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Serval Info
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Information and Care of the Afrikhan Serval

General

The African Serval is a wonderful member of the cat family that can sometimes make an affectionate pet.  As the owner of a serval that the cat will always be a "wild animal."  That does not mean they will be aggressive or vicious, but it means that they have certain characteristics that they have ingrained that help them survive in the wild. When the ancestors of today's domestic cats were first tamed and began to live around humans they did not have the same personality you see in domestic cats today.  The first domestic cats were shy of humans, but realized that mice and rats lived near humans because humans stored food; so, living near there as well gave cats the stead supply of mice and rats to thrive on.  Humans  wanted the cats around to keep their food from being eaten by rodents.  The cats that were the least afraid of humans and the friendliest were the ones that were kept in the homes and food storage areas. The cats no longer had to be "smart" to survive.  Domestic cats are a branch of the cat family that evolved without having to be particularly intelligent because they were protected by humans.  In the wild, cats had to be smart to survive.  By natural selection, the cats which were the smartest were the ones who lived to reproduce and each generation became smarter.  This is why the serval and other wild cats are very smart and do things that most people would never believe that they have the intelligence for.  One of the characteristics that the serval will show is that it knows to run from danger.  When you run after or chase a serval they will think that you are trying to hurt them.  That is the reason reputable breeders will not place a serval or F1 Savannah with a family who has small children; because they do follow or run after a cat because they want to hold or touch it.  Even in an emergency you will probably have better success trying to get the serval to come to you instead of trying to capture him.  As the serval gets older they may become shy of strangers.  When you have visitors over, the serval may hide and it is important to give him access to a place at all times for him to hide and feel safe.  Never allow strangers to the serval to follow him or try to go after him even slowly or he will become afraid of all visitors.  Be sure that any children around a serval know not to pull on the tails or paws of the serval.  Such behavior may make a serval permanently afraid of children; the serval is very smart and they can tell a child's voice from an adult voice and will run and hide when they hear a child.  Around age five and up, children may be capable of behaving properly with a serval.  I recommend that you have a room or large pen that you can dedicate to the serval.  You will need to make the area 'serval-proof,.  Meaning free from dangers to the cat such as electrical wires, chemicals, items that he might catch a leg or even sprain of break it, open electrical outlets, indigestible materials etc.  This room will serve as a place for you to put the serval when you are away or at times you do not want the serval roaming the house.  This, too, is where you should feed and water him.  The enclosure can be outdoors or an indoor-outdoor combination as long as there is adequate protection from the elements.  The thing to remember is that when treated properly, they will bond to the people that take care of them like no other animal that you have ever seen.   They think that you are their pet and will treat you like no other cat does.  Due to this a commitment must be made from the owner and their family that a serval will never be re-homed.  It is next to impossible for a serval to transfer the bond from their original family to another individual or family.  Too many servals are pawned off to someone else when it 'doesn't work out.'  When in actuality it is the person(s) who own him responsibility to make it a happy and welcome home for the lifetime of the cat.

Bonding

When you are trying to become friends with your serval, one of the best things to do it feed him directly from your hand.  He will learn you are giving them something good when you are reaching for him. Another way to lay down on the floor with the cat and their favorite toy and play with them so that you are not towering over them like you would be if they were standing up.  When you are level with they eye to eye, they are more at ease and they will soon become comfortable with you no matter if you are standing, sitting or laying down.  The thing to remember is that you must be patient and calm.  It will take a while for them to bond with you.

Feeding

Feeding the serval is very important.  Servals need more nutrients than a domestic cat. They may want to eat regular cat food however, they will not develop properly of that is their regular diet.  A sound raw diet such with nutrients as they would eat in the wild is the absolute best.  Another choice would be Zupreem canned and Mazuri dry food.  Never feed raw meat without bones.  Most meats contain a high level of phosphorous and if not consumed with the proper level of calcium, it will cause small, brittle bones and other problems.  It is best to let the serval eat as much as they want and not leave his food out for more than a couple of hours.  Be sure to have plenty of clean water for them to drink.  The love playing in water so be sure to keep toilet lids closed and doubly make sure if you use a chemical that dispenses with every flush; that could make a serval very ill.  Don’t be surprised if your serval volunteers to take a bath or shower with you.

Litter Training

A serval will learn to use a litter box if they are taught to do so starting very young.  They do not, however, cover it like a domestic cat would.  In the wild, they would use one or two spots in their territory and stick to those spots.  The serval will use the litter box as their 'spot,' if they know it is their spot.  They may occasionally urinate or defecate elsewhere.  If this happens you must clean the spot thoroughly with an enzyme based cleaner to to remove all trace of the smell.  If you smell it but cannot find the spot, you can use a small black-light in a pitch dark room and the source of the offense will glow.  How cool is that?  If you do see the serval going to the wrong spot you should move it to the litter box.  When grown you will need to provide a much bigger box that a domestic cat by getting a storage container in the housewares department of your favorite store.

