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Do Savannah Cats Have Health Problems?

All pets suffer from various health problems. Some suffer from diseases and illnesses that also affect humans, while others suffer from animal-specific ailments. Given their hybrid nature, many owners wonder if Savannah cats have any health problems.

Savannah cats are prone to different bacterial and viral infections including feline leukemia, panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies. Other risks to be aware of are dental, heart, kidney, and thyroid related diseases.

While these are potential risks that your Savannah cat may face, they are not necessarily at a higher risk than other breeds. In fact, Savannahs have been shown to be very healthy cats if cared for properly, which is why it’s important to know what you can do to keep them healthy.

Common Savannah Health Problems

Savannah cats are at risk of developing feline leukemia, panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies. Each of these are easily preventable through regular vaccinations. You should ensure your Savannah kitten has the right vaccinations.

These specific vaccines are what your veterinarian would call the “core vaccines” and are essential, especially if your Savannah will be exposed to other cats or animals.

Parasites

Perhaps one of the most common health problems a Savannah cat may face are parasites. There are so many ways for our pets to accidentally ingest these tiny invaders. It can lead to diarrhea and nutrient deficiencies, which come with other serious side effects.

Virtually all cats will contract coccidia eventually, a tiny, microscopic parasite that can be ingested in their egg-like state called a cyst. These cysts can be passed through feces and remain active for up to 6 hours, and if ingested during this time they will invade your Savannahs intestines. They can also be ingested by eating flies or cockroaches covered with cysts they’ve picked up.      

For healthy adult Savannahs, coccidia can be almost harmless and pass through their system easily. However, kittens and elderly cats can have severe diarrhea that can cause dehydration if left untreated. Luckily, treatment is easy using a sulfa-class antibiotic, that your vet will prescribe. Treatment generally lasts for about a week or until your Savannah tests negative for the disease.

Worms

Another very common parasite to look out for is known as roundworm, which again is fairly harmless to healthy adults but can cause complications for kittens and elderly cats. Kittens will often contract roundworms from their mothers during nursing when they’re in their larval state. This causes bloating in your kitten’s stomach as the roundworms mature to adults in their intestines.

Similarly to coccidia, the roundworms will cause severe diarrhea, dehydration, loss of appetite, and vomiting. This can be fatal for kittens and weakened elderly cats if left untreated. Roundworms are treated using an over-the-counter de-wormer which is also a preventive medicine. With kittens it is best to do a deworming round once a month, including the mother if they are still nursing.

These are the two most common parasites your Savannah will come across but there is no guarantee they will not come into contact with any other parasite. If you see any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, lethargy, or increased water intake, seek help from your veterinarian. They will do a fecal test and run it for a variety of parasites and find the right treatment.

Kidney Problems

Another concern most cat owners will have are your pet’s kidneys. All cat breeds – including Savannahs – are prone to renal failure, which inhibits their ability to filter waste and regulate hydration. Unfortunately, feline kidneys are not the strongest, and usually after around six years or more, your Savannah’s kidneys could begin to show signs of damage.

While this process can start as early as six years, it can take several years for there to be any real signs of renal failure. This condition is much more prevalent in senior cats towards the end of their lives. However, with proper diet, nutrition, and hydration you can add years to your Savannah’s life. Many vets will recommend a cranberry based supplement given as a treat or mixed into food.

The same tips used to help keep your Savannah’s kidneys healthy can also help with urinary tract infections. This is especially common in male cats and can lead to blockages in the urethra causing inflammation and severe pain. Once a blockage has occurred it will require immediate veterinary attention in order to remove the obstruction. It can be fatal if left untreated.

If you notice your Savannah struggling to urinate or urinating outside of their litterbox, it’s best to seek advice from your vet. Urinating outside of the box is usually a call for help and not an act of defiance.

Digestive Issues

Another major health concern that is perhaps overlooked for Savannahs are obstructions in the digestive tract. While most cats are prone to obstructions, Savannahs are particularly prone because many owners do not know how to select Savannah-appropriate toys.

