpected pounce. Some Savannahs are reported to be very social and friendly with new people and with 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 the Savannah kitten grows up.
Owners of Savannahs say that they are very impressed with the intelligence of this breed of cat. An often-noted trait of the Savannah is its jumping ability. Savannahs are known to jump up on top of doors, refrigerators and high cabinets. Some Savannahs can leap about 8 feet (2.5 m) high from a standing position. Savannahs are very inquisitive, and have been known to get into all sorts of things. 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 things.
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 tail 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, or do both, sometimes producing sounds which are a mixture of the two. Chirping is observed more often in earlier generations. Savannahs may also "hiss"—a Serval-like hiss quite different from a domestic cat's hiss, sounding more like a very loud snake. It can be alarming to humans not acquainted to such a sound coming from a cat.
Different individuals contain different amounts of Serval and of varied domestic cat breeds, and there are currently no established Savannah breed-specific health issues.
Some veterinarians have noted that Servals have smaller livers relative to their body size than domestic cats, and some Savannahs inherit this. For this reason, care is advised in prescribing some medications. Lower doses per weight of the cat may be necessary. In addition, the blood values of Savannahs may vary from the typical domestic cat, due to the serval genes.
There is anecdotal evidence, though no completed scientific studies, that Savannahs and other domestic hybrids (such as Bengals) do not respond well to anesthesia containing Ketamine. Many Savannah breeders request in their contracts that Ketamine not be used for surgeries.
Some (but not all) Savannah breeders believe strongly that modified live vaccines should not be used on Savannahs, that only killed virus vaccines should be used. Others are the complete opposite, having had poor reactions to killed vaccines, and no vaccine reaction (lethargy, illness, etc) to the modified live vaccines. This, also, has not been studied, and opinions vary widely from breeder to breeder.
Some breeders state that Savannah cats have no known special care or food requirements, while others recommend a very high quality diet with no grains or by-products. Some recommend a partial or complete raw feeding/raw food diet with at least 32% protein and no by-products. Some Savannah breeders 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 supplement which can be added to any food type. Issues of Savannah diet are not without controversy, and again, it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian or exotic cat specialist before feeding a Savannah cat any non-standard diet.
Savannah cat is the name given to the offspring of 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 20th century, and in 2001 the International Cat Association accepted it as a new registered breed. Savannahs are much more social than typical domestic cats, and they are often compared to dogs in their loyalty. They can be trained to walk on a leash and even taught to play fetch.
Bengal breeder 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. Frank’s Savannah attracted the interest of Patrick Kelley, who purchased one of Savannah's kittens in 1989. Kelley was one of the first enthusiasts who worked towards establishing a new domestic breed based on a serval/domestic cat cross. He approached many serval breeders to help in the development of this new breed, and finally garnered the help of breeder Joyce Sroufe to work with him in taking the steps needed to have the new breed recognized.
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.
2010 brought a significant event for the breed, when the first female F1 Savannah was born and bred in the UK by Rosanne Boyle of Hotspotexotics, named "Amazing Grace" she was registered with TICA (The International Cat Association). From 2006, the breed has seen significant growth throughout the UK, as a result of the breed being so well received.