What are Servals and Do They Make Good Pets?

Many people love wildcats and wonder if they could get one as a pet rather than a typical domestic cat. There are also hybrids between wild and domestic cats. One type of wildcat that people sometimes consider is the serval, a species of African cat that weighs up to 40 pounds, about twice the size of a large housecat but small compared to bigger cats found in the wild.

The African Wildlife Federation has an informative page about servals.

Is It Legal to Own a Serval?

If you’re wondering if it’s legal to own a serval, the answer is that it depends where you live. In the United States, for example, it’s legal to own one without a license in 18 states, including Nevada, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Idaho. Other countries have their own laws and you may be required to have a license to own one.

Do Servals Make Good Pets?

The short answer is “no.” They are wild animals that require a great deal of space and exercise. Being larger than domestic cats, they can also be dangerous, especially to families with children or other pets. Servals are also difficult to feed and require a diet consisting of whole prey, which isn’t what you’d find in the pet section of the grocery store.

On the other hand, servals that are raised in captivity or tamed are quite affectionate. The same, however, is true for larger cats such as lions, cheetahs, and even, in some cases, tigers. The latter, however, are generally recognized as being poor choices as pets.

Why It’s Best to Leave Servals in the Wild

The best reason not to get a serval as a pet is for the sake of the species. They are not endangered as some large cats, such as tigers are. They are, however, often hunted in Africa and their habitats are threatened. Aside from being hunted for their beautiful fur, wildlife traffickers will capture them to bring to other countries as pets. When you purchase such an animal, you’re encouraging the practice of trafficking which is ultimately not in animals’ best interest.

If you really love the appearance and disposition of wildcats, you could compromise and get a breed such as a Bengal, which is a hybrid between domestic cats and Asian leopard cats. Another choice is the Savannah cat, which is actually a cross between domestics and servals. While these (as well as a few other breeds) are hybrids, the cross-breeding has already been done so you’re at least not directly supporting trafficking if you buy this type of cat.

Personality-wise, even “ordinary” domestic cats have many of the characteristics of their larger wild ancestors. So it’s best to admire servals and other big cats in their natural habitats.

Benefits of Natural and Organic Cat Food

If you’re concerned about what you put into your own body and try to eat healthy, natural, and perhaps organic foods, have you thought about what you’re feeding your cat? Commercial pet food, like most commercial food for humans, contains all kinds of fillers, artificial ingredients, meats from factory-farmed animals (which often means hormones and antibiotics), and other questionable items. There can be real benefits to switching to natural cat food.

One thing to keep in mind about cats is that they are pure carnivores (also known as obligate carnivores, as they are obligated to eat meat), even more so than dogs, which are closer to being omnivores. In fact, there are even debates among veterinarians and other health experts as to whether dogs should be considered carnivores or omnivores.

Of course, dogs are mostly carnivores, as compared to herbivores such as rabbits, horses, deer, etc. However, if you’ve been around dogs at all you know that they’ll eat almost anything. Cats, on the whole, tend to be much fussier. While this may be partly due to their independent and often perverse personalities, it’s also partly due to their biology.

If you’re curious about the biology of cats vs. dogs, I found an article on Dogs Naturally that goes into this in some detail. For example, they point out that the GI (gastrointestinal) tracks of animals differs based on whether they are carnivores, omnivores, or herbivores. Cats, as pure carnivores, have very short GI tracks that are designed for meat, which is quickly digested. Herbivores have the longest GI tracks as many of the plant foods they consume take much longer to digest. Omnivores, including humans, are right in the middle. Dogs are somewhere in between the carnivore and omnivore.

While this gets into some technical explorations of anatomy, it tells us something about the comparative dietary needs of cats compared to dogs. Simply put, cats do better with a diet that’s pure meat with rare exceptions (you probably notice your cats have the annoying habit of chewing on plants and sometimes grass outdoors). So low-quality cat food that contains lots of fillers isn’t the best diet for an animal that’s closely related to a tiger or leopard.

One option, especially if you’re a big meat eater yourself, is to supply your cat with human-grade meats from the butcher such as chicken, turkey, and beef. Some people feed cats a raw meat diet, which is, after all, closer to what they’d be eating in the wild. This is certainly an option, though it’s somewhat safer to buy natural cat foods that have been cooked as there’s always the risk of pathogens such as salmonella from raw meat (the same reason it’s risky for you to eat such a diet). There’s also the issue that, unless you get your meat from a natural source, it may contain various impurities. And buying, say, organic grass fed beef from Whole Foods to feed your cat can get costly.

Fortunately, there are simpler alternatives to feeding your feline companions a healthy diet. There are natural and organic cat food brands on the market. Even mainstream brands such as Purina also make natural varieties of both wet and dry cat food. It’s true that these alternatives are more expensive than run-of-the-mill cat food. However, this type of diet may mean fewer health problems, which translates into lower veterinary bills.

Of course, with pets as with humans, there’s no surefire way to guarantee health. Some diseases may be genetic or caused by unknown environmental factors. However, you can improve the odds by feeding your cat (as well as your other pets and yourself!) a diet that’s as natural as possible.