Perhaps you’ve never been one to go with the commonplace. Maybe big jungle cats like leopards, jaguars, and panthers have always fascinated you. You might be interested in a cat with Savannah and Bengal in the mix if they have one.
Savannahs and Bengals originated when domestic cats interbred with small wild cat breeds. Humans have kept cats as pets for millennia, and while we don’t know which species was the first to be domesticated, the consensus is that the Egyptian Mau is the oldest breed. Presumably, the Mau developed from a wild spotted cat, and papyri and frescoes dating back to 1550 BC depict Ancient Egyptian spotted cats.
The fascination with bringing smaller wild cats into our homes did not end with the Egyptians. In written reference, as far back as the late 1800s, people were hybridizing the Asian leopard cat. Another small spotted wild cat, the Ocelot, won the “Wild and Wild or Domestic Cat Class” in the Edinburgh cat show in 1875. The Bengal and the Savannah both follow in the footsteps of those early hybrids and wild cats.
The Bengal, recognized by the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA), is the only domestic cat breed with rosette markings like a leopard or jaguar. Bengals are curious and affectionate and retain the athleticism of their wild ancestors. Typically, they are under twenty pounds and don’t have more litter box issues than other breeds.
Bengals do differ from some of the more laid-back breeds, however. They are active and capable of landing a leap of six feet, either vertically or horizontally. This intelligent breed can open cabinet doors to help themselves to whatever they deem tasty and turn on faucets to get a drink of water. Bengals have an affinity for water and may join you in the shower.
Bengals are not cats for families unable or unwilling to accept their nature. The Great Lakes Bengal Rescue points out that to a Bengal, “all toys are destructible,” and that for a Bengal, “everything is a cat toy, including other pets in your house and even guests.” The modern Bengal is generations removed from the Asian leopard cat and is produced only through Bengal to Bengal crosses, but they retain the instinct to run, jump, and hunt. Bengals can get along with other pets if properly introduced, and they do enjoy being part of the family, but their personality is not for everyone.
History Of The Bengal
Breed aficionados consider Jean Mill the founding breeder of the modern Bengal, but the cats she used in her early crosses had roots in scientific research. In 1963, Mrs. Mill made the first deliberate cross of a black tomcat with a female Asian leopard cat because she feared the extinction of this wild breed. At that time, pelts of Asian leopard cats were used to make fur products, and the cats themselves were captured and sold as pets to consumers unaware of the needs of wild animals.
Mrs. Mill believed that if she could create pets that looked like small leopards, perhaps people would no longer wear leopard fur as fashion. Dr. Willard Centerwall, a professor of medical genetics, shared her interest in studying the genetics of these cats. They worked on creating a generation of crosses. The first-generation crosses require an experienced handler, but Mrs. Mills continued backcrossing Bengal to Bengal to stabilize the breed’s temperament. Mrs. Mill’s efforts created the Bengal we know today.
Savannah Cats, recognized by the TICA but not yet the CFA, began as an unintentional cross between a domestic cat and an African Serval. Savannahs also have wild-type markings, but their spots resemble their Serval ancestors. Taller than most domestic breeds, one particularly tall Savannah made the Guinness Book of World Records for being the tallest cat, measuring in at nineteen inches.
Savannahs resemble their distant relatives, the Bengal, in their intelligence. They, too, are likely to learn how to open doors and turn on faucets. They love to be as high up as possible and may spend time on the top of the refrigerator, the tops of open doors, or tall cabinets. Cat trees and window seats can help channel their energies towards safe perches.
Savannah Cats are a relatively recent breed, and sellers focus on the generation number of the kittens they produce in their marketing. If you’re in the market for the Savannah, you may see a number with a capital F in front of it, like F1, F2, F3, and so forth. F1 means this is the first generation away from a Serval, or, in other words, this is a kitten who had one Serval parent. F2 is the second generation away. One grandparent (or two, if this is a Savannah/Savannah cross kitten) was a Serval. The generations go on from there, and any time there’s a Savannah to Savannah cross, there will be a higher percentage of Serval blood in the kitten. When you get to the fifth and sixth generations away from Serval, Savannahs have a temperament more like a typical active house cat than an exotic.
History Of The Savannah
The first Savannah was created from an accidental breeding between a domestic cat and an African Serval. Her owner named the kitten Savannah, eventually becoming the breed’s name. Savannah’s next owner hoped she could have kittens, but often, hybrids are infertile. Savannah did have several litters of kittens when bred to domestic males, and an article about her caught the attention of a breeder interested in creating a new spotted cat. He purchased Savannah’s only female kitten and partnered with another breeder to continue developing the breed.
These two breeders, Patrick Kelly and Joyce Sroufe created the original breed standard to present to TICA in 1996. By 1997, Sroufe introduced the breed to the public at a cat show in New York. Today, Savannahs are highly sought after by cat fanciers interested in an unusual breed. The closer to F1 the kitten, the higher the price it can command. F1 Savannahs require special care from experienced handlers who spend most of their time at home. The F1 generations especially don’t handle being left alone well, and they’re also independent and intelligent enough to get themselves in trouble around the house.
