Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (2024)

This article on keeping serval cats as pets was originally published in 2012 and is regularly updated. It was last reviewed for accuracy and updated on June 5, 2024.

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (1)

If you’re familiar with zoology or wild animals, you may have heard of the serval cat.

They look similar to a leopards, and you may be surprised to learn that some people have domesticated them and kept them as pets.

While there are many admirable qualities to the serval cat, there are also risks involved with keeping one as a pet.

Table of Contents

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  • Serval Cat: An African Cat
  • Risks of Having a Serval Cat
    • Serval cats need zoo-like areas to explore, swim, hunt, run and occasionally climb.
    • Serval cats require special diets.
    • Serval cats are not your typical lap cats.
    • Legal Restrictions on Owning Serval Cats
    • Serval Cats Are Nocturnal Hunters
    • Serval Cats Mark Their Territory
    • Serval Cats Are Not Recommended for Households with Young Children
    • Serval Cats Play Roughly
    • Serval Cats Have Unique Hunting Styles
    • Serval Cats Have a Long Lifespan – around 22 years.10
  • Should I Get a Serval Cat?
  • References

Serval Cat: An African Cat

A serval is a cat native to the African grasslands typically found south of the Sahara Desert.

The cat has a lean body and long legs.

The coats are predominantly shades of tan or orange with black or dark brown markings. The coat pattern helps the cats disguise themselves when hunting in tall grasses.

The website Small Cats of Africa offers an explanation of this exotic cat’s history:1

“The serval was the symbol of the Italian Tomasi family, princess of the island of Lampedusa. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrotethe famous Italian novelIlGattopardo. Despite beingknown as The Leopardin English, the Italian title actually refers to a serval. The serval’s North African range is near Lampedusa.”

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (2)

According to the book Classical Cats, “In second-millennium BC Egypt, the serval was an exotic import from sub-Saharan Africa. When it was depicted in Egyptian art, it was frequently as a gift or trade object from Nubia.”2

Some people keep serval cats as exotic pets today, but they are limited in number. Most servals can be found at zoos or large cat rescues — and there is a good reason for this.

The reason? The serval isn’t a domestic house cat with awesome abilities.

Rather, a serval cat is a wild animal with specific needs and inherited instincts that must be nurtured in a specific environment.

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (3)

Risks of Having a Serval Cat

As explained above, this isn’t the Superman version of a pet cat.

The serval is a wild animal, and for this reason, several states have prohibited their ownership or required specific licenses to contain one.

There are many risks surrounding keeping a serval cat as a pet.

Please seriously consider all of the following before deciding to bring a serval cat into your home as a domesticated pet:

Serval cats need zoo-like areas to explore, swim, hunt, run, and occasionally climb.

These habitats can be expensive to create, and keeping too small of an area or an interior-only option will not allow a serval cat to expel all their energy or fulfill their natural instincts.3

As a commenter below this article, J Freed, says, “They are clever. When we moved into our new home, [our pet serval cat] promptly escaped. We got her 3 days later after a tip took us to her location. The enclosures need to be sturdy, provide for their comfort, rough play, and safety.”

Serval cats require special diets.

This is not a cat you can feed Meow Mix and assume their nutritional needs are met.

According to one exotic cattery owner who has kept a number of servals since 2012, “A serval cat needs variety in its diet, just like in the wild.”

She suggests a variety of meats “such as chicken and turkey necks/back/legs/gizzards, mice, chicks, beef, a variety of birds such as quail/duck/grouse, and smaller prey such as mice/rats/rabbit.”

Other foods she recommends include “different types of seafood such as cod, salmon, snapper, sardines, basa, shrimp, lobster, crab, shellfish; and eggs, cheese, oils, vegetables and fruits, and grass.”4

Serval cats are not your typical lap cats.

Sure, they can be affectionate and are normally not aggressive to humans, but remember that this is still a wild animal.

They have basic, inherited instincts they need to fulfill.

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (4)

Legal Restrictions on Owning Serval Cats

Owning a serval cat, or any wild or exotic animal, is subject to a variety of laws and regulations that differ widely by location and often by the specific jurisdiction within a location. It’s essential to check the current laws and regulations in your specific area before considering acquiring a serval cat. Here are some guidelines and considerations:

  1. United States: The legality of owning a serval varies from state to state. Some states have outright bans on owning wild animals as pets, while others require permits or licenses. In some states, it’s legal to own a serval without any special permissions, although local laws might impose their own restrictions. It’s crucial to verify with state and local regulations.

