Although many cat breeds can have similar markings and colors, there are still distinct differences from breed to breed. These differences can range from size and personality to health risks and genetic makeup. The Savannah cat and Ocicat are two specific breeds with plenty of differences.
The 5 main differences between the Savannah cat and the Ocicat are:
- Size and body shape
- Genetic makeup
- Colors and markings
- Level of care required
This article isn’t designed to favor one breed or the other, but instead to help you decide which cat is the best fit for you. Different breeds have different needs, and below we go through the differences between these two cats so that you can make an informed decision on which is right for you.
The 5 Main Differences Between Savannah Cats And Ocicats
1. Size And Body Shape
One of the first differences you will notice between Ocicats and Savannah cats are their size and body shape. The majority of Savannah cats are going to be much larger than the average Ocicat, due to their wild relatives, the serval. The earlier the generation the larger a Savannah will be. F1 (early generation) Savannahs can be as tall as 18 inches and weigh as much as 25 pounds.
Additionally, Savannahs have a very different body shape compared to an Ocicat, but with later generations of Savannahs (F4+) these features may be less apparent. Savannahs are known for their long slender legs, which are an inherited trait from the serval. Their long legs allow them to jump as high as 8ft and run at high speeds.
Keeping Them Fit
Savannahs appear lean but have a defined muscular build, making them highly athletic. Exercise for a Savannah is very important for several reasons, but maintaining their unique build and keeping them in shape will help prolong their life. Many Savannah owners tend to have long play sessions and take their Savannahs on walks to maintain their physique.
You will also notice that a Savannah’s ears, unlike most cats, sit directly on top of their head instead of off to the sides. Additionally, their ears are much larger in comparison to their head than other cats, whose ears are generally more proportionate. Their large ears are another attribute from the serval, which assist in listening for prey or predators in the African grasslands.
A Savannah’s skull shape is different in comparison with the Ocicat. The skull shape of a Savannah is triangular, but it’s also taller than it is wide, whereas an Ocicat has a small triangular shaped skull with sharp cheek bones. Even their noses differ in that a Savannah’s nose is more puffed out and appears leathery, and an Ocicat’s is smaller, less puffy, and smooth.
The Ocicat is much smaller in general, with the exception of an F4+ Savannah. At most, an Ocicat will weigh about 14 pounds if they are healthy and not overfed. Their bodies are also built differently, with shorter, proportionate legs. They also have a leaner appearance than a Savannah, but are less defined. That said, Ocicats are an athletic breed with considerable muscle tone.
Ocicats Are Shorter
Ocicats are also shorter in length than the average Savannah cat and they have a wispy tail. Savannahs on the other hand can reach lengths of 22 inches including their tail, which is thicker at the tip compared to the Ocicat. The Ocicat’s ears are much smaller and more pointed than a Savannah and they sit off to the sides instead of directly on top of their head.
In general, knowing these different body characteristics will help you identify one breed from the other. This can be useful when you are in the market for one of these breeds and you want to be sure you are getting what you pay for, especially if you are purchasing a Savannah, which can cost thousands of dollars more than an Ocicat.
2. Genetic Makeup
The Ocicat and Savannah have very different genetic backgrounds. The Savannah cat, a relatively new breed, is also a hybrid between a domestic cat and a wild serval. Therefore, Savannah cats possess wild genes that contribute to many of their unique behaviors and their exotic look.
Ocicats on the other hand are completely domesticated and are generally a cross between an Abyssinian, Siamese, or domestic short hairs. The Ocicat breed is also older than the Savannah breed and has had more time to become a well-defined breed. While accepted by The International Cat Association (TICA), they are not recognized by the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA).
The First Savannah Cat
Savannah cats were the outcome of an accidental breeding between a captive raised serval and a domestic Siamese cat in 1986. The two ended up together and nature took its course. This happy accident gave way to a whole new breed of cat. The original owners of both the serval and Siamese never took up the task of furthering the breed themselves.
Initially, Suzi Wood, who owned the Siamese who produced the first litter of F1 Savannah cats, decided to see if she could breed one of the females with a domestic cat. The attempt was successful, but Suzi decided not to continue and instead sold the only female from the litter to Patrick Kelley.
A Registered Breed
Patrick, with the help of respected serval breeder Joyce Sroufe, began developing the Savannah breed. Over the next decade, the two were able to develop a Breed Standard and present it to TICA, and it was later accepted as a registered breed in 2001. Since then, the Savannah has become increasingly popular and has attracted many breeders who want to preserve and further the breed.
However, it is important to remember that Savannahs are very close genetically to their serval relatives and therefore mimic certain serval behaviors. They are known to be a more challenging breed because of these natural wild instincts, especially in higher generations. We will discuss these behaviors more in the temperament section below.
