Can You Own A Pet Serval?

Do serval cats make good pets? No, all wild cats should remain wild. You will always find some people who keep a certain species as pets, but you can’t see all the downsides on a picture of Instagram. I’m not going to encourage you in getting one of these magnificent felines. Instead, you will read the truth in this article.

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Pet serval cat cleaning herself

Serval cats are cute and have personality. They are smaller compared to a cheetah but still wild, so you can keep one as a house pet, right? This is what people think when they are on the search for an exotic cat. But nothing could be more wrong.

What Is A Serval?

Serval cats are a middle-sized cat breed that lives in the African savannah. They can weigh up to 40 pounds and stand 21 to 24 inches at the shoulders. Their head-body length is between 26 and 39 inches. [1]

Similar to caracals, which they are closely related to, the large ears are the distinguishing characteristic. The ears in general are more rounded and not so spikey.

The color pattern of the fur is spotted and striped and reminds of a cheetah, ocelot or leopard.

African serval cats hunt a variety of prey. Small mammals, fish and birds are all on the menu. They have the longest legs of all cat breeds (compared to their body size) and can jump very high. Even a low-flying bird is not safe from an attack.

The species is also related to bobcats and lynx which live in Europe and North America.

Is It Legal To Keep A Serval Cat As A Pet?

Serval cats are not banned in most parts of Canada. That being said, nearly all states of the USA regulated the ownership of these cats in one way or another. Most will ask for a permit which can be hard to get, others prohibit serval cats completely.

It’s difficult to get an overview as counties and cities can also have their own laws regarding exotic pets. No matter what the internet says, you should ask a person at your local department of wildlife before you adopt a pet serval.

Permits are often pricy and you have to comply with statuary requirements. Often these include that you have to show experience and knowledge with and about the species you want to own. It doesn’t matter if you plan to get a lion or a serval here.

Often someone will visit your home too. You have to show, that you have everything it takes to take proper care. It will also be looked at safety aspects to protect neighbors, visitors and yourself.

In the following states, you are maybe allowed to keep a pet serval if you have a license:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida,
  • Indiana
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • South Dakota

States that ban the ownership of any exotic cats at all are:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico,
  • New Hampshire,
  • Vermont
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia

At Big Cat Rescue you can inform yourself about the different states and their laws. 

Serval Cats Aren’t Domesticated

Aggressive serval cat

Serval cats aren’t domesticated. That’s for sure. You might wonder why there’s a stable population of captive-bred servals then. In contrast to other exotic cat species, people who want to own a pet serval, don’t rely on kittens taken from the wild.

But only because animals are bred by humans, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are domesticated. Domestication is a long process that needs many, many generations to take place.

During this process, animals lose their wild instincts, at least to a certain degree. These species are accustomed to living together with humans and rely on them. Dogs for example which are domesticated for over 10,000 years would have a hard time living in nature without human support.

Non-domesticated animals like the serval cats are difficult to keep as pets and come with many challenges. Even though they can be tamed and bond to humans, they are unpredictable. Instincts can kick in and the reason mustn’t be obvious for the owner.

You can’t raise a wild animal like a house pet and there are many things the animal will never learn.

Serval Cats Can’t Be House-Trained

Serval cats can’t be house or litter-trained. As a pet owner, you would have a hard time cleaning after your cat pet.

You can try as hard as you want, it’s in a servals’ blood to mark its territory and belongings with urine. Spraying becomes a topic for nearly everyone who keeps wild animals as pets. According to various sanctuaries, it’s the most common reason for abandoning an exotic pet.

Additionally, the behavior of the animal might change if you don’t take proper care. Destructive behavior might occur towards your furniture and other belongings. 

Serval Cats Need A Solid Prove Enclosure

The question of how you should house your pet serval cat isn’t easy to answer. They definitely escape artists. But if you think you could keep them indoors all day, that isn’t the solution to the problem.

Serval cats need ample space and room to roam. They just can’t go without an outside enclosure. You would need high fences that prevent them from jumping outside their habitat as well as a deep grounding so that they can’t dig themselves free.

Opportunities for climbing and a pond are also necessary. You see, housing a pet serval is a pricy endeavor.

An escaped several cat is a threat to local wildlife as well as for pets in the neighborhood. But it’s also possible that someone shoots your pet. Another risk is starving, as house serval hadn’t the possibility to learn how to hunt.

Serval Cats Need A Varied Diet

Hunting full-grown serval cat

In the wild African servals hunt anything from rodents over fish to birds. Malnourishment is a common problem in captivity and you would need to feed your pet serval according to its dietary needs.

Common cat food can be a good basis but you need to add variety. Most important is to ensure a high level of protein that supports their metabolism.

Live feeding isn’t necessary (although it’s good for enrichment) but you should serve whole prey from time to time. A serval cat eats between two and four pounds of food each day. Depending on the type of food you chose that amount can cost quite a lot of money.

You Need A Vet Who Treats Servals

Yes, every pet owner hopes his friend is healthy all the time. Additionally, serval cats aren’t prone to any health issues.

However, you really need to find a vet nonetheless. Regular checkups have to take place and some vaccines are obligatory.

The problem is, that not every veterinarian is willing to treat wild cats. Depending on where you live you could have a hard time finding someone.

Serval Cats Can Be Dangerous

Dangerous serval cat

Yes, serval cats aren’t the biggest species among the big cats. Tigers or panthers are definitely more dangerous. But that doesn’t mean that a potentially dangerous situation can’t occur.

You already know that servals follow their wild instincts which makes them unpredictable. While adults might be able to deal with them, children still have to learn how to interact with animals.

When a child wants to pet a serval and corners the animal you never know what happens. An attack isn’t impossible and it’s the last thing you want.

Pet Serval Cat Prices Are High

You won’t have problems finding a serval cat that is for sale. However, if you really plan to buy one you need deep pockets. The prices of pet serval cats are not for those with a budget.

The amount you would have to pay for a single cat can range from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the personality and age of the serval kitten. And after your purchase, the real costs are only about to start.

You would need the kind of enclosure I described above. You can easily spend the same amount on that. Food and veterinary care will each add up to several thousand dollars a year too. 

Alternative: Savannah Cat

For those who still have a strong desire to own a pet serval cat, there is an alternative. Savannah cats are hybrids between servals and domesticated house cats.

They look similar, have a great character but don’t come with all the disadvantages. This breed still costs a lot of money but you won’t have that much trouble cleaning up the mess after your pet.