    Here is a general guideline for some states regarding serval cat ownership:

    Alabama: It is legal to own a serval without a permit.

    Nevada: Ownership of a serval is legal without a permit in Nevada, except within the limits of cities like Las Vegas, which have their own restrictions.

    Wisconsin: This state allows serval cats without a permit, but regulations may vary by local jurisdiction.

    Idaho: Ownership is allowed without a permit, but again, some local jurisdictions may impose their own regulations.

    North Carolina: The state itself does not have a ban on exotic pets, but the laws can vary greatly by county.

    South Carolina: As of my last update, it’s legal to own a serval in South Carolina with proper documentation and permits.

    Indiana: Certain exotic pets are allowed with a permit, but this varies by species and may be subject to local laws.

  2. Canada: Exotic pet laws are determined by each province, and similarly to the US, these laws can be very different from one another. It’s essential to check with local authorities.
  3. United Kingdom: In the UK, you need a Dangerous Wild Animal Licence to keep a serval cat, which is issued by the local council and has very strict conditions to ensure the welfare of the animal and the safety of the owner and public.
  4. Europe: Across European countries, laws also vary. Some countries may have bans, while others may require permits.
  5. Australia: In Australia, it is generally illegal to keep serval cats as pets. The importation and ownership of exotic cats are highly regulated and restricted to zoos and wildlife parks.

If you’re in an area where it is legal to own a serval cat, obtaining one involves several steps and considerations:

  • Permits and Licenses: If required, you must apply for and be granted the necessary permits or licenses. This process may include inspections of the living conditions you’ll provide for the animal and proof of your knowledge and ability to care for it.
  • Ethical Breeding Sources or Rescues: It’s crucial to source a serval from a reputable breeder or rescue organization that prioritizes the welfare of their animals.
  • Housing: Servals require a lot of space and specialized enclosures that mimic their natural habitat. They are not typical pets and are known for their high energy and predatory instincts.
  • Diet and Health Care: A proper diet for a serval is very different from that of a domestic cat and can be costly and complex. Access to a veterinarian who is skilled in dealing with exotic cats is also a necessity.
  • Insurance: Because servals are considered wild animals, you may need to secure liability insurance.
  • Cost: Owning a serval is expensive. The initial cost, enclosure, food, vet care, and insurance can be significant.
  • Long-Term Commitment: Servals live for about 20 years and owning one is a long-term commitment with a host of responsibilities.

Before acquiring a serval cat or any exotic animal, you should conduct thorough research and confirm with your local Fish and Wildlife agency or similar regulatory body to get the most current information on legality and requirements.

Serval Cats Are Nocturnal Hunters

Keep in mind that a serval cat weighs an average of 29 pounds.5

Imagine your serval is playing or hunting at 3 a.m. and those 29 pounds landon you in the bed mid-sleep.

Serval Cats Mark Their Territory

This includes peeing on household items and you. Yes, you.

Servals may not always take to litter boxes like most domesticated cats, and they will require a much larger litter box than normal.

As someone named Lolo commented below, Lolo’s pet serval cat “did really well with his litter habits, but still enjoyed peeing in/on things in the house. If I told him NO, he would slap me HARD. He was extremely stubborn.”

Serval Cats Are Not Recommended for Households with Young Children

They play using their teeth and claws, and they may be too rough with children or view them as toys or prey. This is not likely, but it is possible.6,7

As Lolo again commented, “We had a baby — that’s where it really went downhill. [Our pet serval cat] HATED the baby. He slapped and hissed at us after we handled the baby. We had to keep them separate 24/7. It was exhausting.”

And then, Lolo says, “it happened.” The serval “attacked our baby.”

“The baby had TEETH marks on her temple and next to the eye,” Lolo says. “That was the last straw. He probably viewed the baby as prey and/or as a threat. Regardless, we couldn’t risk our child or visitors. Luckily, we found him a good home.”

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (5)

Serval Cats Play Roughly

They can knock over large items, scratch and tear furnishings, jump extremely high, and crash into things during their many excursions.

The cats are strong with fast reflexes, and they even use their teeth and claws during play.

Plus, scratches are much worse with serval cats. Their strength is much higher than that of a normal cat and even if they don’t mean harm, they can cause it simply by playing.