The First Ocicats
Ocicats on the other hand have a very different history and are much further removed from their wild ancestors. While they are a domestic breed, it can be easy to confuse them for a hybrid as they have a very exotic look and coloring. However, they are fully domestic and were first bred by Virginia Dally in 1964.
Like the Savannah, the Ocicat breed was also a bit of an accident when Virginia was attempting to breed her Siamese with an Abyssinian to achieve a Siamese with Abyssinian points. Many of the kittens had the desired outcome, but there was one kitten who came out spotted. This kitten, later named Tonga, was neutered and sold as a pet.
Continuous breeding between the two breeds resulted in more spotted kittens, eventually leading to the official breeding of Ocicats. Breeders began crossing with the American domestic short hair in addition to Siamese and Abyssinian in order to achieve more color variations and desired patterns. By 1987 the Ocicat was accepted into the CFA and TICA registries.
Because Ocicats are the result of domestic breeding, they have a very different genetic makeup in comparison to the Savannah. This makes their demeanor different as well and will result in them having more domestic characteristics. In other words, an Ocicat is going to be more familiar to those just starting out as a pet owner and require less experience.
Because of their genetic differences, Ocicats and Savannahs have different personalities and behaviors. This isn’t to say they have nothing in common, but the differences are significant enough that it could influence your decision when selecting one as a pet. Everyone has a different lifestyle, work schedule, and living space that make some breeds more suitable than others.
Because Ocicats are a domestic breed, they are going to possess more familiar traits you find in most domestic house cats. They are more up for snuggling up on the couch or in bed with you and they can be picked up and handled more than a Savannah cat.
Ocicats are also very friendly and outgoing, even with strangers, and they will often walk up to anyone in hopes of receiving some attention. While very trusting of others, they are still very loyal to their human companions and will often seek them out when they are not in sight.
Savannah cats on the other hand are very loyal to their human companions but are not always accepting of new people or pets. Savannahs tend to be more cautious and will often observe newcomers from afar until they become adjusted. That said, Savannahs do get along with others after an initial adjustment period.
Because Savannah cats are hybrids and possess wild genes, they tend to exhibit characteristics seen in their serval relatives. Wild servals are also very cautious and untrusting because their survival depends on it, and while a Savannah may be living a cozy life indoors, they still have these natural instincts.
Savannahs Don’t Always Enjoy Being Handled
Additionally, while Savannahs are incredibly loyal to their human companions and will even follow them around the house, they are more aloof compared to domestic cats. They tend to not like being picked up or sitting on laps, but they do however really love to play. Savannahs have an incredibly high energy drive and need lots of play time to help exhaust their energy.
The Savannah’s serval bloodlines contribute to their high energy drive, which is also linked to their high prey drive. They love a good game of chase in order to mimic the thrill of the hunt and keep their minds engaged. Playing with your Savannah keeps them sharp, both mentally and physically.
Because of their high energy drive, Savannahs need a lot of stimuli in their environment to keep them occupied. They can become bored easily, especially if you are not home, which can lead to mischievous behavior including jumping places they shouldn’t, opening cabinets, and climbing the curtains. Having cat-friendly furniture, high spaces, and lots of toys is key to living with a Savannah.
Ocicats Are Tamer
Ocicats are a bit tamer in their nature because of their domestic genes. While they are still quite playful and athletic, their energy drive is going to be substantially lower than that of a Savannah. They are less likely to get into the amount of trouble a Savannah can if left without anything to do.
Depending on the generation of the Savannah, the presence of their serval like behavior may lessen and lean more towards domestic behavior. Still, they are far from a common domestic cat and should not be confused with one. Savannahs’ unique temperaments take some patience on the part of the owner to learn their personality.
4. Colors And Markings
Savannahs and Ocicats do share some coloring similarities, depending on what type of each cat you have.
Ocicats come in a wider variety of accepted breed colors, including:
- Silver variants
Savannah cats only come in:
- Spotted tabby
- Black smoke
Ocicats will more commonly come in cinnamon and tawny shades as they are the most popular,which will differ from the average brown tabby Savannah. Even if the colors are similar, you can most often tell the difference between the two by their markings.
Generally speaking, you should not depend on color variations to determine if a cat is a Savannah or Ocicat. It is much more reliable to identify the two breeds by their markings or their body shapes, as discussed earlier. While both cats appear to have similar coat patterns with an exotic spotted look, there are distinguishable differences.
Savannah Cat Markings
One noticeable feature you will see on many Savannah cats is the presence of ocelli, a marking they have inherited from the serval. These markings on the ears give the appearance of eyes, something common in nature that is meant to deter predators and other threats.
