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Bengal Cats vs. Savannah Cats


We often get questions asking to explain the differences between Savannah Cats and Bengal Cats.  I hope this page will help to highlight the differences between these two noble and beautiful creatures.

The easiest way I have found to illustrate the differences is to first look at the wild ancestors that are the basis of these two breeds.

First, we will look at the Savannahs wild ancestor, the African Serval.  The Serval makes its home on the African wetlands or Savannahs, hence its name.  So it is a fan of water and will play in a pool if given an opportunity.  In the wild, it will live in close proximity to African tribes.  So even in its wild form, it is by nature not shy of humans.  It is a very tall gangly creature with long legs, a very short tail and a head considered too small for its large frame.  It has wonderful HUGE ears to hear its pray even far below ground.  It is not a stalker of prey as much as it is a pouncer by nature.  They can leap high in the air over a large distance to attack prey.

It is also considerably larger than may be evident by these pictures.  It is not unusual to find a Serval of 40+ pounds and 22" at the shoulder.  The Serval comes in 3 colors in the wild, Golden, Snow and Melanistic (black).  These are the approved colors of Savannahs. 

African Serval


This picture illustrates very well the VERY large ears, wide nose bridge and small head compared to body size.  A solid black nose is common as is a pink nose or a nose that is black with a vertical pink stripe.  These Servals show the deep golden coloration with large very black spots.

This picture shows a snow colored Serval with a whitish background and lighter colored spots.  Notice the short thick tail and very long legs.
  This picture shows a melanistic or black spotted  Serval.  In bright light you can see the spots in the coat.  Again, notice the large ears, long legs and small head compared with body size.  

See more photos


Now we will look at the ancestor of the Bengal cat commonly known as the Asian Leopard Cat, Margay or Amur Leopard Cat.  The genis species name of the Asian Leopard Cat is Bengalinsis hence the name Bengal.  If is a forest dwelling cat found in the forests of South America, Malaysia, India and elsewhere.  It is very shy by nature and hides from people, but is not inherently agressive toward them unless cornered. 

It is a smaller cat which varies some depending on the location, ancestors and food supply.  It can reach 15 pounds but its size seems much smaller that this.  The weight comes from muscling due to extensive tree climbing and genetics.  I has very small ears but very large round eyes to allow it to see in the darker forest environment where it lives.    It has a short thick tail and a spotted coat.  It moves close to the ground or hunched down on a tree limb in an effort not to be located by predators or prey.  In the wild, the Asian Leopard Cat comes only in the brown spotted variety.  The approved colors for Bengals are Brown Spotted, Silver Spotted, Snow Spotted, Brown Marble, Silver Marble and Snow Marble.  The marble pattern was developed by domestic crosses.  Although not an original pattern of leopard cat, the marble pattern and coloration has become quite stunning.  The silver and snow color were introduced by domestic crosses as well, but no one can deny their beauty in the show rings today.  No one knows just how beautiful these creatures will become with the many dedicated breeders continuing to improve on their breeding programs.


The Asian Leopard Cat


Notice the very small ears, large eyes and spotted coat.  It also has a whited, spotted stomach.  This is a closeup and this cat is not as large as it appears here.  This is an average size Asian Leopard Cat.

This is a young asian leopard cat, again notice the large eyes, whited tummy small ears and wide nose bridge.

This is a close-up of an asian leopard cat, again notice the large eyes, set deep into the sockets, whited tummy and wide nose bridge.  The white area around the eyes is known as "spectacles"  Eye color was changed by the photographer, they were deep brown and the coat color was brown as well.

This is a Margay, a relative of the Asian Leopard Cat which we love.  Many breeders are hoping to incorporate some Margay traits into their Bengal Cat Breeding programs.

A close up of an Asian Leopard Cat's profile. 

Just Lovely!


These pictures show a more accurate gauge of size of the Asian Leopard Cat.  Also notice how it carries itself low to the ground.  Notice the short thick tail and spotting that moves in horizontal rows toward the back of the body.  Notice no vertical markings which look like vertical stripes.  Bengal Breeders prize the horizontal flow of markings.


Now that you have a better idea of the differences between these wild ancestors, we will discuss how these domestic breeds came to be. 

The goal:

The goal was to develop a version of these wild cats that looked exactly like the wild ancestor but that would have a domestic cats temperament. This would allow people who do not have the knowledge, space or a USDA license, the ability to own an animal with wild exotic looks.  Each of these breeds had originators who took the wild ancestors and bred them to domestic cats of various types in an effort to retain as much of the wild looks as possible while taming the wild personality. 

Size and generation as a consideration:

 In choosing between the breeds, size must be considered.  A 25-30 pound 18-20" tall cat although beautiful and exotic looking uses more food and LOTS more litter than a 10-15 pound 10-12" tall cat.  It also needs more space to exercise than a smaller cat would.  Earlier generation cats are much more active and tend to retain more of their wild instincts than SBT or cats that are 5 generations away from the wild cats.  Not to consider these things in your decision would be to do yourself and the cat a disservice.  It will produce a situation which is not tolerable for either of you.   Discuss this with the breeder and get their feedback.