“Servals have a bite force at the canine teeth of 172 Newtons, whereas feral domestic cats have a bite force of 56 Newtons,” notes a 2016 Queensland Government safety report. “Because of this higher bite force, servals can subdue larger prey than can feral cats.”

Serval Cats Have Unique Hunting Styles

They listen and wait until ready, then they jump in the air8and land on their prey.

Once they hold them or incapacitate them with their weight, they usually deliver a fatal bite to the neck.

Servals are considered the best hunters in the cat world, with a nearly 50% kill rate.9 (A domestic cat’s kill rate is more like 10%.)

Serval Cats Have a Long Lifespan – around 22 years.10

This is longer than the average domestic cat (15 years11), so you should understand the responsibility of taking care of a wild animal for a long time before deciding to get one.

Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (6)

Should I Get a Serval Cat?

There are many reasons you should reconsider buying a serval cat.

While some of them can be affectionate, they don’t do well with changing families and need space to fulfill their natural instincts.

Don’t confuse space with efficiency — just because you have multiple acres doesn’t mean you can just drop a serval onto the property and they will fend for themselves.

There are so many cats and other animals waiting for homes in shelters and rescues across the country and the world. So please consider giving one of them a home before taking the risks of serval cats explained above.

If you just adore serval cats and need an exotic cat fix, visit your local zoo or a large cat rescue.

There are also plenty of videos of serval cats.Here’s one of them:

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Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (8)

Take some time and read through the comments below this article from people who have experience keeping serval cats as pets.

Sure, serval cats can be great pets for the right families — but please don’t take this decision lightly.

Interesting Facts About Serval Cats

Serval cats, an African cat are fascinating animals known for their unique characteristics and behaviors. Here are the top five interesting facts about these wild felines:

  1. Remarkable Jumpers: Servals can leap up to 10 feet in the air to catch birds in flight.
  2. Large Ears for Hunting: Their large, rounded ears provide excellent hearing, helping them detect prey in tall grasses.
  3. Solitary Creatures: Servals are mostly solitary and establish large territories.
  4. Unique Coat Patterns: Their coats feature distinctive black spots and stripes, which provide camouflage in their natural habitat.
  5. Diet Diversity: In the wild, servals eat a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, insects, and fish.

These fascinating traits make the serval cat an intriguing, though challenging, exotic pet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a serval cat?

A serval cat is a wild African feline known for its long legs, large ears, and distinctive spotted coat.

How much is a serval cat?

The cost of a serval cat can range from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the breeder and location.

How big is a serval cat?

Serval cats typically weigh between 20 to 40 pounds and stand about 21 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder.

Where to buy a serval cat?

Serval cats can be purchased from licensed exotic animal breeders and dealers, but potential owners must comply with local laws and regulations.

References

  1. “Serval (Leptailurus serval).” Cats For Africa.http://www.catsforafrica.co.za/serval-leptailurus-serval/.
  2. Engels, Donald W.Classical Cats: The Rise and Fall of the Sacred Cat. Routledge, 2015.
  3. “About Servals.” A1 Savannahs.https://www.a1savannahs.com/about-servals/.
  4. “Serval Cat Nutrition.” Facebook post. Sept. 18, 2016. Archived here:https://www.petful.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/serval-cat-nutrition-sept.2016.pdf.
  5. “AnAge Entry for Leptailurus Serval.” Human Ageing Genomic Resources.http://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Leptailurus_serval.
  6. Fixler, Hayley. “African Serval Attacks Toddler at Birthday Party.” ABC 57 News. Oct. 29, 2018.https://www.abc57.com/news/african-serval-attacks-toddler-at-birthday-party.
  7. Saulny, Susan. “What’s Up, puss*cat? Whoa!”TheNew York Times. May 12, 2005.https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/12/fashion/whats-up-puss*cat-whoa.html.
  8. Fraser, Andrew F.Feline Behaviour and Welfare. CABI. 2012.
  9. Canniff, Tessa. “Leptailurus serval.” Animal Diversity Web. 2011.https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Leptailurus_serval/.
  10. Grzimek, Bernhard.Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. 1990.
  11. Pena, Melvin. “How Long Do Cats Live? Facts About the Average Cat Lifespan.” Catster. July 3, 2018.https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/how-long-do-cats-live-cat-health-facts.
Considering a Serval Cat? Know the Risks of Having One. - Petful (2024)

FAQs

What are the dangers of owning a serval cat? ›

Wild Instincts: Servals are wild animals with strong predatory instincts. Even when born in captivity, they retain their natural behaviors. This means they may exhibit hunting and territorial instincts that can pose dangers to humans and other pets.

