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What Is A Silver Savannah Cat?

Selecting a Savannah cat can be challenging, especially when considering what exactly it is you are looking for in your new pet. Many Savannah owners will select kittens based on their color and coat pattern, which begs the question of what a silver Savannah cat is.

Silver Savannahs are Savannah cats selectively bred by some breeders, even though it is more common to see brown spotted tabby coats in Savannahs. This gives them a silver-like coat with a bold black spotted pattern. Silver Savannahs are within the TICA breed standard for competition.

To better understand how you produce a silver Savannah cat, we will discuss in more detail the basics of colors genetics. Additionally, this article will discuss how these different genes can lead to various colors and patterns within the Savannah breed.

A Primer On Color Genetics

Having a full understanding of cat genetics can be quite challenging even when just discussing the genes responsible for colors and patterns. For professional Savannah breeders, their dedication and understanding of genetics is what sets them apart from humble beginners. However, for our purposes we will keep things simplein order to give a basic understanding.

During the breeding process each parent (one queen and one stud) contributes their own unique genetic material composed of chromosomes. These chromosomes are then paired together. Savannahs possess 38 chromosomes in total making up 19 pairs, and each of these pairs are referred to as homologous chromosomes.

Homologous Chromosomes

A homologous chromosome is made up of two chromosomes, one from each parent, that line up together during fertilization. Each parent will contribute a total of 19 chromosomes, each aligning with a matching one from the other parent, creating a new chain of DNA that will later develop into a Savannah kitten. Each chromosome contains genetic traits, including those pertaining to color.

Each homologous chromosome possesses corresponding pairs of alleles. An allele is one of a pair of genes that control specific traits, in our case the trait is color. Again, one allele will come from the mother on their chromosome and one from the father. Each allele makes up a gene that will either be dominant or recessive.

The Basic Genetics

Once paired together each set of genes (corresponding to specific traits) will either be homozygous,meaning they are made of the same types of alleles, or heterozygous, which are allele pairs with two different gene types. For example let’s say A represents grey and B represents brown. A homozygous pair would be AA or BB and a heterozygous pair would be AB.

When speaking of a dominant versus a recessive gene, dominant genes will always dominate over a recessive gene when paired, whereas a recessive gene will only present itself if part of a homozygous pair. For example, if A is a recessive gene and B is a dominant gene, and the allele pair is made up of AB, the B trait will overpower trait A.

Using DNA Tests

Those who breed Savannahs have a difficult task in front of them unless they already have an established breeding pair of which they selected because of their known genes. Professional breeders will perform DNA tests that allow them to know the exact color genes their Savannahs possess. Additionally, these tests will determine if their Savannah’s traits are homozygous or heterozygous.

If one parent possesses a homozygous gene pair such as AA, (A being recessive), but the other parent possesses a heterozygous gene pair AB (B being dominant), when they pass on their genetic material to their offspring there is a chance that the dominant B gene will be passed on, dominating over A.

A situation such as the one stated above can be an issue depending on which color genes the breeder is trying to achieve. In some cases, if a breeder is specifically breeding for only one color and pattern type, they may want to narrow down their breeding pairs to homozygous for the desired genes. That way, no matter what, the resulting kittens will possess those traits. 

The Role Of Melanin

Melanin is the substance responsible for creating fur pigments (i.e., color) in Savannahs, as well as in other mammals. A Savannah’s genes are what determines which type of melanin is produced. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin (black pigments) and phaeomelanin (red/orange/yellow).

The agouti gene is responsible for striped and spotted patterns (tabby) and will control the amount of eumelanin released into the hair as it grows. During this process the agouti gene, which produces a protein, will reach a saturation point and turn itself off until it has been replenished. During this shut off point the phaeomelanin pigment will take over until the agouti gene turns back on.  

As the agouti gene turns on and off while the hair grows you will begin to see the banded pattern along the hair shaft. Alternatively, the “non-agouti” gene controls solid color coats usually resulting in black and does not switch on and off. When paired, the “agouti” gene is dominant and the “non-agouti” gene recessive.

Dilution Genes

There are also “dilution” genes which can dilute or reduce other color genes. For example, if a Savannah possesses a black coat via an allele pair, but also possesses an allele pair for the dilution gene, the black color will be diluted creating a color referred to as blue (it’s really grey). Additionally, there are “dilute modifiers” which further alter colors affected by the “dilution” genes.  

One last gene worth mentioning for our purposes is the “inhibitor” gene, which is a dominant gene that blocks the production of pigment resulting in a white to silver base color. The tips of the hairs will still be fully colored (tabby) in agouti cats. In non-agouti cats the base color will be silver while the top color remains black, creating what is called a “smoke” color. 

Other Resources

If the genetics of color and other unique traits are of interest to you, I suggest digging deeper into Savannah breeder associations. Breeders will be able to provide ample resources that will further explore the complexities of genetics that we don’t cover here.

The Degree Of Color Intensity Within The Savannah Breed

Savannahs come in a variety of colors and patterns, some of which are considered “standard” and others “non-standard”. Under The International Cat Association (TICA), in order for a Savannah to be able to perform in a championship competition they must possess traits applicable to the established breed standard.

