Servals range in size from 20 to 45 pounds at maturity and like people they come in all different shades of color, types and sizes. There are specific regional families of Servals that lend to different size, type, and look. Servals are large cats when comparing them to a domestic cat, however they are still classified as the “smallest” of the exotic cats. They would be equivalent to owning a medium to large sized dog. They take up space, and time and need the exercise that any larger animal requires.

Will you love me when I'm naughty?...Serval Behavior

Even if hand-raised and tamed, a Serval will never be a "lap cat". They don't like being held or carried. They become very attached and devoted to their initial care givers and while they do bond deeply with their people the relationship is always on their terms and there will be days they are not warm and fuzzy and want to be left alone.

Servals do have a playful side to them and they love to play fetch, love getting in to water, and can walk on a leash with proper training. Servals are infamous for their head butts and it's a form of affection that they give to their special people and pets.

Servals are well known for their rock solid head butts and they just love to give there special human a few head butts when they are feeling warm and fuzzy. It's their way of saying "I think I'll keep you!" I've had my Serval head butt my dogs when they come in from outside. It's a Servals way of saying "man I love you today, in this moment!" It's definitely a sign of affection and should be considered a privilege to receive a head butt from a Serval.

The older a Serval cat gets the more of a “loner” it becomes. Usually around 5 to 8 years of age you will see some Servals, usually males become more and more distant from those it loves. Although still loving at times to their people their care givers will definitely see a change in behavior.

Also, one of the characteristics that the serval will show is that it knows to run from danger. When you run after or chase a serval they will think that you are trying to hurt them. Because of this you should never chase your serval except in an emergency. Even in an emergency, you will probably have better success by trying to get the serval to come to you instead of trying to catch him or her. As they get older they may be shy of strangers. When you have visitors come over the serval may go hide and come out after they are sure that everything is okay. Make sure that visitors do not chase the serval or they may become scared of all strangers and not come out at all when there are visitors. Be sure that all children who are around the serval know not to chase or pull on the paws or tail of the cat. If they are afraid of children, they may develop a fear of children that will stick with them permanently.


When you are trying to establish a relationship with your serval one of the best things you can do is be patient, kind, forgiving and plan to spend lots of time with them. Quality time, companionship, firm boundries are a good start. Treats are a good way to endear a Serval to you and this way they will associate you with "good" things when you are reaching for them. Positioning your body to your Serval's level rather than towering over them is another way to make the Serval feel less threatened. Play with them with their favorite toy at their level. When you are level with them, eye-to-eye, they are more at ease and they will soon become comfortable with you no matter if you are standing, sitting or laying down. The thing that you must remember is that you must be patient with them. It may take a while for them to bond with you.

Servals and Small Children

If a Serval is raised around smaller children they become accustomed to the child's size and voice tone so early on a Serval may have no issues with having an energetic, active child around them while they are young, however as the Serval matures this may suddenly becoming frightening to them and they will find ways to avoid the child at all costs.

Servals are very smart and if not raised around children they can distinquish a child's voice from an adults voice. If smaller children frighten them they will try to distance themselves from what is frightening them and they run and hide when they hear a child's voice. Some of the Serval's natural behaviors such as hissing, grumbling, leaping, may be scary for a young child so it is not recommended that you have a Serval with small children. My grandchildren seem to handle the young kittens just fine and there are no real issues, but as the cat ages they are a little more hesitant around the bigger cat. Under close supervision children ages 10 and up may be capable of behaving properly around a Serval, but as always the child's safety is of upmost importance and a child must never be allowed to be unsupervised around a mature adult Serval.

Serval Talk: The "Sounds" of Serval Communication

Hissing is part of a Serval's "sound" system and this does not always mean aggression, rather a form of vocalizing and communicating in reaction to it's environment or mood. To put it simply, Servals hiss to communicate and vocalize needs and moods. Unlike domestic cats exotic cats do not always hiss because they are angry or upset. It does take a while to understand different hisses and what each of the sounds mean. There are hisses for being upset, happy, sad, confused and just plain throwing a "cattitude" like a teenager.

