If you are thinking of purchasing a Savannah cat you may be wondering whether or not they have certain markings that distinguish them from other exotic and domestic cat breeds. One such marking is the supposed “M” on a Savannah cat’s forehead.
Not all Savannah cats are marked with an “M” on their foreheads. The “M” is a common mark on all “tabby cat” breeds, or felines with a spotted or striped pattern. In later generations domestic tabbies with selective patterns are used to breed with other Savannahs.
We will go into more detail about what determines a Savannah cat’s coat pattern below, and how some will sport the “M” on their forehead and others won’t.
The Forehead “M”?
Interestingly, the “M” on a tabby’s forehead has some deep roots in history as well as folklore. In some Christian and Islamic stories, the “M” on a tabby was given as a sign of honor. In one story the virgin Mary strokes the “M” onto the companion cat of baby Jesus, while in another tale Mohammed gives his trusty feline the “M” for saving him from a poisonous snake.
Folklore aside, the “M” has been making appearances in tabby cats both domestic and wild for centuries. All animals, including humans, have different genetic codes that determine different traits including skin, eye, and hair colors. The infamous forehead pattern is the result of three different genes, which also give tabbies their spotted or striped patterns.
All domestic cats share the tabby genes, making them all tabbies with varying differences in pattern dominance. Some cats may not have a very vivid “M” and their patterns may be more subtle and less noticeable. Savannah cats however have a very obvious and prominent pattern of spots and varying colors. This is because they are selectively bred in order to preserve the most beautiful patterns.
The Savannah cat’s wild relatives, the Servals, have a very distinct spotted pattern, sometimes also sporting the forehead “M”. In the wild, this pattern serves as a camouflage, helping the Serval maintain a low profile while stalking prey. This also applies to other wild cats such as tigers, cheetahs, and leopards. For your pampered Savannah, the pattern serves as a sign of beauty and status.
So, while not specific to the Savannah breed, many will still have the forehead “M”, some being more subtle while others are hard to miss. It will all come down to what patterns the breeder selectively chose to stand out in their Savannahs. However, there still are standards that Savannah cats must meet in order to be considered true Savannahs under the International Cat Association(ICA).
Why Does It Matter To The Savannah Breed If It Isn’t Unique To Savannah Cats?
Tabby cats have always held a high place amongst cat lovers for their beautiful patterns, colors, and temperaments. They are considered to be the most outgoing, playful, intelligent, and loyal of the cat breeds. As a tabby, your Savannah also shares these favorable characteristics while maintaining an exotic and majestic physical appearance.
Savannah cats are said to be some of the most loyal feline companions, following their human companions everywhere not wanting to be left out. Additionally, they are highly intelligent as well as mischievous, being known to get into all sorts of things by opening doors and cabinets!
When it comes to the forehead “M” and its importance, it’s less about the physical appearance of the pattern and more about what genetic characteristics come with it. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt that the “M” usually gives way to a beautiful coat pattern loved by all Savannah owners.
What About The Different Savannah Coat Patterns?
Once you’re in the market for a Savannah cat you’ll begin to notice that there are several different variations of colors and patterns to choose from. Keep in mind all of these variations are still produced from the same three genes that give tabbies their signature look, including the forehead “M”.
Another major factor that will contribute to what color and pattern your Savannah will have is what generation they are. Generally speaking, Savannah generations are labelled F1-F5, but you can have F6 and so on. Earlier generations share a more prominent bloodline with their Serval relatives.
For example, an F1 Savannah would be 50% Serval, having one domestic parent and one Serval, whereas an F5 would have one Savannah parent and one domestic parent. This will also affect their coat color and pattern, where F1’s will share a lot more of their characteristics with a traditional Serval pattern.
There is also what we call “Stud Book Tradition” (STB) Savannah generations, which are pure bred Savannahs. This is accomplished by only breeding Savannah to Savannah without any outcrosses with domestic cats for at least four generations. These Savannahs will also have a higher percentage of Serval genes.
Whatever the generation, breeders will still selectively breed specific patterns and colors based on their desired tastes. Savannahs come in the following standard colors: brown or silver spotted, black, and smoke. Standard colors are specific to pedigree level Savannahs as approved by the ICA. This is mainly important if you’re planning on showing your Savannah in a competition.
If you’re not worried about pedigrees, Savannahs also come in non-standard colors, including chocolate, cinnamon, blue, fawn, and lilac. There are also non-standard pattern differences like the Servaline pattern featuring much smaller spots that are closer together, versus the typical large parallel spots seen in Savannahs.
Obtaining the desired color and pattern for a Savannah can take a lot of trial and error and requires one to become familiar with basic genetics. Different patterns and colors depend on recessive and non-recessive genes. For example, in humans the gene for blue eyes is recessive and requires that both parents carry the gene in order to show as blue eyes.
Typically, the desired look of a Savannah will include one of the standard colors with a spotted pattern. Even black and smoke-colored Savannahs will have spots, they are just less noticeable against the dark background color. Spots will be medium to large in size, evenly spaced, round, oval, or elongated and run down the length of the body.
Another characteristic seen in a standard Savannahs are parallel lines running down the back of the neck to the shoulders. It is also acceptable to see stripes around the tip of your Savannah’s tail, very similar to what a Serval’s tail would look like.
Some breeders will unfortunately breed within the same bloodline in order to produce a specific coat pattern and color. While this will continuously produce the desired look, it also puts the gene pool at risk causing a bottleneck. Simply put this creates an incestual bloodline that can lead to birth defects, infertility, sterility, and stunted mental development. Avoid these types of breeders!
So, when selecting your new Savannah, it is very likely they may be sporting the forehead “M” as they are a member of the tabby cat family. The “M” is only one distinctive marking produced by the specific set of genes that produce the Savannah cat’s spotted patterns we have grown to love. As a tabby, your Savannah also has amplified traits of loyalty, intelligence, and playfulness.
Additionally, there are several different colors and patterns to choose from when selecting a Savannah, all of which could have an “M” on their forehead. Breeders select the most desirable and unique patterns to satisfy any Savannah owner, whether you will be showing them off at competitions or just enjoying their company as a loyal companion.