Heartbreak and difficulty:

Genetics and breeding are not an exact science.  Many attempts were made with various domestic breeds and domestic crosses.  In both breeds, it was determined after trial and heartbreak that males are infertile until approximately the 5th generation away from the wild ancestor.  This is due to the wild ancestor having a different number of chromosomes than the domestic.  This also made reproducing offspring VERY difficult.  Litter's were not produced and when they were, they were small.  Mothers did not care for their young and human intervention was required.  Even with intervention, sometimes entire litters were lost. 

Bengal status:

This is where similarities between the Savannah and Bengal breeds current status ends.  The Bengal has been in development for quite a number of years.  The only breeds in use in a Bengal breeding program is a Bengal and rarely, an Asian Leopard Cat.  As such, it has gained consistency and continued to evolve and its look has been enhanced.  In some cases, current Bengals actually have coats which are more striking than their wild ancestors.  Their temperaments have been tamed and some of their interesting wild traits have remained.  These are fetching like dogs, loving water and being initially shy of strangers.  Although some breeders who are licensed still use some Asian Leopard cats in their programs, it is not very common.  Those offspring are only allowed to go to VERY knowledgable, experienced owners who can handle difficult cats.

Savannah status:

The Savannah is a very new breed and various domestic breeds are still being used in its development.  There are no domestic cats with the size and long legs of the Serval.  There are no domestic breeds with the large ears of the Serval.  So, the breed development is taking great pains and lots of time and effort on the part of dedicated breeders.  Some of the breeds that have been used in Savannah breeding programs are: Bengals, Ocicats, Oriental Shorthairs, Egyptian Maus, Maine Coons, Serenghetti's and others.  Now if you consider the difference both in size and looks of an Oriental Shorthair or Bengal and a Maine Coon, you soon start to realize why this breed currently has a vast variety of looks in it's breed members.  In a breeding program with a Mau you may find a very silvery darker background to the coat but better retained ear size.  In a program with a Bengal, you may find smaller ears and some rosetting, but better golden ground color and better size.  In breedings with Ocicats, you may lose difference in color between the spots and the base color, but better ear size.  In breedings with Oriental Shorthairs, you may find better retained ear size and longer legs, but silver base color, very small spots and a smaller size.

It is only very recently that fertile 5th generation males have become available to use in breeding programs.   We are hoping that this will be the next step in getting some similarity between our various looks.  So when you look for Savannahs currently, you will see lots of variety between various kittens and cats based on what has been used to make up their breeding past.  Currently, the Bengal was disallowed by registering organizations as an "approved" outcross for the Savannah.  However, this breed does have things to offer in a breeding program if used correctly and not overused.  In breeding as in life, all things in moderation is the key.

Savannah breeding difficulties:

 As a new breed, with so few representatives, early generation cats are still very much in use to develop the breed.  The use of these cats, although beautiful, comes with its own share of heartache.  Many Savannahs won't bond or breed with a male they haven't grown up with.  This means that breeders have to have a resident male and raise him with girls which are compatible for breeding.  Even then, sometimes the breedings don't take, males aren't fertile, litters are small or non-existent and kittens die.  It is not uncommon to have litters of 1 or two.  Losses as neonates are not unusual either. 

It is not unusual for a breeder to invest thousands of dollars in a male and females.  Raise those kittens to adulthood to 2 years of age (Savannah's are late bloomers) only to find out the male is either infertile or won't breed his resident girls.  Or that they won't breed with him.  This means the breeder has to start over.  Bringing in outside males or sending a girl out doesn't help either.  Many females will only breed with males they have bonded with since being kittens. 

Why the high prices?:

After reading about the difficulties in breedings and producing kittens you may begin to understand about the frustrations faced by breeders.  But the second most challenging thing to feline breeders is the nature of the cats immune system.  Cats live for the most part as solitary creatures.  Meeting only to breed and produce offspring.  This means that millions of years of evolution did not require the feline immune system to develop immunity to diseases passed from cat to cat.   We as breeders have altered this equation in an effort to modify what nature originally gave us.  This sometimes has consequences. 

One of those consequences is the extraordinarily high veterinary bills associated with keeping multiple cats in close proximity.  Responsible breeders try to give those animals in our charge the best possible life.  This includes good health.  However, despite our best efforts and those of our vets, there are constant visits to the vets for one situation or the other.  These visits are very expensive because when one cat is diagnosed with even the sniffles, all cats must be treated.  A C-Section, besides the cost of the surgery which is usually $1000, also can produce a mom who abandons the young because they weren't born naturally.  Artificial feeding of young doesn't include mothers immunity and losses always result.  As you can see, there is more to the price than just putting two cats together and getting a healthy litter of kittens.

Why 12 weeks?:

12 weeks is the normal timeframe for Bengals and Savannahs to go to their new homes.  This is because the first vaccines are given at 8 weeks and the 2nd at 12 weeks.  In this way, the kittens have two shots prior to going to their new homes.  This lessens the chance of contracting disease.  Your responsibility in the care of your new kitten is to take it to the veterinarian immediately (within 72 hours) and have it examined.  Get a feline Leukemia test and vaccine.  Do NOT under any circumstances give a shot for FIP.  This will void any warranty you have on your kitten.  This shot is not proven safe and may actually cause this disease.  Keep your kitten secluded from any other feline members of your household for at least 2 weeks.  This will insure that both are healthy when introduced to each other.


I hope this helps to illustrate some of the differences in the breeds to help you make a decision as to which breed will work best for you and your family.  But if you still can't decide, I understand!  After all, that is why I have both!



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