The Wild Serval Cat
Shane Sykes - Last updated on January 28th, 2021
All you Need to Know about the Serval Cat
The Serval cat, otherwise known as the Leptailurus serval, is a wild cat, native to sub Saharan Africa. Yes you read that right, a wild cat!
Serval cats are classified as one of the largest of small exotic cats. They have become popular because of their very exotic, leopard like look. But it’s not just their look that is exotic, so is their personality.
This is no ordinary cat, and a lot of thought and research has to be done, before choosing a Serval Cat!
Appearance Matters. What does a Serval cat look like?
The Serval is medium-sized for a wild cat, but big for a pet cat!
They measure from 23 to 36 inches in length, with a tail from 8 to 15 inches. At shoulder height they are about 21 to 26 inches tall. They are famous for their long legs, which gives them a slender look, but they are still strong. The head is small in relation to the body, and they have distinctively tall, oval ears, set quite close together.
Make no mistake, this is a big, big cat! They have some of the longest legs you will find in the cat word.
What colors do the Serval come in?
The Serval is a black spotted cat, with a shiny tawny coat (light brown or orange). This is what gives them their most distinctive, wild cat, look.
Very rare is the white Serval. This version has come about from extensive breeding, and has resulted in a loss of pigmentation, leading to a fading in the tawny color.
The vast, vast majority of Serval cats for sale will have the typical tawny coat.
It's all Personal. The Serval Character
Can Serval cats be domesticated? and Are Serval Cats Dangerous?
This is a wild cat, so the big question is, does the Serval make a good pet?
The answer is yes, and no!
Most Serval cats you will see available for homing from breeders will be from domesticated bloodlines. Their parents, and often generations further back will have been bred, socialized and raised out of the wild. This does dilute their wildness, but it does not eradicate it!
The Serval cat is still very different to the average cat, and not just in size. They have habits that are out of the ordinary, and make them suitable just for certain households.
The vast majority of Servals are not inherently aggressive to humans. That means they will not want to attack you, and can often be moderately affectionate. Though this is not really a lap cat.
But their habits can cause harm if unprepared...
They are very energetic, they play hard, and hunt well!
This breed needs a lot of space, and a lot of areas where they can climb, roam and enjoy. So a small apartment is not going to be ideal for a Serval. They are a big jumper!
They play with their teeth and with their claws, and both are long, and sharp. This alone makes this breed completely unsuitable for a home with young kids.
They have a high prey drive, and they love to hunt, especially at night. Do not expect to be able to control this natural behaviour!
They absolutely need to be in a home without other pets, and are renowned for not getting on with other cats.
If you have a big, secure home, where a Serval has lots of space, and a big area they can enjoy leaping about in, then you may be suited for one.
What's the difference in personality between a Serval and Savannah cat?
The Savannah is essentially the Serval mixed with another breed.
The Savannah is smaller than a Serval, although a first generation cross will not be that much smaller.
Similarly the Savannah is more domesticated, friendlier and more affectionate than the original wild cat. Especially as more generations pass from the original crossing.
If you are unsure that a Serval is the safest choice, a Savannah could be a good option.
The Health and Happiness of your Serval
Is it legal to own a Serval cat?
This breed, often misunderstood and stigmatized, has a long history of being outlawed. This is regardless of breeding or domestication. Which some would say is fair enough, if there is even the tiniest chance of danger from them.
And even today there are many states, about half, where it is not legal to own a Serval in any cases. And several where you have to have a special permit. The rules in many states change from time to time. So it is very important to check the current regulations in your state before you even think about getting a Serval. You don’t want to get in trouble right from the start.
Across Europe, many countries such as the UK, have a complete ban on the Serval.
Does the Serval cat have any health concerns?
The Serval does not have any major health concerns, at least not more so than other cats.
One issue can be declawing. This can often lead to infection, and is not advised.
They are known to be prone to swallowing small foreign objects. It is best, like you would do with a toddler, to keep these out of reach as much as possible.
Caring for Your Serval
You have probably gathered by now that this is a special cat, and it requires special care too.
We mentioned before that the Serval needs space, an apartment cat this is not. They also need warmth throughout the year; they did come from Africa after all!
They really require a very secure, outdoor play area to help spend their energy needs. Remember in the wild this cat would roam for many miles a day.
It is recommended that you find a specialized vet that focuses on exotic animals. This is because they often have different health needs than the domestic cat.
Hopefully you are not squeamish as it is highly recommended, that at least from time to time, you feed your Serval whole prey, such as mice!
They can be litter trained, but scent marking is inherent, and puddles will happen in your home!
Can Serval cats be kept indoors?
The short and sweet answer is no!
They are massively energetic, are an ancestrally outdoor cat, and must have space outdoors to roam, explore and enjoy safely.
If you keep your Serval indoors, they will be massively destructive, and suffer mentally.
Is a Serval cat high maintenance?
In terms of special care, yes, as we mentioned before. But in terms of grooming this big kitty isn’t too fussy.
They have a short coat, and are light shedders, so brushing is not a big concern. For the most part their own grooming regimen will be enough.
Feline History. Where does the Serval come from?
The Serval is native to Africa, where it is widely distributed south of the Sahara. It was once also found in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Its main wild habitat is the savanna (a grassy plain in tropical and subtropical regions, with few trees). Some are found in mountainous areas at elevations up to 9,800 ft.
It is only in recent decades that this long established wild cat has been sought after for domestication. And while it has a band of dedicated enthusiasts it has not reached mass popularity due to its energetic nature, and legality issues.