Has a serval cat ever attacked a human? ›

Copper, a four-year-old serval used by the zoo as an 'educational' animal in “thousands of interactions with people of all ages”, attacked a young boy leaving him with scratches to his head. Watch the shocking video by clicking here.

Do servals bond with humans? ›

"Although serval cats can bond deeply with their owners if they are bottle-fed by them from birth, they are unlikely to enjoy being in a large group," he shares. "They might get aggressive or bite if they feel threatened."

Can you have a serval with a domestic cat? ›

The Savannah is a breed of hybrid cat developed in the late 20th century from crossing a serval (Leptailurus serval) with a domestic cat (Felis catus). This hybridization typically produces large and lean offspring, with the serval's characteristic large ears and markedly brown-spotted coats.

Is a serval a good house cat? ›

Serval cats are wild animals. Native to many parts of Africa, serval cats roam savannahs and wetlands hunting for prey. They have a poor quality of life when kept as pets. These wild cats are not much bigger than a medium-size dog, but they still retain their wild instincts and are cunning escape artists.

Is Serval cat aggressive? ›

Servals are not known to be aggressive towards people. But they are wild animals with specific needs and behaviors that make them unsuitable as household pets. They have strong hunting instincts, are highly territorial, and engage in behaviors like scent marking.

Are serval cats cuddly? ›

They interact with fellow Servals only when mating or when females are raising their kittens. But if kept as pets, they may form bonds with humans and be affectionate if handled appropriately from a young age. However, they are not likely to display the same level of comfort with strangers.

What is the lifespan of a serval cat? ›

Servals generally live 10 to 12 years in the wild and can live up to 20 years or more in captivity. Servals are between 23 ¼ and 39 inches long. They are between 9 ½ and 18 inches tall and generally weigh between 20 and 40 pounds. Males are typically larger than females.

Are serval cats intelligent? ›

5 Servals are highly intelligent cats who appreciate games or puzzles that make meals, and their daily routines, more rewarding. A formulated pelleted diet is an acceptable addition to a serval's diet but should not make up the bulk of any meal.

Do servals hiss when happy? ›

Because servals tend to hiss for more reasons than housecats do, they get very easily misinterpreted - the most important thing to keep in mind is that servals do not hiss for positive reasons, so it's vital to pay attention to the surrounding body language and context!

What do servals do all day? ›

Servals are usually crepuscular or nocturnal hunters near humans, but may also hunt in the day during the wet season or if feeding a litter. In the heat of the day, they often rest in abandoned aardvark burrows or under a shady bush. They are excellent climbers, and take to the trees in emergencies.

Do servals have cubs or kittens? ›

The female serval raises her kittens alone, usually three kittens to a litter. They live in a den made of tall, thick grass or perhaps an abandoned burrow. The mother leaves her kittens most of the day while she hunts for food, returning to stay with them at night.

What does the F mean in Savannah cats? ›

“F” stands for the Savannah cat's “filial” rating—specifically, how many generations removed from the African serval that particular cat is. In the case of an F1 Savannah cat, the highest number, you're looking at a first generation domestic Savannah. The F1 Savannah cat is considered 50% wild.

What states are serval cats illegal? ›

States Where Serval Cats Are Illegal:
StateServal Legality
DelawareNot legal
District of ColumbiaNot legal
GeorgiaNot legal
HawaiiNot legal
20 more rows

Will a serval use a litter box? ›

But you must show your kitten where the litter box is in order for him/her to release himself. A Serval will use a litter box to urinate and defecate if they are taught to do so. They do not naturally cover up like domestic cats do.

Are servals high maintenance? ›

Servals are wild animals and potential owners should act with that in mind. They are large, active, and independent felines that require a diet of whole animals, preferably alive. They also must live outside in a large enclosure and require a veterinarian with expertise in exotic animals.

What is the success rate of a serval cat? ›

Servals are very successful predators, with a 50% success rate, compared to other cats which average only about a 10% success rate. Their prey consists of rodents, squirrels, frogs, snakes and small birds. Despite the fact that they often hunt by day, servals are elusive cats.

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