Servals As Pets – Everything You Need To Know

Servals As Pets: Everything You Need To Know

At first glance, the serval cat looks exactly like an ocelot with its beautiful black spots, but it’s a unique and interesting animal that has large ears.

The serval, scientifically known as leptailurus serval, originates from Africa.

Serval Facts Sheet

Scientific name Leptailurus serval
Other names “Deer wolf.” Sometimes they’re also called “giraffe cats” because of their long necks. Since they’re found in Africa, servals are often called “African servals.”
Lifespan Up to 11 years in the wild and 22 years in captivity.
Diet Carnivore. A serval will eat a variety of prey in the wild, such as rodents, frogs, birds, fish, and rabbits.
Size Servals weigh between 15 and 40 pounds, and their body length is almost three feet.
Where are servals from? Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa
Serval legal states You can legally own a serval in 18 U.S. states but in some you will require a license for your pet. The states requiring a license are Mississippi, Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Main, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.
Price range Expect to pay a few thousand dollars for a serval

Can I keep a serval as a pet?

Although they hail from sub-Saharan Africa, servals can be kept by owners all around the world.

They are small in size, not reaching more than 40 pounds in weight, and can live for up to 22 years.

They have beautiful pale gold coats with black spots and stripes, making them a unique pet to own.

To find out more about this interesting exotic pet, let’s take a look at how to take care of your serval.

Although servals have been kept as pets since the ancient Egyptians, it’s important to remember that they can’t be domesticated, so you should always treat them carefully as they are wild.

Taking Care Of Your Serval

Young Girl with Serval

Servals are nocturnal animals that tend to like to be alone, but they can become friendly and even affectionate with their human owners.

They have been known to show affection with people they are comfortable with, such as by purring, rubbing up against them, and even head-butting them, which are also common behaviors of the domestic cat.

However, it’s important to bond with a serval from when it’s a kitten so that it learns to be around humans from a young age.

That’s why purchasing serval kittens is the best idea. Once a serval kitten gets to know its human, it will form a loyal, lifelong bond with him or her.

Introducing your serval kitten to other people and pets in the house from early on can also help your serval to get along with other animals.

That said, it’s never a good idea to keep your serval and small pets, such as sugar gliders, hamsters, or rats in close proximity as these poor creatures can become your serval’s prey!

Speaking of food, let’s look at how to feed your serval.

Serval Food Or Diet

In the wild, servals will adapt to food that they can find and animals they can hunt, and they’ll eat animals such as rabbits, frogs, and rodents.

Of course, you probably won’t be able to give your pet serval food that it would find in Africa, but you can find some good protein-rich meat sources for them, such as rabbits, fish, and rodents.

When feeding your serval, give it whole prey. In addition to meat, you should give your serval a feline supplement.

An example is Mazuri’s Carnivore Supplement for Whole Prey.

This supplement contains all the nutrients your serval needs to be healthy, such as taurine and calcium.

An important type of serval behavior to know about is regurgitation.

When you feed your serval, you might see that it eats really fast and then throws up its food.

This can sometimes happen but the cat might re-eat the food. Just make sure this doesn’t happen too often and that the cat isn’t going hungry.

Another interesting type of serval behavior is playing with food.

Your serval pet is very intelligent and will enjoy participating in games around mealtimes.

For example, you could hide their food in a box that they have to try to open to keep them entertained.

Serval Reproduction

Serval Cats Cuddling

Serval cats can reproduce throughout the year but they tend to reproduce more during spring and summer.

This, interestingly, coincides with the increase of rodent populations – the female serval knows that she will be able to get enough food when pregnant at this time of the year.

Serval cats carry their young for about two and a half months, and give birth to between two and three kittens in a litter, but sometimes the litter can have as many as six kittens in it.

After staying with their mother for one year, the young servals will leave to discover their own territories.

Common Diseases Of Servals

Servals can be afflicted with feline rhinotracheitis, which is known as the herpes virus, and rabies.

They can also get what’s known as calicivirus, which is a highly contagious disease that causes respiratory problems and can lead to death.

They are also prone to the virus panleukopenia that causes problems with the gastrointestinal, nervous, and immune system, and can affect both wild and captive cats.

Captive servals have also shown evidence of auto-immune hemolytic anemia, which is when the body’s cells attack themselves.

It’s thought to be a condition that’s in the genes of the animal and similar to HIV/AIDS in humans.   

Another disease to know about that can affect servals is Tyzzer’s disease, which is caused by Clostridium piliforme bacteria.

Although there are many causes of Tyzzer’s disease, some include dietary imbalances and poor sanitary management.

