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Serval vs Savannah Cat (Wild Cat vs Domestic): What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

Servals are African wildcats that have begun growing in popularity as pets with people who crave a more exotic pet, although they not easy to have as pets, especially for people who do not understand their behaviors and needs. Savannah cats are a cross between Servals and domestic Siamese cats, making them a semi-wild breed. As the breed has developed, the cats have become more like domestic cats in their behaviors, but they can still be quite the handful and aren’t a good cat for new cat owners.

With the rise of multiple social media platforms, both Servals and Savannah cats have rapidly grown in popularity. Unfortunately, this has also led to a rise in these cats ending up in shelters and rescues due to people being wholly unprepared for their high-maintenance needs. While they can be great companions in the right home, neither the Serval nor the Savannah cat are good pets for many people.

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Visual Differences

Serval vs Savannah cat
Image Credit: Left: Serval Cat: Pixabay | Right: Savannah Cat: Jarry, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Serval Cat
  • Average height (adult): 21–24 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 18–40 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–20 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: No
  • Other pet-friendly: Rarely
  • Trainability: Intelligent, requires gentle and consistent training
Savannah Cat
  • Average height (adult): 14–17 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 12–25 pounds
  • Lifespan: 12–20 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, curious, engaged

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Serval Cat Overview

serval cat
Image Credit: Anthony Murtagh, Shutterstock

The Serval is not a commonly kept pet, and for good reason. These are non-domesticated wild animals, making them unsuitable for a variety of home situations. On top of that, there are restrictions on owning them in many areas, which can make ownership of these beautiful cats quite difficult.

Personality / Character

Servals are highly intelligent cats that are often quite affectionate toward their owners. However, they are very cautious around strangers and are not friendly with other pets. In the wild, these cats live solitary lives except for during breeding seasons and when mothers have kittens to care for. This solitary tendency carries over to home life for captive Servals.

They tend to be more active at night and may hide during the day, so it’s not uncommon to not see your Serval all day until they decide it’s party time at midnight. Although they can be affectionate toward people they are familiar with, they also have preferred personal boundaries, which should be respected. These are wild animals, even when they are hand-raised in captivity.

serval cat standing on grass
Image Credit: Howard Klaaste,Shutterstock

Training

Due to their intelligence, Servals are highly trainable. They require consistent training and do best with positive training methods. Negative training methods may create tension or anxiety, which can lead to aggression and other behavioral issues. With time and consistency, most Servals can be taught to walk on a harness and leash, perform tricks, play games, and understand the rules of the household.

Health & Care

Servals are generally healthy animals that have very few notable health conditions. The biggest difficulty in the healthcare of a Serval is finding a veterinarian who will see these animals. They require the care of an exotics vet who is competent in the care of wildcats. They do require typical pet care, like deworming and vaccines.

serval cat lying outdoor
Image Credit: Pixabay

Suitable for:

These cats are suitable for single-pet homes with no children. They may be happiest in a home with only one or two people, as they tend to bond closely with very few people and may be stressed by others. They should not be kept by people unfamiliar with their care, behavior, and needs, as these cats can become dangerous if not cared for responsibly and properly.

Pros
  • Long lifespan
  • Intelligent
  • Trainable
  • Generally healthy
Cons
  • Wild animals that can be dangerous
  • More active at night
  • Not legal to own in all areas
  • Require exotic veterinary care
  • Not suitable for homes with children or other pets

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Savannah Cat Overview

Savannah cat
Image Credit: Lindasj22, Shutterstock

Savannah cats are the product of crossbreeding efforts of Servals and domestic Siamese cats. They are a recognized TICA breed that can compete in cat shows, although the cat must be a fourth-generation Savannah to be considered a purebred Savannah cat per TICA requirements and the breed standard. Due to their close relation to Servals, Savannah cats are illegal to own in some areas still.

Personality / Character

While some people are drawn to Savannahs for its exotic looks, many people are drawn to their dog-like personalities. Owning a Savannah cat may be similar to owning a working breed dog, which is an attractive cat temperament for many people. They tend to be gentle, curious, and playful cats that are intelligent problem solvers. Unlike the Serval, Savannah cats are often good with children and other pets, making them more suitable to most households.

They may be standoffish with strangers, especially at first, but the domestic cat genetics in them makes them curious to investigate visitors. They often make fast friends with visitors, but this is not true of all Savannah cats. Some may be shyer, choosing to bond only with one or two people. Responsible breeders are actively breeding for outgoing, friendly personalities, though.

savannah cat sitting on couch
Image Credit: Kolomenskaya Kseniya, Shutterstock

Exercise

Like with a working dog breed, owning a Savannah cat means you will spend a lot of time finding ways to entertain your cat. They have high exercise needs, so they should be walked or played with for at least two hours per day. Other pets, especially dogs, can also help your Savannah burn excess energy and stay active.

Training

Like the Serval, Savannahs are highly intelligent cats, making them quite trainable. They are not as sensitive to training techniques as Servals are, making them easier to train. Their curious nature often means they are happy to practice training exercises. They can be taught to walk on a harness and leash, as well as play games, perform tricks, and participate in activities like feline agility competitions. They are certainly intelligent enough to understand rules within a household.

Health & Care

Savannah cats can be seen by regular veterinarians for their care and do not require exotic vet specialists. They require standard domestic cat vaccines and treatments. They are generally healthy cats but are susceptible to some serious inherited conditions, like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arterial thromboembolism, feline lower urinary tract disease, kidney failure, and diabetes. They may also be susceptible to food and environmental allergies.

savannah cat on rope in green grass
Image Credit: Jarry, Shutterstock

Suitable for:

Savannah cats are suitable for active households who can provide the time and training this high-energy cat needs. They are well-suited to homes with individuals or families with children, as well as homes with other pets. Without proper exercise and training, these cats can be destructive and difficult to manage, so a commitment to the level of care needed to keep a Savannah cat happy and healthy is necessary.

Pros
  • Long lifespan
  • Intelligent
  • Trainable
  • Suitable for homes with children and other pets
  • Don’t require specialized veterinary care
Cons
  • Not legal to own in all areas
  • Require lots of exercise and attention
  • Susceptible to certain inherited conditions

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Which Breed Is Right For You?

Most sanctuaries and rescues will tell you that Servals are not suitable pets, and this is true for the vast majority of homes. They are wild animals that require a knowledgeable owner who is committed to providing exercise, training, and an appropriate type of care specific to these cats. They are not a good fit for homes with children or other animals, and they may be most active in the middle of the night.

Savannah cats can be fantastic pets, but they require a high level of care that most people cannot commit to. They tend to be gentle and playful with children and other pets, although they have a high prey drive, making them unsuitable for homes with small animals. The time and care commitment of a Savannah cat does pay off, though, because they tend to be loving, attentive cats that show emotional intelligence and curiosity toward the actions of people.

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Featured Image Credit: Top: Serval Cat: Anthony Murtagh, Shutterstock | Buttom: Savannah Cat: Lindasj22, Shutterstock

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