Colors accepted under TICA’s Savannah cat breed standard include black, brown spotted tabby, black smoke, and silver spotted tabby. Other non-standard colors include fawn, blue, lilac, chocolate, and cinnamon. While they are not considered standard, and Savannahs possessing these colors cannot compete in competitions, they are still considered to be Savannahs.

Non-Standard Colors

Non-standard colors can be the result of recessive traits present in the breeding pairs due to novice breeding practices. However, some breeders will deliberately selectively breed for non-standard colors and patterns. A popular non-standard pattern favored by many is the marbled Savannah cat, which has beautiful black spots that form in a more swirled or circular pattern.

The most popular Savannah color is the brown spotted tabby, which most closely resembles the natural color and pattern of the wild serval. While the Savannah is its own breed, many breeders still want to achieve the exotic look of the serval and in turn preserve the Savannah’s wild lineage. 

Even within the brown spotted tabby there are other color variations depending on the specific genes that they possess. While the base coat is always considered brown, it can vary in intensity from bright golden brown to a lighter greyish brown. However, spots should always remain bold and well defined.

Chocolate And Cinnamon Savannahs

Non-standard colors such as chocolate and cinnamon are the result of recessive forms of the eumelanin gene that are lighter in color than the dominant black eumelanin. These colors are the result of each parent sharing the recessive genes passing them on to all or some of their offspring. Additionally, blue, lilac, and fawn are the result of an added dilution gene, washing out the primary color.

All colors, both standard and non-standard, vary in intensity depending on which genetic traits they possess. Each parent’s genetic material will affect the ultimate outcome of the litter of kittens. Because there are multiple kittens in a litter from multiple eggs, different combinations of genes can occur, especially if the parents have heterozygous chromosomes.

While some who breed Savannahs do so to protect the integrity of the breed standard, there is something to be said when experimenting with different gene traits. Non-standard patterns can be absolutely stunning even if they are unable to compete. If you are interested in owning Savannahs for their beauty and personality, then a non-standard Savannah is perfectly suitable.  

The Silver Savannah Cat

Silver spotted Savannah tabbies are arguably the second most popular color and are considered by some to look even more exotic than the traditional brown spotted tabby. Some breeders don’t agree with selectively breeding for the silver color as it does not exist naturally in their serval relatives. However, as discussed previously, silver is an accepted TICA breed standard color.

In order to produce a silver Savannah, at least one of the parents must be silver as they will possess the dominant “inhibitor gene”. Because the inhibitor gene is dominant it will not be carried recessively. In other words, if a Savannah possesses the gene it will always present itself in the coat color.

Both Parents Should Be Silver

Ideally, if you want to produce a vibrant untarnished silver Savannah, you want both parents to be silver. With both parents possessing the gene it is more likely to block all pigment rather than just some of it. Getting a pure silver coat may take several attempts of breeding silver to silver to eliminate any tarnishing.

Tarnishing refers to bits of pigment that still show through the base coat, not including spotting, striping, or marbling. A tarnished silver Savannah may show slight yellowing of the topcoat while still having a primarily silver base coat. To the untrained eye, some tarnished silver Savannahs can be mistaken for a brown spotted tabby.

A Beautiful Cat

Once a vibrant silver is achieved, its combination with the tabby pattern is quite stunning due to the intense contrast between the silver and ink black spots. This beautiful color and pattern will really catch the eye and will certainly give you the exotic appearance that is so sought-after in Savannahs. 

The traditional silver Savannah possesses the agouti gene which is why the inhibitor only blocks pigment produced in the background coat and not the tabby pattern. However, if the Savannah possesses the non-agouti gene which produces full color coats, they will still produce a pigmented topcoat. With the added inhibitor gene, the Savannah will still have a silver ground coat.

Silver Smoke

A non-agouti and inhibitor-possessing Savannah will result in what is called a silver smoke color. In some, the silver ground color is still visible through the black pigmented topcoat along with the tabby pattern. This color can be very appealing to some and is still an accepted color variation within TICA’s championship standards, as long as the standard spotted pattern is still visible.

The silver Savannah can possess other gene traits including marbling, ticked, and mackerel tabby patterns which are considered non-standard. However, in combination with the silver coat these patterns can still be quite desirable for owners not interested in show-worthy Savannahs.

Marbling patterns are particularly popular among those seeking Savannahs, which is why it is fairly common to find professional breeders who specialize in this pattern. Its popularity comes from its unique formation of black spots that will blend into a spiral or circle-like pattern similar to that of marble tile.  

The Wild Form

The mackerel pattern, while not traditional to the wild serval pattern, is genetically considered the traditional “wild form” of the tabby pattern, of which all tabbies are based off. It is recognizable by its similarity to that of a tiger’s stripes or the common domestic tabby cat. As you can imagine, a silver Savannah with this pattern would look much like the rare white tiger.

Regardless of which silver Savannah you opt for, they are all beautiful in their own right and still possess the same personality traits whether they are standard or non-standard colors. Ultimately, their companionship is what will matter most even if you do decide to show them off. 

Final Thoughts

Silver Savannah cats have a silver-like coat, and are selectively bred by some breeders, although they aren’t very common. While silver is still a standard color, remember that only spotted patterns and lightly tarnished coats are accepted as standard.