Growling or "grumbling" as I call it, are also sounds that a Serval will frequently make. The grumble is something that is hard to explain to some one who has never owned a hybrid or exotic and many attribute it to aggression when that's simply not the case at all. Many hybrids & exotic cats make this noise as a form of vocalizing. It's similar to a baby trying to talk but you can not make out the words. You kind of have an idea what they are saying but sometimes it takes you several attempts to understand the full meaning of what they are trying to tell you. This what owners mean when they say that their Serval “talks” to them. Sometime the grumble is heard when they are assessing a new situation, a change in his environment, while eating, or just simply telling you he's not happy with the current situation. Growling and grumbling does not always mean aggression or anger. Sometimes it can be as simple as another form of vocalizing, frustration, or indecision.

Servals also chirp like a bird. There is nothing more endearing that hearing your Serval call out to you when they see you approaching their room, or when they come find you to tell you that you have forgotten something! Chirping usually occurs when a serval is happy and is showing affection or if they want you to know they want something, for instance DINNER!

Energy Level

Servals are high energy cats. They are like toddlers on a Fruit Loop high! Like a house with toddlers, if you can’t keep up with them they will eventually teach you to keep up or leave you to deal with the consequences if you don't! They are constantly busy, into or doing something and they love to play and burst into periods of romping through the house. They love high places so the beams in your ceiling would not be off limits to a Serval. They can also jump 7-8 feet straight up in the air so the top of your refrigerator or cupboards are certainly not off limits to a Serval wanting to check out a new hideout. When they want to get some where they will get there Because of their intelligence they are persistent in getting their needs met in spite of you! If they want it they will find a way to get it. If you hide it they will find it. A Serval can easily play fetch and tug o war for two hours straight so you need to assess the Servals energy level to yours. They are normally very active at night but when in captivity they tend to adapt to there households time schedule.

Entertainment In the Eyes of A Serval

Servals are very playful and very athletic and they really do love to have a good time....however our version of a good time might differ slightly from theirs! Since a Serval is capable of jumping 15+ feet, they are capable of jumping on anything that they so desire and anything they can reach is fair game to them as long as it is in their space. They like to perch up high so kitchen shelving, refrigerators, tall pieces of furniture and on high shelves. In their eyes anything that is on a shelf, piece of furniture, or out in the open is fair game. Breakables should be put in a case or cabinet. They love to paw at mini blind cords and drapery cords. The cords should be pinned up out of their reach because they will jump up to play with them and may get them wrapped around their neck. I had no idea of this danger until I found one of my cats hanging by a mini blind cord. Fortunately, she had only been hanging for a short time and I was able to save her. Serval kittens like to chew like a puppy. It is a good idea to have plenty of toys that they can chew on. That way they will not chew on things that you don’t want them to destroy or things that may hurt them. If they begin chewing on electrical cords, a good solution is to spray the exposed cords with bitter apple spray (available at pet stores). This will discourage them. Re-apply frequently as needed. This also works on other items that they may chew such as pillows.

As they mature they usually do not chew as much but can still be very distructive if they should get "in the mood" to tear your sofa apart!

Servals usually like other animals. They welcome play with almost any animal once they have time to get accustomed to each other. Once the serval is close to full grown you should exercise caution when introducing a new small pet (such as a young kitten). They may think that they are a chew toys and hurt them. You should keep other pets out of sight or in a place where you are certain that they can’t be reached. Servals are intelligent animals and learn to unlock doors by flipping a lock lever and going through two doors to get to what they want. Smaller animals such as hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, reptiles, etc. are a real teaser for the servals so you should not even tempt to have them near a Serval and expect a good outcome. The Serval in the wild naturally hunts smaller prey so a beloved pet could easily become one should the right situation occur.

Servals are natural retrievers. They love playing fetch. They will bring things to you for you to throw to them. They love tug o war and chase as well.

Training A Serval

As with any animal, even kittens, it is important to establish boundaries right from the start. What you don't want to see as an adult you correct as a kitten. A lot of kittens can be trained with simple commands such as "no", kennel, sit, etc. but remember what you see as darling in a kitten may not be so cute in a mature Serval.