Sometimes it doesn’t present with obvious symptoms, which is why regular checkups at a veterinarian who’s experienced in taking care of wild cats is important.

How To Take Care Of Servals

If you want to own a pet serval, you have to ensure you give it a suitable home.

Keeping any wild cat indoors is never a good idea, so you need an outdoor enclosure for your serval.

Here are some important tips.

  • Servals need to be in a habitat where there are lots of trees and plants, as well as a water source. Although some cat species hate the water, the serval enjoys playing in water. So, in your enclosure it’s a good idea to have a body of water for your serval, such as a large pond.
  • These cats like to hunt from dusk until dawn, and they don’t like being in the heat of the sun. Ensuring your enclosure has enough shelter for them is important. It will also protect them against wind and rain.
  • They require lots of activity. Ensure that the enclosure is large enough for your serval to remain active. Tree branches or other platforms can encourage them to jump. This is especially important to keep them entertained because playing with your serval is usually not recommended. Servals are strong and use their claws as well as teeth when playing. Their bite force is calculated as being 172 Newtons, while feral domestic cats only have a bite force of 56 Newtons, as reported by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (Biosecurity Queensland).
  • An outdoor enclosure that’s large enough for the serval to roam and play is essential as keeping this pet indoors will be frustrating for it, and like other wild cats it will cause damage to your home. Bear in mind that sometimes exotic cats also swallow small objects, which results in them having to undergo surgery, and this can be expensive. This is something important to consider when giving your exotic cat toys in its enclosure. Make sure their toys are large so they can’t be broken and swallowed.
  • Ensure that the enclosure is secured, especially since serval cats are much stronger than domestic cats. You should strengthen the enclosure by pouring cement at its base to prevent the serval from being able to dig out of it.
  • Always have a roof on your enclosure. Many exotic pets can climb up and out of it, which you want to avoid.
  • You need to give servals places to hide in their enclosures, such as by putting some dense bushes around. This is because they need a private spot to rest. This is also important when they feel threatened, such as if they see strangers coming to the house to visit. Servals can be really shy around people they don’t know, and have the tendency to run away and hide.
  • Servals can become aggressive when threatened. Although they might not go out of their way to be aggressive towards humans, their strength is what can become dangerous, which is why you need to be careful when entering the serval’s enclosure and only do so if it knows you. Consider this as proof of its strength: when hunting fish, servals slap them to knock them out. They have quick, powerful reflexes.

Should You Keep Male Or Female Servals?

Serval Cubs

Serval cats aren’t really social with each other in the wild, but sometimes if a male and female encounter each other they will hunt and travel together, but this is only for a short time.

Generally, male and female servals only unite when it’s time for them to breed. Since servals are solitary animals, you should only keep one as a pet.

Females might be a better choice than males because they are less active than their male counterparts.

Is It Legal To Have A Serval? 

You can legally own your own serval in 18 U.S. states.

In some of these states, you don’t need a license for this exotic pet.

These states include North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Nevada, Alabama, Idaho, and Wisconsin, as The Spruce Pets reports.

The states in which you need a license in order to own your own serval pet are Montana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Indiana, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, Texas, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

In the other U.S. states, it’s illegal to own a pet serval.

Servals For Sale

If you live in a state where you’re allowed to own a serval, your next question is probably, “Where can I buy a serval cat?”

You can find reputable serval breeders online. The price for serval cats varies, but you’re looking at an average cost of between $3,000 and $6,000.

Animals Similar To Servals

Servals are sometimes mistaken for other animals in the wild, especially those that have black markings on their coats.

Here are four animals that are very similar to servals and what makes them different.

Cheetah

Cheetah Standing

Although they look similar to servals, cheetahs are active during the day.

They can run speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour, while the serval can run only up to 50 kilometers per hour.

The cheetah chases its prey, while the serval stalks and pounces on it instead. 

Civet

The civet is a small and thin animal that’s found in Africa and tropical Asia. It’s got a long body and short legs.

Although often thought to be a cat, a civet is actually related more closely to the mongoose!

Genet

There are 14 species of genets across Africa, and they are like servals because they are long and lean, as well as spotted.

They are also solitary and like to climb trees, but unlike servals they are omnivores as they eat whatever is available to them.

Fishing cat

Found in South and South-east Asia, this cat loves to spend time in the water. Its diet is mainly focused on fish.

It’s a bit smaller than the serval, weighing between 11 and 35 pounds, and being 22 to 31 inches in length.

The serval, on the other hand, weighs between 15 and 40 pounds and has a body length of 32 inches.

Fascinating Facts About Servals

There are some amazing things to know about these beautiful cats.

