So you're thinking of getting a serval, because a simple Maine coon cat -- the biggest domestic cat -- is just not enough for you. Think carefully before making this commitment. Servals are not just big house cats; they're wild and exotic predators from the African plains.
What's a Serval?
A serval, or Felis serval, is a member of the feline family. They are native to Africa, where they thrive in a variety of habitats including savannas, bush, thickets and moors near rivers and streams.
Servals are nocturnal, which is something to take into consideration when considering one as a pet. These are not social animals. They are wild and will never be completely tame, even if hand-raised from infancy. Their instincts are deeply ingrained and can be triggered at any time without warning, a dangerous situation.
Servals, like all wild animals, are not considered domestic animals. Many states have laws relating to their care and transport.
For example, a Florida resident who is seeking to purchase a serval as a pet must apply for a Class 2 Personal Pet Permit. Nebraska prohibits its residents from having any feline other than a domestic cat, unless it's for rehabilitation and return to the wild.
If you're considering a serval as a pet, check your state, county and municipal laws on keeping exotic pets.
Dangers of Owning a Wild Animal
"The serval has instinctive behaviors you cannot change, no matter how young he is when you get him. The prey drive is always there and you never know what will trigger it, be it a small animal or child, or just something that catches his eye," said David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in south Florida. Several servals live at the sanctuary.
"They also change dramatically as they age, and more of their wildness comes out, even if sterilized," said Hitzig. "They are adaptable, but you can never fully trust them to be safe around children or other animals."
A serval might bond with you and learn to trust you, but that's up to the individual cat. Not all veterinarians will accept servals as patients, so be sure you line one up before getting a serval.
Servals can be litter-trained -- or they can decide to use your bed or wherever they want as a litter box and there's not a lot you can do about it. According to Hitzig, servals need more than just canned cat food; they require raw bones, raw meat and nutritional supplements for best results.
They need a place where they can be confined from time to time, such as when strange animals or children are around, as servals tend to be shy, and they'll run or go on the offensive if they feel threatened
Many people declaw servals kept as pets just to be safe. Declawing is an ethical decision, but amputation is painful, complicated and potentially dangerous to the serval, as it could lead to infection.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.