Physical Appearance

Dreamweavercatz “Mathilde” of Exotic Tails. F5B Savannah Queen.

Savannah cats are one of the larger domesticated feline breeds, distinguished by their wild look and beautiful spots. This is due to a combination of many distinguishing African Serval characteristics. The most prominent features can include:

  • Various colour markings, such as:

    • Spots – Solid, round, and flow in a horizontal pattern starting at the shoulders.
    • Ocelli – eye-like markings on the backs of the ears (a central light band bordered by black, dark grey or brown).
    • Tails – black rings with a solid black tip. Shorter (3/4 length) and thicker tails preferred.
    • Black or dark “tear streaks”/”cheetah tears” – markings running from the corner of the eyes and down the sides of the nose to the whiskers, much like a cheetah.
  • Tall, slim build with emphasized features, such as:

    • Long bodies.
    • Long, slender necks.
    • Heads that are triangular shaped from both the front & side, with no muzzle pinch, that are taller than wide.
    • Tall, deeply cupped, rounded, erect ears (perfect ears would be bell shaped, or like upside-down “U”s).
    • Very long legs (a standing Savannah often has a hind-end that is higher than its prominent shoulders).
    • Long pronounced toes.
  • Distinct eyes, such as:

    • Boomerang shaped top, almond shaped bottom (eyes should be deeply set).
    • Hooded brows that are to guard against harsh sunlight.
    • Eye colours including blue as a kitten (same as in other cat breeds), and green, brown, gold or a blended shade as an adult. Seal Spotted Tabbies will have blue, aqua, or gold/green-gold eyes.

    Other facial features, such as:

    • Wide nose bridges that don’t taper.
    • “Puffy” nose leathers that wrap around the front of the nose (may be black, pink, brick red, or brick red with black liner).
    • Straight Profiles.

A Savannah’s size is often (but not always) dependent on its generation and sex. In general, their taller, slimmer build gives the impression of a greater size than what their actual weight would seem to indicate.

For international recognition, TICA (The International Cat Association) breed standard calls for the following only:

  • Brown Spotted Tabby (BST) – cool to warm brown, tan or gold, with black or dark brown spots.
  • Silver Spotted Tabby (SST) – silver coat with black or dark grey spots.
  • Black – black with black “ghost” spots.
  • Black Smoke – black tipped silver with black spots.

Black Savannahs are also called as Melanistic. Melanism occasionally occur among African Servals. Learn more about melanism.

View the TICA Savannah Cat Standard by clicking here.

A good picture presentation of the different physical features of a Savannah can be viewed here.

Non-Standard Savannah Cat Colours & “Snow”

Savannah Cats can also come in many non-TICA-standard variations such as Classic Tabby (fondly known as “Marble”), Seal Lynx/Mink/Sepia Tabby (also know as “Snow”), Cinnamon, Chocolate, Blue, Red, BTT (Brown Ticked Tabby), and variations of Tabby with White. Many of these colourations are rare due to them being recessive (meaning both parents have to carry a copy of the gene for it to be expressed), or hidden, with the exception of the “with white” gene, which is dominant (meaning if one parent is displaying a physical copy of the gene, there is a good chance one or more of their offspring will display it as well) and BTT, which is partial dominance. The “with white” geneĀ  should NOT be confused with the locket gene (commonly seen as a white dot on the chest, stomach, tail tip or on/in-between toes) which is a complex recessive, or polygenic (meaning both parents have to carry different genes for it to express).

As a note, the Silver Spotted and Brown Spotted Tabby genes are dominant. Thus, if one parents is Silver or Brown spotted, approximately 50% of their offspring will be as well. Melanism (Black) is a recessive gene, and Smoke is the Black recessive to Silver. Smoke kittens are commonly mistaken for Melanistic kittens… The difference being that Smoke kittens, when brushed backwards, will display Silver or white-like undercoats.

“Snow” coloured Savannahs, traditionally know as Seal Lynx, Seal Mink, or Seal Sepia Spotted Tabbies, have become more popular over the years. Many breeders are now including them in their programs, despite Snows not being accepted in the Savannah Breed Standard.