A lot of cat toys are designed for smaller domestic cats and have small parts such as string, bells, plastic pieces, feathers, and other small parts that are easily swallowed. It’s also possible that your Savannah could swallow small objects left around the house like bottle caps, wrappers, marbles, etc. These can get stuck in your Savannah’s intestines or lodged in their throat.

Obstructions can cause your Savannah to lose their appetite, stop defecating, act lethargic, become depressed, or display abdominal discomfort. If unable to pass the obstruction, your Savannah can become backed up, causing their intestines to swell and possibly burst causing an infection, and it could even be fatal.

Your vet will have to perform emergency surgery to remove the obstruction, which is a sensitive procedure and requires anesthesia. Savannah cats are more sensitive to anesthesia because of their serval bloodlines, and they can often have complications making the surgery and recovery period more dangerous.

Get The Right Toys

In order to prevent this from ever happening, consult your veterinarian or even your breeder for advice on what cat toys are appropriate for your Savannah. A few popular options are larger sized balls like a tennis ball or even beach ball. Your Savannah will love bouncing it around the house and chasing it. Larger stuffed toys with optional catnip pouches are another great alternative.

Less Common Savannah Health Problems

Although less common, the following health complications can still occur in your Savannah and it’s important to know what signs to look for. Other health issues can include dental diseases, hyperthyroid, allergies, and complications linked to obesity such as diabetes and heart disease. While not completely preventable, there are steps you can take to strengthen the health of your Savannah.

While it may seem odd to brush your Savannah’s teeth, it’s actually a very beneficial practice. Cats are not great at taking care of their teeth and are known to accumulate a lot of bacteria and tartar buildup.

Take Care Of Their Teeth

This buildup will infect the gums and eventually the roots of your cat’s teeth causing dental diseases to develop. When left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss and bacterial infections in the body.      

Treatment for dental disease can be expensive, so it’s important to help keep your Savannah’s teeth clean and arrange regular dental exams. Your vet will do a general dental check at a routine exam, but you can also get your Savannah a full cleaning too. At home brushing, using dental treats, or chew toys can make for great preventive care, making dental disease very unlikely.

Diabetes is still a concern for Savannah cats even with their high energy and often lean physique. A combination of poor diet, little exercise, and a genetic predisposition can lead to diabetes in your Savannah. Often, it affects overweight and elderly cats the most, but it’s not impossible for a healthy weight cat to develop diabetes.

Healthy Diet And Exercise

Typically, ensuring that your Savannah is fed an appropriate diet of high quality raw, canned, or dry food in the correct amounts will reduce their risk of diabetes. Additionally, having a regular exercise routine with play sessions and walks out on the leash will help your Savannah maintain a healthy weight.

However, if your Savannah does develop diabetes, the signs may include increased thirst, increased urination, loss or gain of appetite, depression, lethargy, and in severe cases it can be fatal. Luckily your vet can help you find the right treatment suited to your Savannah. 

In a lot of cases, you can send your Savannah’s diabetes into remission with a proper diet, exercise, and a daily injected medication. Your vet will coach you on how to inject your cat’s medication as well as check their insulin levels during routine checkups (every four months). Once in remission, your Savannah may be able to stop using medication if they continue their diet and exercise.

Hyperthyroidism

Like some humans, your Savannah has the possibility of developing hyperthyroidism, where their bodies are unable to control their metabolic processes producing large amounts of the T4 hormone. The T4 hormone regulates how fast your body metabolizes energy, and in hyperthyroidism your metabolism is set to high gear. In cats this is caused by a non-cancerous tumor on the thyroid gland.     

The tumor signals your thyroid to continuously pump out the T4 hormone even if your brain is sending out signals telling it not to. Typically, it will develop in cats that are at least ten years old and will initially cause a surge in energy which for a Savannah can seem completely normal. Over time however they will show signs of increased appetite, vomiting, and increased thirst.

