When you accept the responsibility of caring for any animal like a Serval, you must realize that the animal depends on you not just for food, shelter and medical care, but also depends on you for companionship and love.
Below are a few honest tips to make this experience the most rewarding:
Bonding with Your Serval
Patience is important. Teach your pet Serval to trust with food, toys, play, patience, and no negative responses. When you are trying to become friends with your Serval one of the best things is to feed them directly from your hands. This will teach trust. They can learn you are giving them something good when you are reaching for them.
Another way to bond with your Serval is, lay down on the floor with the cat and their favorite toy. Standing will reflect as you being the predator against them. Play with them so you are not towering over them like you would be if you are standing up. 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.
Housing your Serval
Your Serval will preferably need a cat room in the house and a large pen outdoors dedicated only for the Serval. Throughout the home, always remember to keep the windows closed.
They are capable of jumping on anything that you have in your house. They like being perched on tall pieces of furniture and on shelves. Anything that is on a shelf or piece of furniture that is breakable should be put in a case or cabinet. Cabinets should be high enough to be close to the ceiling. Also watch out for the top of the refrigerator.
Your Indoor Cat Room
This room will serve as a den for your Serval, especially when you are away from home, or when the need arises for the Serval not to roam your home. You need to make the room “Serval-proof”, meaning free of dangers. Make sure there are no electrical wires, dangerous chemicals, etc., no glass or other fragile knickknacks that could be shattered leaving dangerous shards, no places where a Serval could get their leg caught resulting in a sprain or break, no open electric outlets, no indigestible materials, etc.
Your Outdoor Enclosure
The outside enclosure should be long as a run, and it should provide adequate shelter from the elements. An ideal outside enclosure would be attached to the house, with an enclosed “catwalk” to give the cat access to the inside of your house. The outside enclosure should be Serval proof as well. A Serval can jump 10 feet straight in the air from a stand still. The outside cage should have a roof to prevent the Serval from jumping out of its cage.
Litter Training Servals
When the Serval is small you can use a standard litter box. When they get bigger you will need a larger box, approximately 16 inches in width, 24 inches in length and 18 inches in height or even larger to give them enough room. Be sure to keep the box clean. Using two litter boxes, one for urination and one for defecation, can help a great deal. Servals will refuse to urinate in a box that has been defecated in. You must keep these litter boxes clean every day, after each use.
Here’s is a list of the basics for teaching your Serval to use the litter box, its maintenance, and some other important things to know:
Feeding Pet Servals
Servals need more nutrients than a domestic cat. In the wild, Servals feed on primarily on rodents and small animals, as well as birds. A diet in captivity needs to be similar for them to get adequate nutrition. One of the most important things is that they get enough calcium in their diet of 54mgs per animal while kittens, tapering off to about 45 – 49mgs per pound for an adult of three years. Much of their calcium will be from the bones of an animal.
Recommended Serval diets consist of raw, bone-in poultry, meat, and fish supplemented with vitamins made for wild felines. This includes, chicken in all forms (quarters, necks, thighs, wings and ground chicken) turkey necks and ground turkey, any cut of beef and ground beef, as well as canned fish like tuna, salmon, jack mackerel. You can also offer treats of such things as cheese, beef jerky, fruits like strawberries, cherries, oranges, and bananas, lettuce and tomatoes, and macaroni and cheese.
Harness Training Servals
If you want to be able to take your Serval places with you, you should have your Serval wearing a harness at an early age. Always use a harness, and never trust a collar. They can get out of a collar within seconds. When you start harness training, they will think this is fun and will not cooperate at first. But with time and patience they will start to understand that this is a routine humans prefer.
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 in the house or their cage. 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. Every once in awhile put the leash on it and guide him around the house. Then you may want to take them out for short walks around the house, near your doors so if there is trouble you may have a fast entrance into the house.
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. Servals can be caught but it can be an ordeal.
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 pistol works. Servals learn to understand that a water bottle means a definite NO! If they play too rough, such as biting too hard, a firm “No!” and a light tap on the head will discourage them. If it does not work, walk away and quit playing.
Servals are very smart and also 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. Just remember, don’t yell at your Serval, as they do not understand that type of communication.
Serval Health Care
Serval cats are pretty hardy, but it’s important to be prepared should your pet cat get sick. For safe measure, if there is any reason that you suspect that your Serval is ill, the best thing is to take it to a veterinarian. Your pet Serval can’t tell you what is bothering them so you have to be the one to look for signs of illness.
Things to look for include indicating illness include drastic mood changes, vomiting, diarrhea and straining while urinating. Particularly, you should be wary of diarrhea (watery stools). In a young cat, this can dehydrate them in a few hours and they may need fluids intravenously. If you see diarrhea more than twice in a row, it would be prudent to have a veterinarian 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.
There is also some routine medical care, and some optional considerations when keeping Serval cats as pets, including:
Authors: Sally Comstock, Clarice Brough, Michel Witaker