African servals, exotic cats as pets

Serval Behavior and Temperament
Serval Interactions with Other Pets
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Fundamentally, servals behave like any other cat; they can just get a lot bigger. Many servals interact very well with domestic cats.

Felines by nature have individual reactions to being asked to live with another cat, domestic or not.

The bottom line is that while it's not unrealistic to hope that your serval and your domestic cats will get along, it is very possible that at some point you will have to start keeping them seperate.

What about dogs? Well, it depends on the dog!

It will eventually come down to the individual personality and behavior of each individual dog and serval. Once again, be prepared to have to keep them seperate if either animal's safety dictates it, or don't get a serval.

Thanks to Grace Lush of Bundas Cattery for providing the wonderful photos featured on this page.

"How to Make a Savannah." Grace Lush's Savannah breeding program is looking promising.....

One of the most common questions potental serval owners have is "will a serval get along with my domestic cat or dog"? Like most things, the answer is not simple or absolute.

Fundamentally, servals behave like any other cat; they can just get a lot bigger. Many servals interact very well with domestic cats; in fact, servals and domestics are sometimes bred in order to create a hybrid called a Savannah. As far as simply getting along is concerned, a serval is just as likely to live in peace with a domestic cat as another domestic cat would be, especially when the serval is introduced to the resident domestic cat as a small kitten. A young serval is smaller and lighter than full-grown domestic cats, and may learn respect before he outgrows them!

What happens next depends on the serval. Some servals learn that their domestic pals are fragile and adjust their play accordingly. Others continue to get along with the domestics, but fail to moderate their playful attacks to account for their newfound size and strength. Some will back down when “told off” by an angry domestic; others could care less. Domestic cat owners might wish to consider getting a female serval, for they tend to be smaller than the males.

The biggest additional hurdle you face with servals is the size difference. It is quite possible that as your serval grows, he will continue to play roughly with your domestic cat without regard for the fact that the domestic is smaller and more fragile. This can lead to discontent and injuries; even in play a serval three times the size of your domestic cat can cause some pretty severe damage.

As your serval kitten gets larger, you may wish to provide a “retreat” where your domestic cats can escape any unwanted or painful advances. This could be as simple as a bed to hide under, or an escape door from the serval’s living area that only a domestic can slip through. You could also build a box with a small opening for your domestic to enter. If the serval grows dangerously rough or aggressive towards your domestic cats, they may need to be permanently separated, living in different rooms of your house.

I must also make mention of the fact that sometimes felines simply don’t get along. The resident domestic cat may not accept this spotted intruder, or the serval may declare war on the domestic when he reaches maturity. Felines by nature have individual reactions to being asked to live with another cat, domestic or not. One cannot predict the behavior of a living creature with any measure of certainty. You can, however, stack the odds in your favor through careful introductions, good management, and knowing the personality of your pets. The odds of success go up if you raise two young cats together, and if your current cat is used to living with other cats.

"Hugs and Kisses." Grace Lush's serval and domestic cat pair demonstrate inter-species harmony.

Sirocco was raised with Kittyhawk, a small domestic cat who was a little under a year old when I got Sirocco. She was full grown but still very playful. She and Sirocco got along very well, sleeping and playing together. As Sirocco grew larger, she would hiss and swat at him if he bit too hard and he would respect her and back off. Also in the household was Little Guy, my mother's 10-year-old domestic cat. He and Sirocco got along well enough, but Sirocco always wanted to play and he didn't, so he would hiss and get Sirocco to back off.

Unfortunately, as Sirocco got larger, he still wanted to play but was no longer as intimidated by the domestic cat's warnings to back off. It wasn't at all malicious, but I began to see that my domestic cats were feeling bullied and I worried that they might be injured, so I keep them seperated now. They still like each other, and sometimes we'll put the domesic cats inside the peremeter fence surrounding Siroccos's outdoor enclosure so they can hang out together with a protective fence between the two species. They enjoy this arrangement and it's safe for our domestic cats.

I have been warned against introducing an adult serval to a young domestic kitten or small puppy, lest the serval mistake the small animal for prey and kill it. Even if your serval didn't have a predatory reaction, a playful 40-pound pounce could be very harmful to a small kitten.

The bottom line is that while it's not unrealistic to hope that your serval and your domestic cats will get along, it is very possible that at some point you will have to start keeping them seperate. It you cannot house both your serval and your domestic animals seperately and humanely, then you probably shouldn't risk getting a serval. You can decrease the chances of problems due to the size difference by getting a female serval, since they tend to stay quite a bit smaller than the males.

A young serval and caracal play with a Chinese Crested dog. Photo courtesy of breeder Grace Lush.

What about dogs? Well, it depends on the dog! If you have a patient, gentle, decent-sized dog that doesn't chase cats, you're on the right track. I think most servals will adapt to any animal they are raised with, but the same size considerations apply. If you have a very small dog, your serval could eventually become a danger if he wants to play too rough.

On the other hand, if you have a larger dog, you're going to have to look at how he's going to feel about being pounced upon, bitten, and chased by a very large spotted cat! While the idea of a cat big enough to hold his own against a large dog is entertaining to many people, the reality is that while large, servals are actually quite fragile animals. A chomp from a decent-sized dog who's finally had enough pestering could easily snap your serval's neck or back.

It will eventually come down to the individual personality and behavior of each individual dog and serval. Once again, be prepared to have to keep them seperate if either animal's safety dictates it, or don't get a serval. Getting rid of the serval if your animals don't get along is NOT an ethical option.

I raised Sirocco in a household with my German Shepherd, Birch, and my mother's Rottweiler, Ranger. Both can be aggressive, but are used to living with cats. Birch is tougher and more tolerant, while Ranger is a bit of a whimp and tends to snap if threatened.

Sirocco was afraid of the other cats and the dogs when he was first introduced to them, hissing and swatting them with his paws. I followed a very slow introduction program. Sirocco and Birch were not allowed unrestricted contact with each other until Sirocco had lived with me for a month, although they had the opportunity to get to know each other on opposite sites of crate doors etc.

Serval and caracal kittens being raised a Chinese Crested dog along with her own puppies. Photo courtesy of breeder Grace Lush.

After the initial introduction period Sirocco and Birch got along just fine, with Birch allowing that pesky serval to tug on his tail and whomp him playfully across the muzzle.

We keep Sirocco and Ranger seperate because Ranger snapped at him once, and the smart little guy decided to reciprocate by hissing and slapping Ranger around whenever he got near. Ranger decided war had been declared and shows a marked tendancy to snap at Sirocco, so they are never allowed contact with each other.

The serval is a highly effective hunter. Expecting this to change when they are kept as pets would not be realistic. Servals will hunt and kill birds, rodents, reptiles, ferrets, and any other little critters they encounter in your house.

My mother has an African Grey parrot. The parrot and the serval are never allowed access of any sort to each other. Even when the parrot is in his cage, he needs to be locked in a room not accessible to the serval. Sirocco has a strong predatory reaction to the bird, stalking even the empty cage if given the opportunity.

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© Jessi Clark-White, 2004
Serval Interactions with Other Pets