Savannah Cat Vs Bengal Cat: Spot The Difference

Savannah Cat Vs Bengal Cat

Last updated on February 1st, 2024 at 10:28 pm

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD

Among the domestic hybrid cat breeds, two stand out prominently: Savannah cats and Bengal cats. The appeal of these breeds lies not only in their stunning appearances but also in their remarkable blend of wild and domestic traits. 

While both cats are hybrids of wild cats, they are not the same. So what is the difference between a Savannah cat vs a Bengal cat?

Savannah cats are significantly bigger than Bengals. They have larger ears, and longer legs relative to body size and can be quite a bit “wilder” in nature. But the biggest difference between these two breeds is the sticker price: the price of a Savannah cat may shock you! 

In this article, we examine the world of these hybrid cats, focusing on the unique characteristics, shared attributes, and contrasting elements that distinguish Savannah cats and Bengal cats. 

Our goal is to provide prospective cat owners with a comprehensive understanding of these exceptional felines. Read on to learn more about the similarities and differences that define Savannah and Bengal cats.

Savannah Cat vs. Bengal Cats:  Origins

Before getting into the distinct characteristics of Savannah and Bengal cats, it helps to understand their roots. Each breed has a unique history that contributes to their distinct traits and temperaments.

young bengal cat with large rosette markings playing on a white blanket
Young Bengal Cat

Bengal Cat Origins

The Bengal cat’s origins can be traced back to the 1960s when the breed’s creator, Jean Mill, began selectively breeding domestic cats with the Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). 

The Asian leopard cat is a small wild feline species native to various parts of Asia, including regions like India, Southeast Asia, and parts of China. It has a sleek and slender build, with a coat covered in a unique pattern of spots or rosettes that vary in size and arrangement. 

Its fur coloration ranges from yellowish-tan to gray, with a white underbelly. One of its most remarkable features is its large, expressive eyes and a small, rounded head. It is known for its agility and climbing abilities.

Mill aimed to create a hybrid breed with the wild appearance of a leopard but the gentle temperament of a domestic cat breed. The early efforts to develop the Bengal breed involved crossing domestic cats, such as the Egyptian Mau, Abyssinians, and American Shorthairs, with Asian leopard cats. 

Over time, breeders focused on preserving these distinct coat patterns while also ensuring that Bengal cats retained a sociable and manageable temperament suitable for life as companions. 

Most Bengals today are far removed from their wild ancestors, and the breed is maintained by breeding Bengal cats to Bengal cats.

young Savannah cat studio image on a pink and grey backdrop
Young Savannah Cat

Savannah Cat Origins

The Savannah cat stems from a cross between a domestic cat and the African serval cat (Leptailurus serval). A medium-sized wild cat species, the serval features a slender yet robust body, characterized by long legs, a relatively short tail, and large, rounded ears. 

Its coat is typically covered in a striking pattern of small black spots, set against a golden-yellow or tawny background. One of the serval’s most notable features is its long legs, which make this cat an adept jumper.

The goal behind developing the Savannah breed was to combine the serval’s exotic appearance with the social and interactive qualities of domestic cats.

The breed is rooted in the 1980s when a male serval was successfully crossed with a Siamese cat. As the breeding efforts continued, early-generation Savannahs were crossed back with domestic cats, such as Egyptian Maus, Oriental Shorthairs, and Bengals, to achieve desirable coat patterns, sizes, and temperaments while reducing the wild instincts.

Similarities Between Savannah and Bengal Cats

Savannah and Bengal cats have distinct origins and appearances, but they also share some remarkable similarities. These shared characteristics are a testament to their hybrid roots, combining wild traits with domestic ones. 

Agility and Strength

Both Savannah cats and Bengal cats exhibit exceptional athleticism, owing to their hybrid lineage and the influence of their wild ancestors. Their agile and athletic bodies, long legs, and muscular build enable them to engage in acrobatic feats and display impressive physical prowess.

Curiosity

Savannah cats and Bengal cats are both renowned for their insatiable curiosity and penchant for exploration. They require mental stimulation and are always eager to investigate their environment, as they seek out new sights, smells, and experiences.

Their inquisitive nature drives makes them engaging and interactive companions. It also frequently gets them into mischief too!

Intelligence

Both cat breeds are quite intelligent, thanks to their wild ancestor’s sharp wits. This intelligence lends itself to learning new tricks and adjusting quickly to changes in routine. 

This quick-thinking is particularly useful when it comes to problem-solving, such as figuring out how to open cabinets or climb onto bookshelves – again with the troublemaking!

Water Fascination

A shared trait between these breeds is their affinity for water-related activities. While not all individual cats within these breeds may enjoy water, many Savannah and Bengal cats show a heightened interest in playing with water, whether it’s pawing at a dripping faucet or joining their human companions in the bath.

Outdoor Inclination

Both Savannah and Bengal cats possess a natural inclination to spend time outdoors. This is likely influenced by their wild ancestry and the inherent desire to explore and engage with their environment. 

Their desire to go outdoors can prove challenging to their owners, who need to be on their toes at all times to make sure their cats stay safe. 

