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:

  • Train to litter box
    When you receive your kitten from a breeder, the kitten will most likely all ready be litter trained. But you must show your kitten where the litter box is in order for him/her to release himself. A Serval will use a litter box to urinate and defecate if they are taught to do so. They do not naturally cover up like domestic cats do.
  • Do not yell to train
    Don’t ever yell at your kitten, this will start you two off in a bad way and will create problems. 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.
  • Train using repetition
    If you see the kitten 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. You may need to show your kitten the litter box several time, but once they recognize this as their spot, they will faithfully use it.
  • Maintenance
    The litter box must be cleaned daily, and change the litter once a week. They may occasionally urinate or defecate elsewhere. When you discover this is happening, you must clean the spot thoroughly. NO AMMONIA cleaning products, this will only encourage your Serval to use this place over and over again. Rather clean the area with an enzyme-based odor remover such as “Nature’s Miracle” and then use “Feliway” on the spot to discourage this behavior.
  • Litter box and other domestic cats
    If you have domestics, do not allow them to use the same box as the Serval. This will only deter the Serval from using its own litter box. If your domestics have urinated on carpets, upholstery or furniture, so will your Serval. You must thoroughly clean those areas with the above mentioned and forbid your domestics in those areas. If you are having a problem with the Serval using the wrong spot consistently, contact me and I will be happy to give some suggestions to eliminate the problem

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.

  • Food for kittens
    Feeding your kitten basically takes the form of fine foods rather than whole. Kittens up to about 6 months will need ground meat, offered in combination with wet food. A mixture of ground raw turkey mixed with powdered dry IAMS works well for small kittens. You may want to feed them regular cat food but most types are not well suited to these cats. Use only premium cat food kibble such as IAMS or Orijin, which is 75% meat based. Some kittens, as young as 6 weeks, can chew on a whole chicken wing. At a later date, you may decide to feed your Serval ZuPreem® Exotic Feline Diet Canned, or “Mazuri”. However, many breeders don’t like this approach and especially have concerns with Mazuri. “My male Serval had developed stones due to the salt content of the Mazuri.”… Sally Comstock
  • Food for kittens at 6 months
    By the time the Serval is about six months old they may be eating as much as a full can of food per day or a combination of dry and wet food. By this time they will be able to chow down on whole IAMS kibble taking the place of the powdered kibble.
  • Food for mature cats
    When your kitten starts to mature, you may give him a chicken leg or neck. Remember to remove the skin from the leg. This will only cause a chubby Serval in the future. When the Serval reaches maturity, you will be feeding the raw chicken with bones and all. Do not feed cooked meat. Most meat contains high levels of phosphorus and if not consumed with the proper amount of calcium will cause small or brittle bones and other problems. Exotic cats need the correct ratio of the two minerals to be able to utilize the calcium for bone growth. It is best to let the Serval eat as much as they want but, do not leave the food out for more than a couple of hours.
  • Amount of food
    An adult will eat between 1 and 3 pounds of meat a day. It is normal for Serval cats to eat a lot one day and less the next day but if you see that they aren’t eating you should have them checked at your vets. Vitamin supplements must be considered. A feeding of grass once a week should be done for the digestive system.
  • Water
    Be sure to have plenty of clean water for them to drink. Having several water bowls around in the house works well. They like to play in water so make sure that you keep the toilet lids closed. This is also best due to the chemical cleaners we use for the toilets.
Serval Play
Servals are very playful, as you will soon find out. They will bring things to you for you to throw to them. They are natural retrievers and they love playing fetch. Some Servals will play fetch for hours. Because they love water, it is not surprising to see your Serval peek-a-booing you when you are in the shower. They will enjoy having a kiddy pool in their outside cage. They have fun cleaning their toys. At night, if you have more than one, they will often start playing and chasing each other around the house, even bouncing off of the walls while you try to sleep.
  • Serval cats and toys
    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 dog work well. It is fun going to the pet store purchasing dog toys for your cat. Just sit back and watch the reaction when the clerk says, “awww, you buying toys for your dog?”, and you reply, “no, buying toys for my cat.”
  • Chewing kittens
    Serval kittens like to chew like a puppy. It is a good idea to have plenty of toys that they can chew on. The hard plastic is preferable. The soft plastic can be eaten, which is definitely not good. If you provide them with plenty of toys, they will be less likely 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 decorative pillows. As they mature they usually do not chew very much.

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.

Serval Discipline

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:

  • Vaccinations
    Serval cats require the same vaccinations that domestic cats do. Make sure your veterinarian uses ONLY vaccines made from killed viruses. Exotic cats may become sick and die if live vaccines are used. This is very important.
  • Spaying or Neutering
    Both males and females will spray once they reach sexual maturity if they are not altered. Altering is best done at between 4 and 6 months. Consult a qualified veterinarian regarding this.
  • De-clawing
    When keeping Serval cats as pets, there is a question of whether or not to de-claw the cat. You can discuss this with a qualified veterinarian. There are opinions both for and against this practice. Some breeders suggest that the Servals be de-clawed, and may do this prior to selling their kittens. This can save you from too friendly a playtime, and save your furniture as well. Remember these are wildcat claws and can do plenty of damage.

Authors: Sally Comstock, Clarice Brough, Michel Witaker