When you find your serval doing something that you don’t want them to it is best to reprimand them with a firm "No". Squirting them with a water bottle also works. If they play too rough (such as biting too hard), a firm "No!" and a light tap on the head will discourage them. If that does not work walk away and quit playing. They are very smart and very stubborn so it may take several repetitions in order for them to learn that you are not going to let them have their way. Servals love playing with toys. When they are young, toys that are made for domestic cats will be fine. But, when they are older, those toys are too small and they will destroy most of them quickly. Some toys may be so small that they will swallow them and choke or block their intestines. Toys that are made for medium to large sized dogs work well. If you wish to be able to take your serval places with you, you should start putting a harness and a leash on them early.

It is a good idea to put the harness on them and let them walk around to get accustomed to having the straps around their body. Then you should put the leash on the harness and let them run freely. Keep an eye on them and do not leave them alone with the harness attached. They may get it hooked on something while jumping and choke. After they are accustomed to the harness and leash with no tension you should hold the leash lightly so that they get accustomed to having tension on the leash. Then you may want to take them out for short walks where you let them go where they want. Make sure that they cannot get out of the harness at all. Servals are contortionists when they want to get out of a situation. If something scares them and they try to get out of the harness to run, you may not be able to grab them quickly. They won’t really be trying to run away from you but rather they are trying to run away from something that scares them or that they are uncertain of.

At all costs, try to prevent the animal from getting loose. When they get loose outside, in an unfamiliar environment, they get scared and they may even be scared of you under those circumstances. A serval on the loose can cause a stir in the neighborhood. And someone may think that it is dangerous and shoot it. Strangers who try to catch it will just frighten it more. This situation should be avoided at all costs. They can be caught but it can be an ordeal.

Litter Box

At a very early age Serval kittens need to be taught how to use a litter box correctly. Because nearly all Serval kittens are hand-raised from birth this training usually begins with their breeders who stimulate the kittens over/in a litter box at just a few days old. The breeder consistently makes the kitten eliminate over/in an litter box and no where else. This sets a good foundation for the kitten to properly use a litter box in the future, and after a pet owner takes the kitten home they must follow-through with the same guidelines to ensure the kitten continues to use the litter box properly. Even with the greatest of training and efforts not all Servals are reliable in the use of a litter box. Some revert to not using their litter box in spite of all the best efforts of their owners and eventually an outside enclosure has to be built to house the Serval in order to save the house from a Serval's spraying.

A Serval will use a litter box to urinate and defecate only if they are taught to do so. They do not naturally cover up like a domestic cats does. In the wild they use one or two spots in their territory and tend to stick with those spots. The serval will use the litter box as their spot if they know that is the spot. They may occasionally urinate or defecate elsewhere. When you discover that this has happened you must clean the spot thoroughly, preferably with an enzyme-based odor remover such as "Unique" If you see the serval going in the wrong spot you should pick it up and bring it to the litter box. You should not scold the serval for this. When the serval is small you can use a standard litter box. When they get bigger you will need a larger box, approximately 24" X 36" to give them enough room. Be sure to keep the box clean.

Do they spray?

Yes, both genders will spray. Servals MUST be spayed or neutered at a fairly early age or they will begin to spray in your house. They are not like a regular domestic cat and they require a larger sized litter box to accomdate for their bigger size. There are Servals that will faithfully use a litter box daily, however the reality is that most need to have some sort of an outdoor enclosure because in time they become unpredictable in their litter box habits.


Servals require the same vaccinations that domestic cats do. But, make sure that your vet uses vaccines made with ALL KILLED VIRUS. Exotic cats may become sick and die if live vaccines are used. This is very important. Both males and females will spray once they reach sexual maturity if they are not altered. I would recommend having the declaw and altering done at between 4 and 6 months. Please consult your vet regarding this. For safe measure, if there is any reason that you suspect that your serval is ill, please bring it to your vet. Your serval can’t tell you what is bothering them so you have to be the one to look for signs. Particularly, you should be wary of diarrhea. In a young cat, this can dehydrate them in a few hours and they may need fluids intravenously. If you see diarrhea (watery stools) more than twice in a row, it would be prudent to have the vet check out the serval. Treatment is usually easy and quick once the vet determines the cause of the diarrhea. Diarrhea can sometimes result from a change in diet. But this usually goes away quickly.

©Vickie Ehrlekrona ~ BeSpotted
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