A license is needed to own exotic pets here in the UK. However, there are some breeds of exotic cats which are perfectly legal without the need for one.
A Savannah cat is one example. A cross between a domestic cat and a Serval (an African wildcat), they are the largest domesticated breed by quite a high margin. They weigh on average between 12 to 25 pounds and are around 33-38cm in length.
Their size does tend to depend on which generation they are, however. First-generation males are the largest, with the cats getting smaller further down the lineage.
If you remember stories about wildcats being spotted in gardens in the years gone by, they’ve always turned out to be domestic Savannah cats. Many people don’t realise they are kept as pets in the UK. However, things could be about to change with potential restrictions and bans put in place thanks to their booming popularity.
Savannah cat information
- Savannah cats are said to be playful, adventurous and active, so not all households are suitable as they can’t be left alone and they need space
- They require lots of interaction from humans
- Because of their wild instincts, they aren’t recommended for homes with young children or other pets unless they have been socialised as kittens
- They have very high-energy personalities, so unfamiliar owners commonly give them up for adoption after a few years
- Savannah cats love water and can be trained to walk on a lead and harness
- Because of their activity levels and behaviour outdoors, they may need bathing regularly
- They can live for 12-20 years, which is similar to a domesticated cat, but their size can mean they are a larger commitment than a smaller domesticated cat
- They’re a low-shed breed
- Savannah’s can climb and jump up to 8ft, so it is vital outdoor areas are very secure if they can’t be allowed outside to roam
- There have been reports of first and second-generation Savannah’s being unfriendly due to their wild instincts, but they are said to calm the further down the lineage they go
- Their small gene pool currently means genetic health conditions are rare in the UK
- But they are still prone to the same illnesses as other cats, especially hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Because Servals are natural hunters and runners, their back legs are longer than their front
- Ask their breeder what they should be fed. Unlike domestic cats, they won’t be evolved enough to eat ordinary pet cat food. High protein, low grain natural wild diets could be key to a long, healthy life
Because they are much more complicated to look after than an ordinary domesticated cat, some recommend that they are more suited to experienced cat owners. But in return, they give years of companionship, intelligence and love.
Are Savannah cats legal to own in the UK?
Savannah cats have been recognised as a breed since 2001. They are legal to own in the UK, depending on the generation of the cat.
Generations are classed between F1 and F5. F1 is a 50/50 split of African Serval and a domestic cat, so they have a wildcat as a parent. It is illegal to own an F1 Savannah cat in the UK without a Dangerous Wild Animal Licence. Most regular cat owners in the UK won’t be able to get one of these.
Cats further down the generations – F2, F3, F4 and F5 – are legal to own in the UK without a license. This is because the cat has been further removed from its wild ancestor.
Savannah cat registration codes
The F stands for “filial” which means “denoting the generation or generations after the parental generation.”
- F1: has a Serval parent
- F2: has a Serval grandparent
- F3: has a Serval great grandparent
- F4: has a Serval great-great-grandparent
- F5: has a Serval great-great-great grandparent
As well as their F code, Savannah cats are also classed based on their status codes. More information can be found here.
What is an SBT Savannah cat?
SBT stands for Stud Book Traditional. Commonly, Savannahs F1 through F5 are diluted with the blood of domestic house cats. An SBT Savannah on the other hand has guaranteed Savannahs as parents for at least 3 generations, with no domesticated cat genes in this time.
Could the UK ban Savannah cats?
The government are planning to review the Animal Welfare Regulations 2018 and could introduce a ban on breeding hybrid cats in the UK.
Social media has seen the popularity of the Savannah cat boom over the past few years, causing concern for the welfare of both the animal and the owner.
Campaigners argue that any cat which is part wildcat should not be domesticated, due to the complicated care they require. Demand also sees potential illegal activity from breeders seeking African Servals in the wild to breed from, given pure Servals and F1 Savannah’s aren’t legal to keep in the UK without a license.
According to research, there are just under 300 Savannah cats in the UK. These are used for breeding and producing hybrids, which could mean there’s a relatively small gene pool.
A small gene pool can be good as it means there’s no known genetic conditions or health issues amongst the established population, and breeders can scan for underlying conditions which should prevent an individual from breeding.
However, small gene pools can also lead to a reduction in genetic diversity, environmental adaptation and reproductive fitness, causing breeds to become extinct over time
At the moment, F2, F3 and F4 Savannah’s are commonly bred with either each other (to make an SBT Savannah after three generations) or with domestic house cats.
It is possible to completely eradicate wild lineage from a breed, though. Bengals were created by breeding domestic cats with the Asian leopard cat in the 1960s. The breed is established in the UK, and most Bengals are bred with each other, so there’s no wildcat left in their blood, hence why they are legal and look ordinarily domestic.
In fact, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy ceased registering F1 generation Bengals in 2002 and stopped registering the F3 generation in 2008, seeing them as a common enough breed.
But it would take years for Savannahs to reach the same place in their genetic lineage, particularly with the current focus on SBT Savannahs. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the RSPCA both support a ban on breeding Savannah cats with each other.
How much does a Savannah cat cost?
In the US, an F1 cat can be sold for around $20,000 in states where they are legal. In the UK, kittens can currently be found at prices between £800 and £16,000.
The price depends on their generation. Those at the higher end of the scale will likely be F2 breeds. Females also cost more than males.
A responsible breeder will be able to give any buyers a detailed generational lineage guide.