Low Shedding Coats

With their short, sleek fur, Savannah and Bengal cats share the advantage of having low-shedding coats. Both breeds boast short, silky coats that require minimal grooming and maintenance.  A quick weekly brushing should be enough to maintain the coat’s healthy sheen and condition. 

Vocalization

Both breeds are known for their expressive vocalizations. Savannah cats and Bengal cats communicate through a range of meows, chirps, and other sounds, effectively conveying their emotions and desires to their owners. 

Differences Between Savannah Cat And Bengal Cats 

While they share some remarkable similarities, Savannahs and Bengals also possess a number of unique characteristics that set them apart. Once you see them, you will never mistake one breed for the other!

Size and Weight

Bengal Cats:
Bengal cats are medium to large-sized cats. Their size is influenced by the breed of domestic cat used in the initial hybrid cross. They typically weigh between 8 to 15 pounds (3.6 to 6.8 kg), with males tending to be larger than females. In terms of height, Bengal cats generally measure around 13 to 16 inches.

Savannah Cats:
Savannah cats, on the other hand, exhibit greater variation in size and weight than Bengals. The size of a Savannah cat can be influenced by the generation (F1, F2, etc.) and the proximity to the serval gene. 

As a result, earlier-generation Savannah cats, such as F1 and F2, tend to be larger, with some individuals reaching lengths of up to 17-22 inches at the shoulder.

The weight of Savannah cats can vary widely, ranging from 8 to 25 pounds (3.6 to 11.3 kg) or even more in some cases. F1 and F2 Savannahs are often larger and heavier, while subsequent generations become progressively smaller as the percentage of domestic cat genetics increases.

Wildness and Temperament

The breed tendencies described here offer general insights into the temperament of these two cat breeds. However, individual personalities within both Bengal and Savannah cats can vary widely. 

Factors like socialization, upbringing, and genetics all play a role in shaping an individual cat’s temperament.

Bengal Cats:
Bengal cats are primarily bred for domestication. Their wild appearance doesn’t necessarily translate to wild behaviors. Bengal cats are typically chosen for their aesthetic appeal while maintaining a manageable and sociable temperament that is well-suited for life as a companion animal.

Bengals are generally affectionate and interactive with their human companions. While they may retain some high-energy traits reminiscent of their wild ancestors, they are not as prone to displaying overt wild behaviors as some other hybrid breeds.

Savannah Cats:
Savannah cats can exhibit a wider range of wild traits in their behavior. Early-generation Savannahs (F1 and F2) may display more pronounced wild behaviors, including high activity levels, intense curiosity, and a strong hunting instinct.

As Savannah cats progress in generations (F3 and beyond), their wild behaviors become less noticeable as they are bred with domestic cats. But even in later generations, Savannah cats retain a certain level of energy and curiosity that sets them apart from the average domestic cat.

side by side image of Bengal rosette markings and Savannah spotted markings
Bengal rosette spots (left) vs Savannah solid spots (right)

Coat Patterns and Colors

Bengal Cats:
Bengal cats are renowned for their striking coat patterns that resemble those of wild leopards. They showcase two main types of coat patterns:

  1. Spotted Pattern: Bengal cats often feature a distinctive spotted coat pattern. The spots can vary in size, from small to large rosette markings. These rosettes may have a dark outline and are arranged irregularly across the cat’s body, giving them the appearance of a miniature leopard.
  2. Marbled Pattern: Another common coat pattern in Bengal cats is the marbled pattern. This pattern consists of swirling, random markings that create a beautiful and intricate design on the cat’s coat.

Bengal cats exhibit a wide range of coat colors, including variations of brown, snow (which includes seal lynx point, seal mink, and seal sepia), and silver. These colors can further vary depending on the cat’s lineage and specific genetics. For example, melanistic Bengals are totally black, looking like miniature black panthers.

Savannah Cats:
Savannah cats display coat patterns that evoke the look of their serval ancestors. The coat patterns and colors in Savannah cats can vary due to their hybrid lineage and the influence of their serval genes. 

However, breed standards such as those set by The International Cat Association (TICA) recognize only the spotted coat pattern and black, brown (black) spotted tabby, black silver spotted tabby, and black smoke coat colors.

The dark spots of a Savannah cat are solid black or brown, whereas the Bengal’s spots are usually in the form of ‘rosettes’ which often have two colors. 

Eyes

Bengal Cats:

Bengals have large, expressive round eyes that give them an air of alertness and curiosity. They typically range in color from amber to green, although some may have blue eyes due to the influence of their domestic cat genes.

Savannah Cats: 

Savannah cats typically have hues of green, gold or copper in their eyes. Like Bengal cats, some Savannahs may feature blue eyes due to the influence of their domestic cat genes. But their eye shape and size are noticeably different from the Bengals

These cat’s eyes are set under a low brow and the corner of the eye slopes down towards the nose. The bottom half of the eye is almond-shaped. These features combine to create exotic  and captivating eyes that are often described as exotic and “wild-looking”.