Savannah Bengal Mix
Your Savannah Bengal mix kitten’s outward appearance and temperament will depend on how much domestic cat is in her lineage. Savannahs and Bengals have relatively similar temperaments in the generations closer to their wild ancestors. If your kitten’s parent is a Bengal that is the product of several generations of Bengal crosses, this may tame the wilder Savannah side considerably. The greater the genetic distance from F1 on the Savannah side, the more like a regular house cat your new friend will be in size and personality.
The more you know about your Savannah Bengal mix’s background, the more you can predict her adult temperament. Any cat is an individual, but based on the general breed traits of these unusual hybrids, we know they will be more active than a sedentary breed. Both breeds enjoy playing in the water, so your kitten will likely want a splash in the sink when you’re doing dishes. Your Savannah Bengal mix will love to climb and will be able to jump to heights you may think are out of her range.
Several Savannah breeders specifically refer to “Savannah proofing” your home, and some suggest toddler proofing as an excellent way to start. These breeds’ intelligence can get them in trouble. They figure out how to open cabinet drawers and can get stuck in unexpected areas. Your Savannah Bengal mix will keep you on your toes, although you’ll likely need to respect her need for alone time and personal space. She’ll come to check on you when she’s ready.
Size & Appearance
Savannahs and Bengals are larger than average cats, although the more generations from the wild hybrid breed they are, the smaller. Your cat could be as large as seventeen inches at the shoulder and nearly thirty pounds, but she’ll probably be smaller. Some states base whether or not these hybrids are legal on weight, so check the regulations in your state.
Your Savannah Bengal mix will be a long-legged, long-bodied cat, especially if she takes after her Savannah parent. Both parent breeds have large ears, but the Savannah’s face is more angular. Savannah cats have distinctive black “eyeliner” around their eyes that may extend beyond both corners of their eyes. Your own kitten’s markings will be a blend of breed traits.
Coat & Colors
Bengal coats are unique not only for their leopard-like spots but also for their fur’s plush texture. Described as having “rabbit-like softness” and the “resilience of the densest hand-tied rug,” the Bengal’s coat differs from that of most domestic cats. Savannah cats have a short coat with no undercoat that requires little care. Your Savannah Bengal’s mix’s pattern and color may vary depending on her parents. Savannahs must have a spotted pattern, although their base color can range from black and black smoke to brown and black silver tabby. Bengals have more pattern variety, with leopard-like rosette spots or a marbled appearance like marble cake. Body colors range from black and brown to blue and silver, or colorpoint base coat patterns like a Siamese or Himalayan.
They’ll appreciate being curried to loosen shed hair and then brushed with a soft bristle brush. They’ll enjoy it more than they require it, but brushing does stimulate oil production in the hair follicles and helps keep his skin healthy and coat glowing. Like all cats, they’ll need their nails trimmed, and brushing their teeth helps prevent periodontal disease.
If your Savannah Bengal mix kitten has hair more like his Savannah parent, you’ll have an easy time keeping cat hair to a minimum in the house. Remember that a mix brings traits from both parents, and the Bengal’s coat is thicker than the Savannah’s. Your blended kitten’s coat may be somewhere in the middle.
Most importantly, cats want to feel safe in their homes. There should be plenty of hiding places and designated areas for their food and water away from their litterbox. Household items may pose a hazard to your curious companion. Depending on the generational distance from Serval or Asian leopard cat, you’ll have an extreme climber who needs an outlet for her energy. Providing cat trees and appropriate scratch toys will help her find appropriate outlets for her desire to climb and scratch. Cats more closely related to Serval will prefer to spend more time solo, so be sure you have safe spaces where she can retreat.
Your Savannah Bengal mix will likely be active and curious. Bengals tend to be less active than early-generation Savannahs, but both breeds are dynamic and agile. They love to leap and run and need mental and physical stimuli to stay happy. Cat toys like exercise wheels and interactive play toys help them burn off some of this energy productively.
Savannahs and Bengals accept leash training better than most other breeds, so training them to walk on a leash may be an option. It takes the proper equipment and a lot of patience. Not only does being able to get out and about safely outside keep him healthy physically, but it can also alleviate boredom and improve indoor behavior.
Common Training For Cats
- Use the scratching post or cat tree only.
- Keep claws retracted when playing with people.
- Eliminate only in the litter box.
- Biting is for toys only.
- Games and tricks.
- Standard commands like sit, stay, roll over, jump, high-five, play a game, time to eat, come here, etc.
- Familiarity with the grooming process.
- Familiarity with being bathed.
- Riding calmly in the car.
You’ll need to understand how your Savannah Bengal blend’s ancestry brings some breed-related health concerns. All modern cats face health problems from obesity and teeth and gum disease, but there are some specific health disorders to which they are more susceptible than other breeds. Bengals tend to have more genetic issues than Savannahs, but your blended kitten may have this genetic predisposition.
