Serval Cats as Pets – What You Need to Know

Pet Serval

Photo by Sonja Pauen on Flickr

The Serval is a truly beautiful medium-sized cat native to the grasslands and savannah of Africa, particularly south of the Sahara. It has the longest legs of any cat (relative to its body size) and can weigh 40 pounds or more. ‘Medium-sized cat’ means much bigger than a house cat – remember lions and tigers are cats too!

Servals have been associated with humans since the Ancient Egyptians worshipped them for their grace, power and beauty. Nowadays they’ve had a resurgence in popularity as exotic pets, fueled in part by YouTube videos showing pet Servals running around and generally being awesome. After all, who wouldn’t want a tame exotic cat to play with?!

The problem is that despite being domesticated for several generations, Servals are still wild animals at heart. They require huge areas of land to hunt and explore – a single Serval territory in the wild would be a few square miles. These grounds should include pools for swimming and plenty of trees for climbing, as well as open grasslands. The enclosure also needs to be very secure, as Servals can jump extremely high, climb even higher and burrow underground as well.

Pet ServalServals have very specific dietary requirements that are hard to meet in captivity – cat food from the pet store certainly isn’t going to be enough. Few Servals will ever fully adapt to using a litterbox, and they all mark their territory with urine. Their territory will include everything in your house, including you and your family. Seriously, these cats will piss over you and everything you own.

Not that your possessions are likely to last long with a Serval around. Like your average tabby cat, Servals are playful animals. But they’re also impressively strong, happy to chew or eat pretty much anything, and they tend to play rough with teeth bared and claws out. They might not be instinctively destructive, but it’s an inevitable consequence when a large exotic cat is let loose indoors.


Photo by Chris Parker on Flickr

The truth is that very few people will be able to give a Serval the care it truly needs. Most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to keep a Serval anyway – the cat itself might cost up to $2000, and a big enough house and secured land area will cost more than most of us will ever earn. There’s a reason that most captive Servals are kept in zoos or large cat rescues that have taken in the animals that naive owners couldn’t handle.

If you’re still not convinced that you should rethink buying a Serval, then you should bear in mind that owning them is illegal in most states. Where they are still legal, you’ll need a special permit, and there’s no guarantee that the legal situation won’t change in the near future.

Savannah Cat (Serval-domestic hybrid)

Savannah Cat

A much better alternative to a pet Serval is a savannah cat. These are Serval-domestic cat hybrids of varying purity that have inherited a Serval’s incredibly good looks and long legs, just scaled down to a more manageable size. Savannah cats are also easier to train and have inherited many other desirable qualities from their domestic ancestors.

Basically, don’t get a Serval. If you need an exotic cat fix, you’d be much better off volunteering at a zoo or rescue center rather than giving another beautiful animal a substandard life. If a normal domestic cat isn’t enough for you at home, then think about getting a Savannah cat instead. That way you get the best of both worlds.