Savannahs are not quite domestic cats. They are tall, with a slender body, a triangular head, large alert ears and a spotted coat. Some will walk on a leash with their owner, and some can leap atop tall china cabinets with a single bound. They are hybrids of domestic cats and African servals, with traits both domestic and wild.
Most Savannah cats are tall, long-legged and long-necked compared to domestic felines. They may weigh from 7 to 30 pounds. Their height and weight range is wide because of their unpredictable genetics. Their ancestry includes the swift, intelligent African serval, a graceful nocturnal hunter.
The Savannah coat must be a spotted tabby pattern to meet the breed standard, but many Savannahs have lovely non-standard coats. The International Cat Association acceptable tabby patterns are brown-spotted tabby, silver-spotted tabby, black and black smoke. Each has dark spots on a lighter base of brown, tan, gold, silver or silver tipped with black.
The original Savannah was an F1 hybrid between a Siamese and a serval. All offspring between a pure serval and a domestic cat are called F1 hybrids. An F1 hybrid is difficult to produce, because servals and domestic cats have different gestation periods and male servals often refuse to mate with female cats.
When they are successfully bred, F1 cats are large and exotic-looking, with the males larger than the females. F1 males are sterile as a rule, but F1 females are fertile.
F1 females are usually bred to males produced in later generations of other lines of Savannahs. Breeders aim to produce tall friendly cats that show the best traits of their heritage.
Some breeders include Bengal cats in their breeding program, to promote a more exotic coat. Bengals are hybrids too, however, with a background that includes the Asian leopard cat. This complicates the genetics of the breed.
Savannahs are favored for more than their good looks. Some act like friendly dogs. They can learn to walk at heel, fetch and shake. A number of them are protective of their human family.
Savannahs also like to leap to high places and excel at opening doors and escaping confined spaces. Some love to play in water. They are active and curious. Many get along well with dogs and other cats, but some can be territorial.
Massachusetts, Hawaii, Alaska, Iowa, New York and Georgia have restrictive laws about Savannah ownership. In Alaska, for example, laws prohibit hybrids of domestic animals and animals not native to Alaska. Savannahs that are more than five generations from pure serval can be owned in New York State, but not in New York City. In Massachusetts, ownership of canine and feline hybrids is usually restricted to educational or research institutions.
For a pet, a Savannah that is five generations or more away from a pure serval is a good choice. Such a cat is probably more suited to domestic life than one from an earlier generation, and more likely to be legal in jurisdictions where Savannah cats are considered wildlife.
These are social cats that demand an owner's attention in the most endearing way. Their exotic appearance is a bonus. People who want an active and intelligent pet with just a touch of the wild might enjoy a Savannah.