Savannah cats: a case history

In February we added a Savannah cat to our small family of two humans and a canary. It has been an interesting experience and because there is a lot written about Savannahs, including sensationalist nonsense that almost prevented us from making the decision we did. I thought I would post about our experience. I accept that it is just our personal experience but I want to balance the argument a little since the top site when you search for information is a video of five reasons NOT to get a Savannah. As ever, exaggerated nonsense and sensational headlines are more interesting than the truth.

I apologise for this post being about cats if you don’t like them. I have avoided posts about all sorts of things that have been distressing me recently so please indulge me for a day. Back to gardening tomorrow.

Savannah cats are slightly controversial because they are hybrids of domesticated cats and a wild African cat, the serval. It was understandable that someone would try this, to make a pet cat with some of the wonderful markings of wild cats. It is controversial partly because the gestation period of the two is different by a couple of days and because the product of the cross is a big cat that is a good hunter – not great for urban wildlife if released into the wild. It is a personal opinion of course but I do not see a problem with expanding the gene pool of cats and perhaps the hybrid might occur in the wild if a serval fancied a moggy as a mate rather than a meal. Interbreeding does happen, as with the Scottish wild cat that is facing extinction due to moggies and wild cats getting together.

And cats have had a lot less done to them by breeders than dogs. There are no feline equivalents to French bulldogs, great Danes or Yorkies. It is why I like cats, their wildness and, personally, I would not like a Persian or a bald cat or a Rag Doll.

The horror stories about Savannahs, the breed being named after the first offspring (between a serval and a Siamese), are mainly about the F1 generation, the immediate generation. These are 50% serval and big and bouncy and a handful to say the least. Because of genetic incompatibility, as with plants bred from diverse parents, sterility is a problem in the first generations but further generations are fertile and subsequent generations are easier to breed and to look after.

Our Mia is 5th generation which means the amount of Serval is 50%, 25%, 12%, 6%, 3%. So the wild influences are minimal, but they are there.

The main worry about Savannahs is size. They are supposed to be the largest cat breed and can leap 8ft (2.4m). Mia is petit. It may be relevant that we had a big moggy before but she is slender but very long. Her back legs are characteristically long and her tail hangs in a ‘wild cat’ way. When she curls up she is tiny but when she stretches she can reach from the floor to the window sill.

Her Siamese ancestry shows in her call. It is not a cute miaow but a really annoying screech. It can be quiet and quite cute or, if she wants to go out or wants to play, it drives me mad!

And she is an attention seeker. I can concur that Savannahs need attention. She can be a darling when she is asleep but when she wakes she will sit in front of me demanding play. Savannahs are not cats for small houses or flats because they love to run around. They are supposed to like going for walks on a lead but Mia absolutely hated it and we soon gave up – it was too distressing to watch.

But Savannahs are incredibly loyal and almost clingy. We did not attempt to go outside with her for many months and I have never known a cat to be so friendly. She craves our company so, when we take her outside, although there is a risk she will run away, she usually comes when called, especially because we have taught her that if she comes in of her own accord, she gets a treat. When she is watching a grass hopper intently and I have to interrupt her and pick her up she occasionally growls and even hisses – not something I tolerate and she doesnt get her treat. But she has never struck out and tried to harm us.

We have a large garden and the perimeter is not 100% secure but she has, so far, behaved, even when she is following a bird or, more frequently, a fly! She is a real hunter but, so far, is content with flies – quite useful in the house.

She has never been destructive. She has fearsome claws but, perhaps because we pay her a lot of attention and have scratching posts in various places, she has not harmed furniture or knocked over ornaments – though I don’t hold out much hope for the Christmas tree!  Savannahs are known to be intelligent and she is. When she first went out, she chased bees but once got stung on her paw and has left them alone ever since – clever eh?

You can still see the wild cat in Mia sometimes

She will watch, with her head slightly tilted, as you do something and you know she is working it out. She is very playful but, amazingly, she knows that she can bite and scratch a toy but she rarely draws blood when grabbing my hand or arm – she seems to know. She is not allowed on worktops in the kitchen and, while we are there she sticks to the rules. I am not daft enough to think she doesn’t break the rules sometimes but cats can be trained to learn rules to some extent. They just choose not to follow them sometimes.