Medical

Servals require the same vaccinations that domestic cats do.  Also please do not buy into the myth that you cannot use a Modified Live Vaccine.  We've used it for years and for many servals and it works fine.  Years ago it was believed that a serval needed to be declawed front and back paws.  That is no longer the thought process of many serval owners and breeders.  Begin working with your serval young, make the experience calm and easy and you can clip his claws when needed without bundling, scruffing or a big wrestling match.  If you only get half done and the serval runs off the play or investigate something, let him go and the next time he settles down, clip the rest.  Never try to get determined to 'get all the claws done now,' if that is not what the serval wants.  I just clipped all nineteen claws in one setting when the boy just rested on the bed...no big deal; plus if you have ever witnessed a declaw operation, as I have, you would never declaw a cat.  If you do not have the intention to breed you should have your serval neutered or spayed at six months of age.  Which reminds me to tell you that before the decision is made to purchase a serval you must have in place a vet who has agreed to see the serval and who also has the ability to administer the proper sedation and anesthesia.  Servals cannot have heavy sedation and should never be given Ketamine or a Ketamine cocktail.  The vet should have at his disposal, Dexdomitor or Hydromophone as sedation and Sevoflurine as an anesthesia.  If there is any reason you suspect your serval is ill, please take him to your vet right away.  The serval cannot tell you what is bothering him so best to let the vet diagnose, run blood tests or other tools to help him figure out what is going on.  Diarrhea seen more than two times on a row is something you should consult your vet about right away because the serval can dehydrate very quickly and dehydration is a danger to his health.

Playtime

Servals are very playful and very athletic.  They are capable of jumping on just about anything in your home.  They like perching on tall pieces of furniture and on shelves.  Anything that is on a shelf or piece of furniture is in danger of breaking.  It is very easy for a cat the size of a serval to dislodge something and it ends up shattered on the floor.  Then the serval will jump down to investigate and may cut himself badly.  Put your glass and valuables away if you plan to have a serval in the house.  Mini blinds, blinds and drapery cords are game for destruction and in addition the cords are great hazard to the life of a serval from hanging.  Plenty of toys to play with is part of the solution.  The serval is curious and smart but does have a short attention span.  Electrical cords are always a bit of a danger and if you see the serval take an interest in chewing them there are any number of sprays that can be sprayed on the cord to keep the serval from biting into it and burning himself badly.  You will have to reapply often until the urge or habit is broken.  When the serval is grown the chewing urge is much less if any.  Some cat owners will use a spray bottle to discipline their cat but it is a lost cause with a serval.  The serval will just look up as if to say, "is it raining?"  Some do not even like the word no.  We use two methods here.  The uh-uh replaces the no.  I think this works because in order to utter those two syllables you are using a lower register of your voice and sometimes when using the word 'no' it can actually be shouted and the serval and many Savannahs do not like that.  The other way to discipline is to take yourself, they toys and the attention away.  For instance, if the serval has tried to bite your hand several times and you have uh-uhed him several times, then take the toy and your self away and leave him alone.  Just walk away or leave the room.  This will get though to him.  Toys that are made for a medium to large size dog seem to work better than cats toys.  Servals are natural retrievers and will play fetch quite readily with a toy.

Trips Away From Home

If you wish to be able to take your serval places with you the most important thing to to start young and harness train.  It is a very good idea to put their harness on them and let them wear it for a short period of time, in the house and graduate to longer and longer.  Also, never leave him alone with a harness on; always stay close by or he could get hooked on something and try to jump or free himself and get hurt in the process.  Once the serval is used to the harness, you can start with the leash.  Do not try to coax or pull the serval in any direction.  The best approach is to get one of the long feather wands from Petsmart and dangle that out in front of him quite like you may have seen farmers do with a carrot on a pole out in front of a donkey.  Shake the feathers and get his attention and he will move forward.  Do it again and he will move forward again.  In no time he will get used to moving forward with you on the leash.  Always do this first part of the training inside and never take a serval outside who has not had a chance to learn the harness and leash and to trust you to hold them.  Once this part of the training is complete then and only then is it time for the first foray outside.  ONLY, and this is very important, ONLY go out a few feet away from your house on the first trip.  Your serval can spook due to all the sensory input of the outdoors.  Be careful and always keep a tight grip on that leash.  If he spooks try to pick him up and get him inside so he can calm down and wait for another day to try again.  The fact is that some servals will never walk outside and will never go visiting.  He may be quite comfortable in the comfort of his home with his family.  If a serval ever gets loose it can cause quite a stir in a neighborhood or town.  It's best to try to let all those involved that he is not agressive but not to chase him and just call.  Servals usually get along well with animals they grow up with but care must be taken when introducing a full grown serval to a new and smaller animal so the serval does not see it as a chew toy and hurt it.

A Final Word

When you accept the responsibility of caring for any animal like a serval, you must realize that animal depends on you not just for food, shelter and medical are, but also depends on you for companionship and nurturing.  All animals has their quirks and each one is different, but again this is a 'wild animal' and not like any other pet you have had.  You will be that servals person or family and that bond means you are taking this animal on for the rest of his life...no matter what.  It should be that way with every animal but it is life and death for the serval.  In many instances it is much smarter to own a Savannah and you can have the good looks and intelligence without all the added stress and care you must give a serval. LSL
We are always happy to answer your questions  Email:  savannahlorre@gmail.com