The Savannah cat is a large, slender hybrid cat breed, with brown and white fur and a vibrant, spotted patterning.
Popular amongst cat enthusiasts, the Savannah is the largest breed of domesticated cat, and possesses distinctive physical characteristics that make it stand out from similar breeds.
But how exactly did breeding start, and what is their legal status?
Savannah Cats: How Are They Bred?
The Savannah cat was created by breeding a large domestic cat with a serval - a wild, large breed of cat native to the African continent.
A fairly recent development, the breeding of domestic and serval cats was first experimented with in 1986, when Judee Frank crossbred a serval cat with a Siamese belonging to a friend.
Breeding continued throughout the 1990s, with the breed becoming popular amongst cat enthusiasts, and by 2001, the breed was officially registered by the TICA - noting specifically accepted physical dimensions and traits to classify the animal.
The generation of the Savannah cat can play an important role, not only in the legality of the animal, and the associated paperwork and documentation that will be required, but also to the health and temperament of the cat.
The generation of the hybrid determines how much of the serval cat DNA is present in the animal.
F1 refers to the first generation of the crossbreed, where there is a much more equal ratio of genetic material, whereas F2, F3, and F4 show distinct decreases in the serval cat genetic material - something that usually means the animals face less legal restrictions for domestication.
Savannah Cats: So, Are They Legal?
Despite being perfectly legal to own in certain countries, such as Canada and (in most cases) the UK, their legality becomes more complex in the United States and Australia.
In the United Kingdom, it is legal to own a Savannah Cat, although this depends on the generation of the cat.
The specific breeding of the Savannah cat means that each new generation of the breed possesses less serval DNA. As such, F1 cats often require more legal paperwork.
In the United States, the legality of Savannah cats varies from state to state. Based on the laws set down by the United States Department of Agriculture, most states classify hybrids of wild and domesticated cats as wholly domesticated, however some states are stricter and impose harsher qualifiers.
States such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Texas, and Georgia all have stricter laws surrounding hybrid cats, and their breeding and ownership is restricted in these states.
Australia is perhaps the strictest of all the countries, completely banning the importation of Savannah cats into the country, with the rationale being that their larger size, speed, and power could introduce greater hunting and survival skills into local feral cat populations, thus posing a greater threat for other species of creatures.
Canada is generally relaxed when it comes to F2 generation cats and greater, although restrictions are placed on F1 Savannah cats, requiring special permits and vaccinations depending on the origin and background of the animal.
Savannah Cats: The Facts
Of course, when owning Savannah cats, there are various things to be aware of, both in terms of physical features and requirements, breeding techniques and patterns, health problems, and temperament.
Along with their large, lanky proportions, and their distinctive patterning, Savannah cats also have many other characteristics that distinguish them from other breeds.
Many of their distinctive, almost ‘exotic’ features come from the serval cat DNA.
Their long, erect, cupped ears, their hooded eyes, their long puffy nose, and the length of their tails all descend from their wild, African heritage, and are what give the cat the appearance of a wild animal - something that can lead to legal trouble and misunderstandings from frightened neighbors and bystanders who confuse it with a leopards or young mountain lions.
Whilst their long physical dimensions give them the impression of a hefty weight, they are actually comparatively light. Males tend to be larger, and reach a maximum weight range of around 25 pounds, whilst females are much smaller, with a weight of around 12 pounds.
F1 through F4 males of Savannah cats are generally sterile, and incapable of producing offspring, therefore breeders tend to use an F5 generation male with an F1 female Savannah to counteract this problem.
The distinctive look of the Savannah cat has meant that several desirable and undesirable traits have been identified, with breeders sticking to Savannah to Savannah breeding to avoid any unwanted outcomes.
As with many cat species, there are several health conditions that the Savannah cat can be prone to, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - where the heart becomes unexpectedly thickened without an obvious cause or determining factor.
Similarly, other unusual factors include smaller livers, even amongst the largest of the breed. However, there are currently no medical consequences which have been documented as a result.
Despite their large and fearsome appearance, they are known as being a loyal, easily trained, and playful breed of cat, and can be easily socialized into homes with existing pets.
Their playfulness is encouraged by their natural predilection towards hiding, and their ability as good jumpers, which only gives them more scope when it comes to hide and seek.
Unlike other breeds, Savannah cats do not have a natural fear of water, and will often voluntarily play in water to keep cool and have fun. Some owners have even been known to shower with their Savannah cats as a means of keeping them clean and cool.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about the Savannah cat hybrid, and the legality surrounding their ownership and breeding.
An attractive breed, with a pleasant temperament and exotic looks, it is no wonder why they remain so popular amongst cat enthusiasts.
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