She is incredibly friendly. It is said that these are not lap cats but she is the most cuddly cat I have ever had. Not only is her usual greeting to roll over so you can rub her tummy – for ages – but she will sit on us and be happy being stroked for hours!

Mia has suddenly taken to sleeping in a spare bedroom. She goes through phases as though bored with routine

For some reason she went off dry food soon after we got her (at 15 months old) so she has a variety of wet food. Savannahs are supposed to need a diet high in Taurine so I do check that on labels. She gets a mix of premium foods when they are on offer, with more regular food and often gets tinned tuna or fried chicken as a treat. As you would expect, she only likes chicken breast, not thigh! She gets the rough bits when we have chicken. She is certainly not a fussy eater – after all she eats flies!

So, to sum up, based on our experiences over six months, I would say:

Get a Savannah if you want an entertaining, interactive, beautiful, loving, fun cat. You will need to give it a lot of attention – I think most behavioural problems stem from boredom. Mia is more cat than any cat I have ever owned (or, to be more accurate, been owned by). She is always surprising, cute, and, unlike any other cat, she seems to be truly loving.

Savannahs are not for everyone and I suspect that, if pulled about by small children, could be a problem. But choose an F5 or F6 and you get a really beautiful and unusual cat that will become a part of the family. We would not change Mia for any other cat.

I need to add that, poor Sunny the canary, who was safe with our last cat, is not safe with Mia so, although we are introducing Mia to Sunny every now and then, the two will not be left alone together in the near future.

And perhaps mention that Savannahs are not cheap. They cost less the higher the F number and if bought already spayed, so you cannot breed from them. Costs go from 400 euro upwards. We got Mia from Sunstorm Bengals.

Update: June 2022

Mia playing with her favourite grass – hours of entertainment

More than a year on, it seems appropriate to post an update. Mia continues to have us wrapped around her little paw. She is still loving and cute. We went on holiday last November and left her at the local cat hotel. She was not happy and we had texts about her not being well but she was actually OK – I just think she was distressed at being alone despite the cattery owner being very good. Then, this spring, she started randomly peeing in inappropriate places in the house. Having checked that there was no infection, the vet decided it was probably down to her not ever being allowed out on her own and being stressed. The recommendation was that we let her have her freedom. So she was let out. And then we were stressed, though we didn’t pee on the sofa! But she does seem to have stopped peeing and she needs a lot less one-on-one play.

She does catch lots of mice, voles and shrew but does not eat them, which is a relief. I am glad that she does not catch birds unless they get cornered in the greenhouse. She once caught a magpie but it made such a racket that I got it off her and it flew away.

She is very much a lockdown cat and we have had few visitors since we got her. But last weekend my brother and mum visited for 4 days and although she was very wary at first by day three she was bring brushed by my brother which is a huge breakthrough. I have to admit she was pleased when she got the house back though.

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9 Comments on “Savannah cats: a case history”

  1. Meriel in Wicklow
    August 2, 2020 at 12:27 pm #

    Very interesting and she looks lovely. I would love to see a photo of the markings along her back and sides – which aren’t really visible in any you posted.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 2, 2020 at 12:52 pm #

      thank you. I just added another photo (not very good) so you can see the spots and stripes!

  2. Meriel in Wicklow
    August 2, 2020 at 2:45 pm #

    Thanks, Geoff. That gives a much better idea of her overall markings and size, with the comparison to your arm. I take it that’s a ball in her mouth and that she chases it’s?

    • thebikinggardener
      August 2, 2020 at 8:09 pm #

      She doesnt play on her own much. We have a fish or feathers on a ‘fishing rod’ and we entertain her with it and she catches it and proudly carries it back to a spot she decides. she usually drops it so we start again. They are supposed be be good retrievers though we have never formally done that.

  3. mitzybricker
    August 2, 2020 at 4:48 pm #

    Beautiful cat!

    Blue Rock Horses Frederick County, Virginia

  4. Frank Gerechter
    August 3, 2020 at 5:04 am #

    We have two Bengals , age 17 and 13. They are fabulous parts of the family and love the dog. I had cats all my life and never have had more loving pets.

    • thebikinggardener
      August 3, 2020 at 8:33 am #

      That’s good to know. We did intend getting a Bengal but the breeder had this Savannah that needed a home. Don’t regret it – so far!

      • Frank Gerechter
        August 3, 2020 at 4:14 pm #

        Great choice

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