Their Ears Help Them To Hunt

Serval Cat Ears

The serval’s large ears help them to hunt. Their ears prick and rotate so that they know exactly where their prey is located.

Armed with amazing hearing, the serval can find small prey that’s underneath the ground or moving through grass.

This enables it to stalk it until it’s ready to pounce on it.

They Pounce On Their Prey

Unlike the cheetah, who chases its prey at astonishing speeds, the serval likes to watch and wait during the hunt.

At precisely the right moment, it will jump high into the air and then land on its prey, using its body weight to kill it.

It also traps it with its paws and bites its neck to kill it.

Servals are amazing jumpers, thanks to their long legs. They can even jump nine feet into the air to catch birds!

They Sometimes Hunt Domestic Animals

The serval is quite adaptable to hunting different types of prey.

When servals live within close proximity to humans, they have no problem killing domestic animals, such as chickens.

What further makes them so adaptable is that they can hunt during the daytime if required, even though they are nocturnal animals.

Both Male And Female Servals Mark Their Territory

Angry Serval Cat

They will engage in behaviors such as spraying their urine on bushes and trees in the wild.

Sometimes they even claw their fresh urine into the ground and then rub their cheek glands on it.

Although both sexes do this, male servals mark their territories much more regularly than the females, which can make them a bit smelly! 

Servals Have A High Success Rate When Hunting

They have a 49 percent success rate when hunting their prey.

That might not seem like a lot, but consider this: lions only have a 30-percent success rate and most other cats have only a 10-percent success rate!

There Is A Domesticated Version Of The Serval

The Savannah is a cat that’s a hybrid of a serval and domestic cat.

This breed has even been recognized by the International Cat Association.

Although the Savannah can be kept as a pet, it still is considered to be wild so it isn’t legal to own in every U.S. state.

Serval Objects For Sale

With people usually talking about wild cats such as cheetahs or tigers, the serval is uncommon, which is what makes finding serval objects for sale so exciting.

Here’s a rundown of some of the best you can find.

Serval Mugs

Serval Mug

You can find serval mugs and even travel mugs in which to enjoy your hot beverages.

Whether you want one that says, “Servals are my spirit animal” or “I work hard so my African serval can have a better life,” or just one that has a picture of a serval on it, there’s a large range from which to choose.

Serval Clothing

If you really want to make a fashion statement, choose a hoodie that has a huge serval image on it or a t-shirt with a smaller, but still beautiful serval pic to display your love of these beautiful creatures.

If you want to wear a cap, make sure you have a serval cap on hand.

Simply designed with the words “African serval,” it’s a nice, subtle way to show off your love for these cats.

Pillows

Throw pillow covers with servals on them can update your home décor and bring more of what you love into your living space.

If you’re traveling, a serval neck pillow will help you to stay comfortable while looking trendy. 

Mousepad

Need a new mousepad for your computer?

A serval mousepad that’s non-slip and features a beautiful picture of a serval will be a nice way to update your work space.

Serval Emojis And Gifs

Looking for the perfect serval emoji?

You can find a cute cartoon serval emoji .

If you’re looking for serval gifs, head over to Giphy, where you’ll find a large variety of servals, such as gifs of servals interacting with humans. 

Books About Servals

Moto And Me: My Year As A Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

If you’re interested to read more about serval cats, check out these interesting books.

Moto And Me: My Year As A Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

This is a must-read for anyone interested in owning a pet serval. Moto and Me takes the reader on a remarkable journey.

Photographer Suzi Eszterhas adopted an orphaned baby serval cat and looked after it for a year, so readers can learn from Suzi when it comes to feeding and how to look after a serval.

Serval Cats (Nature’s Children) V.16 by Tim A. Cooke

Although published in 1999, this book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in servals or keeping them as pets.

It provides the reader with information pertaining to serval behaviour, natural habitat, and their interesting traits.

Wild Cats Of The World by Luke Hunter

While not solely about servals, this book does have a section on servals.

It offers readers interesting research and direct observations of wild cats, with each species being discussed in great length.

Related Questions

Should you declaw your serval?

Although some people who own servals declaw them, this is not recommended.

It can be painful for the animals and potentially cause them harm in the form of infections.

Are servals rare?

In captivity, there are currently less than 300 servals kept in zoos around the world.

In the wild, there is no known number, but it’s estimated that there are about 10,000 servals left.

Many serval populations have decreased, and the serval found in North Africa is endangered.

Conclusion

The serval is a fascinating and unique wild cat that can be kept as a pet in some U.S. states.

If you choose to go this route, it’s important to ensure you feed and look after your pet serval correctly so that you give it the healthiest, happiest life possible.

In this article, we’ve outlined all the important things you need to know about servals and how to keep them as pets.

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