Savannah cat vs Bengal cat - side by side image of heads of a bengal and a savannah cat
Young Savannah Cat (left) and Young Bengal Cat (right)

Ears

Bengal Cats:
Bengal’s ears are medium in size, with rounded tips and a slight tilt forward. The ears are set relatively wide apart on the head.

Savannah Cats:
Savannah cats possess distinctive ears that are often described as one of the most striking features of the breed. Their large ears are quite distinctive, and are capable of swiveling and tilting to capture sounds from different directions. They provide a key visual cue that connects Savannah cats to their wild heritage.

Legs

While both cats are athletic and have legs that support that, anyone who has seen these two cat breeds has noticed a difference in the shape.

Bengal Cats:
Bengal cats are known for their well-proportioned and muscular legs that contribute to their athletic appearance. Their legs are relatively medium in length, giving them a balanced and agile physique.

Savannah Cats:
Savannah cats are distinctive for their elongated legs, which are one of the most recognizable features inherited from their serval ancestors. These cats have notably longer legs in comparison to many domestic cat breeds. The elongation of their legs provides them with a unique appearance and is often referred to as “leggy.”

The elongated legs of Savannah cats give them an increased height and a more upright stance.  Their longer legs are a serval adaptation for moving through tall grasses in the wild, and this characteristic persists in domesticated Savannah cats.

Energy Levels

Bengal Cats:

Bengal cats are known for their energy and enthusiasm. They are active cats that typically exhibit higher levels of activity compared to the average house cat. Their play activities, like chasing toys or interacting with other cats, are characterized by their vigor and high energy.

Savannah Cats:

Savannah cats are renowned for their high energy levels and innate curiosity. This breed’s activity level is often described as intense, with an eagerness to explore and investigate their environment. 

Given their larger size, Savannah owners may be challenged to provide their cats with enough space that  allows them to express their energy and curiosity. While some Savannahs can easily adapt to an indoor lifestyle, others may require access to outdoor spaces to burn off extra energy.

Health Issues

Despite their striking physical characteristics that are steeped in wild serval genetics, both Bengal and Savannah cats are domesticated. As such, they can be prone to the same health issues as many domestic breeds. 

Bengal Cats: 

The Bengal cat breed is known to be prone to several inherited health problems such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). While the majority of Bengals are healthy, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to ask about any potential health issues. 

Savannah Cats: 

Since Savannah cats are a relatively new breed, there is not yet much information regarding their long-term health. Inheritance of genetic health conditions can be linked to the specific domestic cat breed used in the initial hybrid crosses. 

Cost 

A significant factor to consider when choosing between a Bengal or Savannah cat is the cost. The financial commitment can vary greatly between these two breeds.

Bengal Cats:
Typically, the price range for a registered Bengal kitten can start from around $1500 to $4,000 or more for high-quality show or breeding cats. Some exceptional pedigrees or rare coat colors may command even higher prices.

Savannah Cats:
The cost of a Savannah cat can vary significantly depending on factors such as generation (F1, F2, etc.), percentage of serval genes, appearance, and breeder reputation. The earlier-generation Savannah cats (F1 and F2) are the most rare and are often priced higher due to their closer genetic relationship to the serval.

Savannah cat prices can start around $1,500 to $6,000 for later generations, while F1 and F2 Savannahs can range from $10,000 to $25,000 or even more, depending on the specific circumstances. The rarity and demand for these unique hybrids contribute to the higher price range.

Legal Implications of Ownership

One of the major differences between Savannah cat and Bengal cat ownership is the legality of it all. 

Owning a Bengal cat is legal in most states in the U.S., while ownership of Savannah cats may be restricted due to their hybrid status. Some states and countries consider them wild animals and, as such, have specific regulations regarding their possession. 

Savannah cats’ hybrid status also means that prospective owners must obtain an exotic pet permit in order to own the cat legally, especially for generations F1-F4. Permits may not be required for generations beyond that. 

The permit application process can be complex and time-consuming, so it’s important to research the specific legal requirements for your state or country before deciding to purchase a Savannah cat.

In contrast, Bengal cats do not require an exotic pet permit in most states throughout the United States. However, some cities within these states may have special regulations on Bengal cats. 

Some regions may have laws on the books that prohibit the possession of “any hybrid” of wild cats which means that Bengals or Savannahs of any generation would, by legal definition, be prohibited. 

In most cases, authorities are unlikely to enforce this statute when it comes to domesticated Bengal cats. It is best to check with your local authorities to make sure, though, before purchasing either of these cats.  

litter of bengal kittens nursing their mother
Litter of Bengal kittens with marble and spotted coat patterns

Conclusion

In the grand scheme of things, the choice between a Savannah and a Bengal cat comes down to personal preference. Both breeds possess distinctive characteristics and unique features that are highly appealing to cat lovers. 

Before making a decision, prospective owners need to thoroughly evaluate several factors, including legal implications, financial considerations, and care requirements. Taking these aspects into account will help you make an informed choice that suits your needs.

All that being said, whether you choose a Savannah or a Bengal, one thing remains certain: you’re in for an enriching and rewarding pet ownership experience!

Sources:

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.

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