Seal Spotted Tabby colouring is the tabby version of the “Colour Point” gene (commonly seen on Siamese and Himilayan cats). Because the Seal Spotted Tabby colour is a recessive (or hidden) gene, as mentioned above, both parents have to be carrying a copy of the gene for it to be expressed/seen on their kittens. Colour Points get their unique colouring from a mutated gene that causes partial albinism. The gene is also heat sensitive, meaning the cooler the area on the body, the more pronounced the colours/markings will be. This explains why the face, tail and legs are where the most pigment shows up. Cats of greater body weight will also have darker markings because fat creates insulation which cools down the body.

The most common of the Seal Spotted Tabby colours found in Savannahs is the Seal Lynx Tabby. Many Savannah Cat breeders are fond of this colouration because it best represents the white version of the African Serval. Savannah Cat breeders looking to produce Snows will usually aim to only produce Seal Lynx Tabbies.

Seal Lynx kittens are born completely white. This is due to the continuous heat provided in the queen’s womb. Kittens take several weeks to months developing their contrast, and get darker continuously as they age. Seal Lynx kittens will always have blue eyes. Any other colour indicates a different “Seal” colouring (Seal Mink or Seal Sepia). If uncertain of the colour of the eyes (often used to confirm the Lynx colouring), breeders will take a photo of the kitten’s face using a flash. If the picture comes out with the kitten having red pupils, then they know it’s a true Seal Lynx kitten. Seal Mink are born with a cream coloured coat and develop Aqua coloured eyes, and Seal Sepia (the darkest of the three) will be born a chocolatey brown colour and will have gold or gold-green eyes.

Why Many Breeders Do Not Breed For Non-Standard Colours

The number one reason many breeders do not breed for non-standard colours is due to them being recessive genes. As explained above, recessive genes require both parents to be carrying a copy of them for the physical trait to express on their kittens. Recessives can be hidden (so neither parent is displaying the gene, or in this case, colour) and can remain hidden for many generations before the right combination of queen/stud is bred together. Sometimes looking at a pedigree will give hints as to what recessives a cat will carry, but most of the time they will not. For example, some cats can have a grandparent displaying a recessive colour and not be carrying it. Alternatively a cat could have a great great great great grandparent displaying a recessive colour and it eventually shows up in their kittens. This makes for surprises and sometimes difficulties in planning breedings.

The only way to be 100% sure of what a cat is carrying (colour-wise in this case) is to send out for a DNA test that provides a full spectrum report of what the one cat can produce. UC Davis has a Veterinary Genetics Laboratory that provides this non-invasive test. For more extensive colour and testing info, click here. If a breeder has many cats, this can become quite costly, however, can aid a breeder make the best genetic choices in their breeding program.

Many recessives play off of other colours. The Colour Point (or “Snow”) gene is unique in that it can act as a recessive to other colours. For example, Seal Point is acting on the Melanism gene. Thus why Seal Point cats (like Siamese) will have such dark colouration on their faces and limbs.

One of the problems with accepting the Colour Point gene in the Savannah Breed Standard (even though the Seal Lynx “Snow” Tabby resembles the white African Serval the most) is that all three versions and all of their recessive colours will have to be accepted as well. Thus we would then have all sorts of non-Serval like colours, such as Blue, Chocolate, etc. While many of these colours are quite attractive on their own, many breeders feel this will destroy the overall unique look and appeal of the Savannah Cat.

The largest concern for accepting the Colour Point/Snow gene is also how it reacts with the Melanism/Black gene. Two cats carrying for both Colour Point and Black can produce Seal Point kittens, like the traditional Siamese – NO SPOTS. Since both genes are recessive and difficult to track, this poses a concern for the quality of kittens that can be produced. The reason behind keeping a Breed Standard is for breeders to aim to produce the highest quality kittens. In our case, breeders strive to have their Savannah kittens look as much like African Servals as we can. A kitten with near black limbs and face and no spots is not a great representation of either of the three variations of Serval (Gold, Black or White).

Since colour genetics is a vast topic, we are continually adding to this page. If you have any specific questions, feel free to email us at info@exotictails.ca and we’d be happy to talk more!