Reasons Why Serval Cats Shouldn’t Be Pets

First, take a moment to read up on the African Serval Cat:

I love them, from their quirky personalities to their elegant coats. Servals have the appearance of a large cat, with the playfulness and character of a domestic dog. As much as I think they are beautiful, I don’t believe it is right to keep them as pets. That doesn’t mean I think all exotic pets are bad; I have three aquatic turtles and a Colombian red tail boa. My snake is one of the gentlest pets I’ve ever had, far gentler than my Egyptian Mau. But, my cat and the serval have one thing in common, and one thing that makes them different: They are both aggressive, and only one belongs in the wild.

Servals are stronger than a typical house cat. They are predators, and designed for snatching low-flying birds from the air. They have a stronger bite than a domestic feline, and they use their powerful front legs to bash wild snakes unconscious before killing and eating them. That doesn’t mean our house cats haven’t brought home the occasional bird or mouse for their humans. But if you let your serval outside, you might not see your serval ever again. If a serval escaped from your house, it would not feel safe without the humans it knows well. Servals are known to be aggressive toward people they don’t like, and they can seriously hurt someone. So, a serval must stay indoors all the time, unless you buy an expensive outdoor enclosure. Certain animals, like my snake, are fine with minimal square footage because they instincts do not require travelling for food. Mammals however, they need to move around.

So your serval is inside all day long. They are crafty like cats, and can learn tricks like dogs. They have to be trained twice as much as a dog, though, or everything in your home will be destroyed. Servals chew like puppies, and since they naturally defecate and urinate in water, they will turn their nose up to the litter box. They relieve themselves in private, so they can’t be brought on walks. If you get a serval, you must come to terms with the harsh reality that they will spray anywhere they see fit, including your bed.

They won’t eat canned food. A serval’s diet is mostly small animals. Usually people provide them with raw meat diets, along with frozen rodents and birds which have to be thawed out. A serval needs to be the only pet, or share the home with cats and dogs which are equal to its size. This means you cannot have smaller pets like fish, reptiles, birds, rodents, or even small cats and dogs. A serval could accidentally or intentionally kill my pet cat, three turtles and my snake.

Servals are usually declawed. When a wild animal is “domesticated”, and it has its knuckles amputated because keeping it in your home would otherwise be harmful to you, perhaps that is a signal not to have it as a pet. Declawing damages the serval’s beauty as a living thing. Declawing will make any cat, wild or not, resort to biting more often because their first defense is taken away. Servals express themselves a lot with their mouths, by love/play-biting and holding onto blankets and soft toys for comfort. But serval bites are painful, when done out of aggression or just playing too rough. Where is the perk to having a wild animal as a pet when you try to take the wild out of the animal?

Savannah cats aren’t much better. The Savannah cat is a cross between a domestic house cat and the serval. This was to deter people from owning servals. But savannahs are not always good with children, and small pets, though they can get along with domestic cats. Savannahs need almost as much training, and the only upside is they use the litter box. But the savannah is a false image. Once again, they are the human’s attempt at taking the wild out of the animal.

The alternative: adopt an Egyptian Mau. Mine, who goes by the name of Spike, is a fun fellow, who can be destructive on occasion to knick-knacks, plastic shower curtains, door frames, and shoes, but this is easily countered with a firm “NO”. He keeps the litter box so tidy it’s almost frightening how clean he is. He has energy, and he love-bites, but I won’t need stitches. He has those glorious spots on his hips and belly. He eats food from a can, or joins us for dinner. He can learn tricks, and knows certain commands like “sit”, “wait”, “heel”. He talks more than a serval, and listens to everything we say, then joins the conversation. He snuggles, purrs, plays, kisses, headbutts and greets us when we come home. He loves other animals, and babysits our huge turtle when we let her walk around the apartment. I don’t need to have a wild animal. I am quite happy with my cat whom I adopted from a shelter, rather than spend thousands of dollars on, just to show off to guests.


6 Responses

  1. I live with 3 servals. Neither is aggressive. They should have an enclosure , so they can run and I have neither small children nor small animals.
    They do require lot of interaction and they are not like a house cat (unless on steroids) Are they for everyone? No. But once you have earned a serval’s love and affection you probably never want dog again. For a
    person knowing what they are getting into they are phenomenal pets.

    • I’m glad you have such a good relationship with your servals. The point of my article is to deter irresponsible people, or people who just don’t understand the needs of a serval. I don’t believe there are many people in this world who are capable of taking care of and interacting with an animal which is not able to be domesticated. Granted, I have 4 exotic pets: 3 aquatic turtles and a boa constrictor. I think it’s okay for people to have exotics, but it just isn’t for everyone. Snakes are very methodical animals and observant of their surroundings. They have stronger memories than people give them credit for, so it’s relatively easy for a human to form a trusting bond with a snake. However, my turtles are a different story. My hybrid likes me and hates my mother. My largest turtle hates everyone except for my mother. And my third turtle absolutely DOES NOT like interaction with people. At least with my snake, I can approach her and pet her, take her out if she wishes, and do so without needing a snake hook (and she’s a boa constrictor!). I can walk around my apartment with my snake, and she’ll sleep on my shoulder or in my lap. My turtles however, as much as I love and adore them, they’re mostly novelties. They aren’t really “pets”.

  2. I have a Serval and I am Not sure where you got your information….but ALOT of it is False, or at the very least not true in all cases. I would say if you have or had a Serval with these traits, it was not socialized properly at a young age nor brought up right. Mine uses a litter box quite well…he has never been an accident in the house, and he never sprays, he does eat canned food (Zupreem) and raw chicken. He does not destroy my house. He makes a very GOOD pet, very affectionate and loving towards my family as well as my other animals. (Dogs and cats) Servals are NOT aggressive animals!! (Unless your a Their instinct when they are scared or mad is to run and hide.

    • I have not had a serval, obviously, but I have observed plenty of them in captivity, and I have done my research. I never said that servals are always aggressive, I even noted them as playful in my writing. But even the most experienced serval keepers have found destroyed furniture, clothing, etc, as well as experienced the irritation of a serval spraying throughout the house. Captive bred serval kittens are easier to litter box train, but not always. The diet I mentioned is the most appropriate diet for a serval, period. Canned food is for domestic cats, and servals are not domestic cats.

      I have seen servals become aggressive toward strangers and even their owners. I never said they are always aggressive.

      • Great article! I work at a Conservation Center for large cats; so many people want to own servals and ocelots, but they’re wild cats, period. They’ll never be fully domesticated. People constantly drop off unwanted adult servals and ocelots because they didn’t realize that the cute kitten they bought would become an adult with natural instincts (which is typically in opposition to domestic life). One of the servals we have still has owners who come to see him/take him home when it’s convenient; you see, they bought him to show off to their wealthy friends, but he’s not a great house pet, so they needed other living arrangements for him. The more people who buy these cats leads to more breeding and then more unwanted or abandoned cats.

        • Thank you!

          I’ve heard of this many, many times. The same goes for other small cat species, like bobcats. Some animals just should not be pets, period. I also think that some people just should not have exotics. I love my boa constrictor, Sophie, but not everyone can take care of a snake. I do think snakes in general are much easier to maintain and care for, boas and colubrids especially, (pythons are debatable), but still, many people by constrictors when they are little, and when their snake gets to be 8 or more feet in length, they don’t have a proper terrarium and end up giving their snake away or worse, letting in loose in the wild. Large constrictor species were almost banned in the U.S. because of idiots who were releasing them into the wild, where they became invasive.

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