Bengals may experience luxation of the patella (kneecap). Blunt trauma or heredity can trigger the condition. Symptoms include lameness, skipping the affected leg, or being unwilling to jump. This reluctance will be particularly noticeable since your Savannah Bengal mix loves to leap. Consult your veterinarian to see if surgery is necessary. If so, it is generally successful, and the condition does not recur.
Bengals are prone to developing hip dysplasia. If a cat has hip dysplasia, the ball and socket fit of the hip joint is loose and, over time, becomes damaged from wear. Eventually, this wear destroys the cartilage and causes lameness and discomfort, unwillingness to exercise as normal, and licking or biting at the hip joint. Consult your vet to see if anti-inflammatories and joint supplements may lessen your cat’s pain or if surgery will be necessary to replace the joint.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) causes blindness. It is a recessive genetic trait, so a cat can pass it on to its kittens even without showing the disease, and it usually doesn’t strike until cats are one and a half to two years old. Anyone considering breeding their cat should have it tested to see if it carries the gene. Still, in the case of an accidental litter, a carrier parent may inadvertently perpetuate the gene. There’s no cure for PRA, but with your help, your cat can learn to manage her surroundings.
Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) causes the heart’s walls to thicken, decreasing the heart’s efficiency. Although the cause of HCM remains inconclusive, there may be a genetic component. Bengals show a tendency to develop this disease. While the prognosis for this disease varies, early diagnosis and treatment can help.
Some cats with HCM are asymptomatic, but others exhibit labored breathing and lethargy from congestive heart failure. Your vet may use an echocardiogram or genetic testing to see if your cat suffers from this condition. Your vet will likely prescribe medication to help your cat live more comfortably. Asymptomatic cats may live for many years, but the disease is progressive.
Savannahs take up to three years to fully mature, and Bengals up to two. Your mix will mature slowly, so choose a food designed specifically for kittens to avoid your kitten growing too quickly. Protein and fat levels should support slow, steady growth. Kittens need a specific calcium-phosphorus ratio for proper bone development. Look for a formula with .8 to 1.6% calcium on a dry matter basis. Wet cat food contains more moisture than kibble; if your cat is prone to urinary tract infections, this additional moisture can help reduce the frequency of her infections. Your Savannah Bengal mix will likely prefer to drink fresh running water and may turn on the spigot herself. She’ll appreciate a fountain drinker.
Any cat food you choose should be AAFCO certified as a complete and balanced diet for your feline. In the wild, animal meat comprises the most significant part of the feline diet. Their diet should reflect what they evolved to eat. They consumed high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates. Their prey provided adequate vitamins and minerals. Regardless of which type of food you choose, read the label. Look for meat, meat by-products, or seafood among the first few ingredients. These ingredients suggest the food contains enough animal-source ingredients to supply essential amino acids and fatty acids without additional supplements. For cats prone to urinary tract issues, a low magnesium wet food may be worth the extra expense.
Breeders & Kitten Costs
Because of the value of purebred Bengals and Savannahs, finding a mix may be difficult. There may be accidental breeding, or a breeder may purposely cross two lines with wild cats in their recent lineage. Price may reflect which situations of these produced your kitten. Bengal kittens cost between $1,500 and $3,000 from a reputable breeder, and F1 Savannah kittens may be as much as $10,000 or more. Lower percentage kittens will be more affordable. The Savannah Bengal mix will cost what the market will bear. If price is an issue for you, as it is for most of us, you may consider finding a Bengal or Savannah through a rescue.
Rescues & Shelters
Unfortunately, people may overestimate the amount of time and energy they can dedicate to caring for an exotic breed. They might not realize the commitment to staying home, and they may underestimate the havoc a Bengal or Savannah may wreak around the house. Because of this, several breed rescues exist for both the Bengal and the Savannah. Most require some experience with this cat, and adoption fees can run up to $500 depending on the cat. Some of the rescue organizations include the Bengal Rescue Network, Bengal Rescue, Great Lakes Bengal Rescue, Savannah Cat Rescue, and CatsNow. Be sure to check the laws in your state! Savannahs and Bengals are illegal in some states, especially the first-generation hybrids.
If you’re an experienced cat parent looking for a unique best friend, you may have considered a Savannah or Bengal. Depending on how close your sidekick is to the Serval or Asian leopard cat, she may not be the most cuddly companion. Show your love in return with regular veterinary care, proper nutrition, and a healthy, attentive environment. An agile climber, she may spend more time perched on the highest point in the house than next to you on the couch. Please provide as many enrichment toys as possible to keep her out of mischief.
Play with your cat to provide exercise and strengthen your bond. This slow-maturing, athletic mix will hopefully live as long as fifteen years. Remember that each cat is a unique individual, and being a mixed breed adds to the mystery. Both Savannahs and Bengals need space in your home to thrive. They don’t do well at home alone all day and may get into mischief. Don’t give your Savannah Bengal mix toys that they can destroy if they could swallow the chunks. These chewed-off chucks could potentially cause a blockage. If you can provide these unique hybrids the care they need, you’ll have a pet parent experience like no other.