Usually, it’s the big ears that first grab your attention. They make you stop mid-scroll when you come across a photo of a young exotic cat, covered in spots, with giant ears perched above their cute face. What is this adorable creature, you might think, and can I keep one as a pet?
Those ears and that face belong to a serval cat, a wild feline species native to Africa. Thanks to the worldwide obsession with finding newer and more exotic animals to keep as pets, many servals are bred and sold in the pet trade. But do serval cats make good pets? No matter how domesticated they may become, a serval cat will always be a wild animal at heart and does not make a good pet.
We do not endorse keeping serval cats as pets for several reasons which will be covered in this article.
Serval Cats: An Introduction
Servals are medium-sized wild cats found throughout most of the continent of Africa. Their long legs make them fast, athletic, and the best hunters of all wild cat species. Serval cats are far-ranging, solitary animals. They eat a wide variety of different prey including rodents, birds, and fish.
Serval cats can grow as big as 40 pounds and live as long as 20 years. They are not endangered in the wild and a robust captive-breeding population exists.
Why Serval Cats Don’t Make Good Pets
The reasons serval cats don’t make good pets boil down to one basic concept: they are wild animals. Domesticated cats have had thousands of years to adapt their behaviors to living with humans while serval cats have not.
Serval cats can be domesticated to a certain point, especially when raised with people since kittenhood, but they’ll always keep their wild instincts. Those wild instincts are what make keeping a pet serval cat complicated and often risky.
Serval Cats Are Escape Artists
Properly and safely housing a serval cat is a monumental task. They are used to roaming free on the plains of Africa and are powerful, athletic animals, able to jump high and dig deep. Pet serval cats need a roomy outdoor habitat, fully enclosed with a sturdy fence, including the top, with several feet of buried fence to prevent any tunnels to freedom.
The enclosure needs a water source and plenty of trees, grasses, and other habitat enrichers. Serval cats don’t tolerate cold temperatures and need a warm environment all year round.
Serval cats are most active at night, and keeping a serval cat in an inadequate enclosure may result in a nocturnal escape with dangerous consequences. Escaped serval cats pose a danger to domestic pets and are themselves in jeopardy of being hit by cars or shot and killed.
Serval Cats Are Bad House Guests
No problem, you might think, I’ll just let my serval cat live in the house and not have to worry about them escaping. Well, not so fast. Serval cats aren’t easy to keep inside either.
Full-grown serval cats might be as big as 40 pounds. And that’s not 40 pounds of a couch potato either. These cats are fast, active, athletic, and can be incredibly destructive in a home environment. Serval cats are playful rather than intentionally destructive, but they play hard and your house and belongings will pay the price.
If you try to keep a serval cat in your house, you’ll need to be diligent about keeping their environment safe. Curious serval cats often injure themselves by swallowing household items or shredding electrical cords.
Even if you make everything in your house safe, there’s one other glaring issue to overcome when trying to keep a serval cat indoors, and that’s litter training.
Serval Cats Can’t Be Reliably Litter Trained
The instinct of a wild serval cat is to mark its territory. No matter how hard you work to litter train a pet serval, their wild instincts will win out in the end. Yes, they may use the litter box, but that won’t stop them from urinating in other places as well.
Serval cats mark not only their territory but anything they want to claim possession of, including their owners! One of the number one reasons people wind up getting rid of their pet serval cats is because they urinate on everything, which is understandably not a desirable quality in a house pet.
Serval Cats Can Be Dangerous
While a serval cat can bond with a human, they generally will only be one-person animals. They are capable of being affectionate and aren’t usually aggressive towards humans but keeping one as a pet is still risky.
As we already mentioned, serval cats play hard and rough. Even if they’re just biting or scratching as a play behavior, serval cats can do painful damage to their human playmate.
Serval cats should never be kept with other pets or with kids. These cats are the most skilled hunters of any wild cat species. Those hunting instincts never go away even in a serval raised with humans. Small animals and small people look and act too much like prey to ever be safe with a serval cat in the house.
Other Complications to Keeping a Pet Serval Cat
As wild animals, serval cats can’t be legally kept as pets in every area, in fact, only in one-third of states in the US is it legal to house one of these animals. Different states and cities have different rules, and even if you can legally keep one, you may need a permit. Getting a permit can be expensive and complicated and often requires you to allow an inspection of your serval cat’s enclosure to ensure it’s secure.
Keeping a serval cat healthy can also be complicated. Trying to mimic their wild diet is tough because it’s so variable, and many pet serval cats are malnourished because of this. In addition, finding a veterinarian knowledgeable in caring for serval cats may be difficult.
Serval cats have longer lifespans than your average dog or cat. Twenty years is a long time to commit to any pet, especially one who might make a habit of urinating on you! And if you find you can’t keep your pet serval cat anymore, you can’t exactly drop them off at your local animal shelter. You’ll likely need to search out a dedicated big cat rescue or sanctuary.
Wild animals belong in the wild, not in your backyard or living room. If you’re tempted by that cute picture of a baby serval cat, remember that all babies grow up, and grown-up serval cats don’t make good pets. Thousands of homeless domestic cats need forever families in shelters and rescues throughout the world. Instead of a serval cat, consider bringing one of these cats into your home and leaving the servals to the wild and your social media feed!
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay
Elizabeth Gray is a lifelong lover of all creatures great and small. She got her first cat at 5 years old and at 14, she started working for her local veterinarian. Elizabeth spent more than 20 years working as a veterinary nurse before stepping away to become a stay-at-home parent to her daughter. Now, she is excited to share her hard-earned knowledge (literally–she has scars) with our readers. Elizabeth lives in Iowa with her family, including her two fur kids, Linnard, a husky mix and Algernon, the worldʻs most patient cat. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching all sports but especially soccer, and spending time outdoors with her family.