In extreme cases, the condition can lead to kidney or heart failure, and even fatal blood clots. Luckily, hyperthyroidism is curable through veterinary treatment using medicines that will kill off the tumor cells thus regulating your Savannahs metabolism. If you suspect that your cat has hyperthyroidism your vet will perform a simple blood test before treatment begins. 

Heart Disease

Any of the conditions we discussed in this section can lead to heart disease (cardiomyopathy). Heart disease can sometimes be hard to identify if your Savannah doesn’t have any other current conditions and seems otherwise healthy. Your vet may be able to detect a heart murmur during regular exams, which is common in cats with heart disease.

If a murmur is detected your vet may want to run some other tests such as an ultrasound and x-ray of the heart for any abnormalities. Other signs you may notice are a sudden loss of appetite, lethargy, and rapid breathing. By the time you see the physical symptoms, your Savannah has probably already been suffering quietly for a couple of weeks.

Heart disease can also cause an arterial thromboembolism, better known as a blood clot, that can prevent blood from circulating. Most commonly it stops blood flow to your Savannahs hind legs, causing them pain, a feeling of cold, or even to become paralyzed. This is a very serious condition, and it requires immediate veterinary attention. 

Early Treatment

If caught early on your vet will be able to help manage your cat’s heart disease with medication, allowing them to spend more healthy years with you. However, if caught late and symptoms have already developed, treatment can be much less effective, and the overall condition of the heart cannot be reversed.

The best way to address heart disease is to take preventive measures to decrease your Savannah’s chances of developing the disease. Many veterinarians will recommend a heart disease preventive along with a high-quality diet and regular exercise. Regular checkups are also a great way for early detection and treatment.

The Health Benefits Of Spaying And Neutering

Unless you’re planning on becoming a certified and permitted Savannah cat breeder, it is highly recommended that you have your cat spayed or neutered. If purchased through a reputable breeder, your Savannah will have been sterilized before going home with you. This is an easy procedure and can be performed on kittens as young as eight weeks old.

An Important Procedure

Although it may seem somewhat unnatural to some, having your pet sterilized will actually prevent a lot of different health problems, including certain types of reproductive cancers. Studies have shown that sterilized pets have a longer, healthier life span which is what most owners wish for their pets.

For females, being spayed will reduce their chances of developing uterine and breast tumors (both cancerous and non-cancerous) often caused by an overproduction of hormones. These hormones generally build up during heat cycles of your female Savannah as well as a result of uterine wall buildup that does not shed like dogs. Spaying has shown to reduce these risks in 90% of cats.  

In males, neutering helps prevent testicular and prostate cancers. It can also help reduce your male’s urge to seek out a female in heat. Believe it or not, a male Savannah cat can sense a female cat in heat from over a mile away, even if he is indoors! The need to escape to find a female will also increase his need to spray urine.  

Stress And Discomfort

In cases of both males and females, without the need to breed, their intact reproductive systems will ultimately overload and over stimulate them. This can cause a lot of stress and discomfort for your Savannah, not to mention you as the owner who has to listen to the constant yowling of a cat in heat!

Additionally, having your Savannah sterilized will save you a lot of money in the long run if you are unprepared to care for an accidental litter of kittens. It can happen, and there have been reports of cats including Savannahs escaping from their homes as a result of their overwhelming urges to mate.

If your Savannah gets out, this alone can be dangerous for them if they run into traffic, come across an aggressive animal, or worse, be mistaken as a wild cat and taken by animal control. There are even cases of F1 Savannahs who look very much like their serval relatives, being shot by local residents. So, play it safe and sterilize your Savannah for their health and safety

Final Thoughts

While we all hope that our pets live long happy lives, it’s important to remember to take the preventive steps to keep them healthy. This includes early vaccination for high-risk health complications including feline leukemia, panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies. Additionally, monthly deworming can prevent a variety of common parasites. 

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce your Savannah’s chances of becoming overweight, which could lead to health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Other complications such as hyperthyroid can be easily treated and even cured. As long as you pay close attention to your Savannah’s behavior and have regular vet visits, they will have a long and happy life.