Guide to Serval Cats as Pets

Serval, known in Afrikaans as Tierboskat, tiger-forest-cat, is a medium-sized African wild cat. DNA studies have shown that the serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal.
Serval kitten outside on dirt ground. Danita Delimont/Galio Images/Getty Images

The serval cat is not your typical house cat but this hasn't stopped a lot of people from falling in love with these beautiful, wild cats.

Serval Cat History

 

The serval cat is from Africa where tall grass and bushes can hide this tall kitty from it's food. Male servals can weigh up to 40 pounds and stand at almost 2 feet tall at their shoulders. They are known to resemble cheetahs but have shorter tails then their larger cousins.

They typically hunt where they can hide and stay near water.

Serval Cat Behavior

 

These cats are usually shy during the day and more active at night. They use their sight and hearing more than their sense of smell to find their prey. They often play with their food before eating it and can even hear prey underground!

Servals make a variety of noises, or vocalizations. They make a high pitched cry to call other servals, growl, make a spitting noise, purr, and more.

Feeding Serval Cats

 

Servals are highly intelligent cats. When feeding them, a game or puzzle that makes the cat problem-solve will cause the meal to be more rewarding for them (this is called enrichment). In the wild, servals eat whatever is available, which makes providing the most natural diet as pets difficult. We may not necessarily have access to everything Africa has to offer wild servals, but rodents, rabbits, birds, fish, insects, reptiles, and frogs are all readily available to us to provide a varied diet of protein sources.

Whole prey should be offered but don't be alarmed if your serval eats so fast that he regurgitates everything right back up.

A feline supplement, such as Mazuri's Carnivore Supplement for Whole Prey, should be added to the food as well. A formulated pelleted diet is alright for adding to a diet but should not make up the bulk of any meal.

Housing Pet Serval Cats

Having the longest legs of any cat (in proportion to their bodies), servals are agile jumpers as well as experienced diggers. They can catch birds over 9 feet in the air and dig a couple feet into the ground to get under a fence.

Large outdoor enclosures are a must for these highly active (they roam up to 4 miles in the wild a day) and solitary cats. Being nocturnal, they are more active at night and have been known to jump out of fenced areas or dig out under fences. With that being said, an outdoor enclosure needs to be completely fenced in on all sides with a top and the sides should go down a few feet deep into the ground. A simple dog run just won't do.

A pool of water is also important for drinking, swimming, and perhaps even allowing your serval cat to catch his own fish in.

Special serval harnesses are available to assist with walking and for the safety of your serval since they aren't built like other cats.

Caring for a Pet Serval

In a nutshell, servals are not for most people. These are still considered wild cats and risk is always involved when owning a wild animal for the owner and the nearby public - not to mention the cat. If you can't provide the appropriate space, food, time, and money needed to care for these beautiful cats then don't get one.

These are not lap cats like your persian, or even a bengal. They are wild animals - even if they come from a breeder who has been breeding servals for years. It takes a long time to domesticate a species.

You must create a secure, large outdoor enclosure for your African cat, provide a warm environment year-round, feed whole prey food items (this means keeping a large number of dead rodents and other food on hand), provide veterinary care from an experienced exotics vet, understand the risks involved in owning such a cat, and much more. Savannah cats are often the route to go if you like the look of the serval but need a tamer, easier to care for cat. Plus servals are illegal to own in most states. Do your research prior to acquiring a serval cat.