Both Savannahs and Ocicats can possess the tabby “M” on the forehead, a common marking in many cats, but what follows the “M” is where the two differ. On an Ocicat, the “M” extends up over the forehead and gives way to small spots starting at the base of the head and over the shoulders. On a Savannah it extends up the forehead, but then breaks away into vertical stripes over the shoulders.
The rest of an Ocicat is covered mainly in small spots that extend down their legs and even parts of their tail. The lower legs are covered with “broken bracelets” (incomplete bands), and the neck has a “broken necklace.” The sides of their torso have larger, thumb-print sized spots that are generally a darker shade than the smaller spots.
Ocicat tails are banded with spots appearing between the bands, followed by a dark colored tail tip. Thetip of the tail is the darkest part of an Ocicat’s coat. Additionally, they have mascara markings around the eyes that extend over the cheeks.
Savannahs also have spots, but they are much larger and can be oval, round, or elongated in shape. Spots follow the stripes that flow down from the head and fan over the shoulders. Their tails are banded with dark brown to black but do not have spots between the bands like an Ocicat. Spots can extend down the legs and as far down as their toes, and spots can also appear on the face.
Tear stain marks can be found between the Savannah cat’s eye and down to the nose. Some may have mascara markings, but they are not as prominent as an Ocicat. Savannah noses range from pink, black, or brick red, whereas an Ocicat’s is generally only pink.
5. Level Of Care Required
The level of care for each cat can influence your decision on what breed of cat you want to select, as some breeds may be more prone to genetic health issues. Another thing to think about with level of care is what does the breed require nutritionally, physically, and mentally? Some breeds are laidback, while others will be higher maintenance and not suitable for all lifestyles.
Based on what we have already discussed, you may be thinking a Savannah cat may need a higher level of care. This can certainly be true based on the unique needs of a Savannah cat. They are highly active and become bored easily, requiring you to adapt your home environment to accommodate. More cat furniture is suggested for Savannahs, including access to high spaces just for them.
Savannahs Need Stimulation
Without proper stimulation, Savannah cats can become your worse nightmare and cause damage to your home. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but to ensure you understand what you are signing up for with a Savannah! When provided a proper home environment, Savannahs will be occupied and less likely to get into trouble. But remember, they are still a cat and are prone to some mischief!
The diet of a Savannah is unique compared to the dietary needs of most domestic breeds. A high-protein diet is required for a healthy Savannah, and you will need to select a whole prey-based food that is free from any additives, with meat as the main ingredient. Because of their strong serval bloodlines, Savannahs’ digestive systems are similar and have a lot of the same needs as a serval.
Many breeders and veterinarians will even suggest a raw diet, or at the very least a homemade cooked diet. These diets require purchasing fresh ingredients as well as the necessary supplements to ensure your Savannah gets all its proper nutrition. Their diet can become quite expensive if treated this way.
Ocicats Are Generally Lower Maintenance
Ocicats are a lower-maintenance breed needing less stimulation than a Savannah to keep themselves occupied. While they are also known as an active breed and are very playful, they do not require the same home environment as a Savannah (although any cat can always get themselves into trouble with the right amount of effort). Of course, you can always give them more, but it is not necessary.
The diet of an Ocicat is less specialized too, but they still need proper nutrition and many of the same vitamins and minerals as a Savannah. However, they do not need as much protein as a Savannah as they are built differently and have evolved a more domestic digestive system.
Always Go For High-Quality Food
That said, you still want to make sure they have a high-quality pet food. All cats should have the opportunity for a healthy diet free of unnecessary ingredients that can be harmful. Look for foods that have whole proteins as the first ingredient and are not composed of byproducts or meals. Ocicats can also eat a raw diet if desired, but do not need the same quantities as a Savannah.
Both Ocicats and Savannahs are relatively safe from genetic illnesses or diseases, but do still require regular check ups by your veterinarian. Savannahs may need to be seen more often based on their breed type, especially if they are of an earlier generation. It’s suggested they visit the vet at least twice per year.
It is also suggested that Savannahs go to the vet for regular teeth cleaning and nail clipping as most pet parents find this task difficult with their rowdy Savannahs. Performing this maintenance at home can result in injuries through scratches or bites, which can be more damaging than a smaller breed like the Ocicat. Remember, Savannahs are very large cat, which means large teeth and nails!
Savannahs are going to be more challenging than Ocicats, especially the earlier generations, as they have a higher energy drive, more specialized diets, and are less of a lap cat than Ocicats. Either way, neither breed is better than the other, but it’ rather a matter of preference.