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Why Do Savannah Cats Bite?

Most cat owners will know that their pet is more than capable of lashing out at them with a bite if they feel annoyed or threatened. Many prospective Savannah cat owners wonder if their pet will be the same, and many wonder why their Savannah cat might bite them.

Savannah cats bite as it is an instinctive behavior for them. Savannahs, like most felines, learn biting behavior as young as eight weeks old with their littermates. Biting is a natural part of a cat’s play, hunting, and self-defense.

While it is natural for your Savannah to bite it can also be quite dangerous if they are always trying to bite you. Fingers and toes tend to be the most susceptible to being bitten, but this behavior can be easily remedied with proper training.

Why Do Savannah Cats Bite?

Felines in general learn their biting behavior early on in their lives from one or both of their parents depending on the species. In the wild these lessons are absolutely essential to a predator’s survival. Without the ability to hunt down and kill their prey wild cats would starve to death.

As a hybrid species Savannahs share part of their genes with the wild African Serval cat, and therefore have close ties to their wild instincts. The urge to “hunt” still remains within your Savannah even more so in the earlier generations that share a higher percentage of genes with the serval.

Practicing For The Real Thing

If you talk to your breeder, they will tell you that their Savannah kittens will begin practicing hunting behavior with their littermates when they’re as young as eight weeks old. Play time may consist of stalking, pouncing, and biting their siblings as practice before what would be their first hunt. In the wild this type of play prepares them for a real-life hunt with their mother.

Biting can also be used for other reasons such as asserting dominance within the hierarchy of their family or pride. This is usually done by pinning down the challenger in question and biting them on the nape of the neck. The same tactic is also used by males when trying to subdue a potential mate.

Other reasons for biting may be a warning out of annoyance, like being petted one too many times or to tell the dog to stop pestering them. Most commonly, biting is often related to overstimulation during play time especially if it gets rough. During this type of provocation is when most owners suffer a bite. 

If you are fortunate enough to own a Savannah kitten, you will have a much easier time training your Savannah the difference between healthy and unhealthy bite play. Adults can find it difficult to break certain habits, but it’s not impossible. You just need to find that nice balance between safety and supporting their natural instincts. 

When Is It Too Much?

While you want to promote your Savannah’s natural instincts to play the hunter, it’s also important to know when it’s too much. Savannah cats have a lot of energy to begin with and an intense play session can really overstimulate them, making it more likely they’ll redirect their biting onto you.

One of the most common mistakes a cat owner can make is to allow negative or unhealthy play without repercussions. When kittens are small it is easy to let our guard down and allow them to gnaw at our fingers or arms during play time. In the moment this may seem harmless as their teeth are not sharp enough to do real damage. However, you are setting yourself up for future disaster.  

Old Habits Die Hard

If your kitten associates early on that it’s okay to bite your fingers or any other of your body parts they will have a hard time understanding why it isn’t when they are older. When they’re older and bigger, what may not have hurt before can now hurt quite a lot and even cause serious injury. Most Savannahs are much larger than domestic cats, having bigger and more powerful jaws and teeth.

We want to encourage healthy play and biting habits without injury to you or anyone else who may interact with your Savannah. Even if your cat is clearly being playful, allowing them to bite you can result in repeated offenses that often hurt a lot more.

With that said, it’s also important to know when playtime has escalated too much and should be wound down regardless of whether they are biting you or a toy. Most of us who have owned any cats know they can get overly hyper and suddenly have a surge of adrenaline sending them speeding around the house in a wild fashion.

When It Gets A Bit Too Much

It is during these times of elevated energy where things can go awry, causing your Savannah to redirect their aggressive hunting style onto you, knock over furniture, or even overexert themselves causing heavy panting and even drooling.

If you notice play has been getting a bit out of hand and your Savannah has become overly hyper, it may be wise to allow your Savanah to capture their “prey” and stop play altogether. Once they capture their toy it is likely they will still bat it around for a while, but they will begin to wind down and return to a more relaxed state.        

How Can An Owner Deal With This?

As we mentioned above, if you’re lucky enough to have a Savannah kitten, training them will be much easier than for an adult. Even your breeder will have begun teaching your kitten healthy biting habits by the time they are being sent home with you. This is usually a common practice to prepare kittens for socialization, and to learn that biting humans and even other pets is a no-no.

Because of their wild instincts early socialization is a must and will really improve the way your Savannah interacts with you and others. Under-socialization can result in a less affectionate and more aloof cat more prone to aggressive behavior. This can be easily prevented if you and your breeder take the proper steps.

Frequent Handling

Kittens should be handled frequently while they are still young to get them used to human interaction. This includes picking them up, setting them in your lap, possible bottle feeding, and playtime with string or other small toys. The more time you spend with them the more likely they are to adapt socially and to have healthy play habits. 

When playing with your kitten it cannot be stressed enough that you should never use your fingers, toes, or any other body part to “tease” your kitten, provoking them to engage in biting and scratching. If they learn even one time that something is okay for them to do, they are less likely to ever break the habit. Try using toys with strings, small bells, or mice as an alternative.

If your Savannah kitten tries to bite you, immediately replace whatever body part they go for with a toy. Redirecting their behavior is the best way to prevent them from thinking of you as an object to bite. Successful play sessions should also be rewarded with a small treat or even petting. By consistently sticking to this routineyour kitten will grow up knowing not to bite you or others.

Dealing With Adult Savannahs

Now, if you find yourself faced with an adult Savannah who has become accustomed to rough play and biting you, rather than their toys, it will be a little more challenging to change their behavior. Adults are more set in their ways, and it is harder for them to recognize that what was once an accepted behavior is now an unacceptable one.

Redirection is still the best method of deterring bad biting habits, as you should always offer an alternative to your Savannah if they begin to bite you. For example, if you are trying to pet your cat and they decide it’s playtime and start to bite, quickly present another toy for them to latch on to. Once their bite has been redirected, let them continue playing with the toy.

Once things have calmed down again you can attempt to reward them by petting them and seeing your Savannahs reaction. If successful they will not try to bite but accept the pets as a comforting reward. However, if they attempt to bite again, quickly present the toy once more. Keep repeating this method until you successfully train your Savannah not to bite you.

What Not To Do

It is important that you know that physically reprimanding your Savannah using your hand or even a rolled-up newspaper to swat them with is NOT recommended. This could potentially cause the situation to escalate and even turn into a challenge of dominance. However, it is acceptable to use a small squirt bottle. A quick squirt of water at the feet or forehead can deter their negative behavior.

The water bottle method is especially effective if you have a more aggressive Savannah that you are trying to break from their biting habit. Usually, this aggressive behavior stems from not being socialized properly as a kitten. These habits can also be a lot harder to break than just rough play styles.

Sometimes in order to prevent aggressive behavior you’ll have to use a combination of the methods listed above as well as isolation. If your Savannah is repeatedly being aggressive and biting, having a designated “time-out” room can be effective. Anytime your cat exhibits bad behavior and doesn’t stop when offered a toy, leave them alone in their “time-out” room for around 5 minutes.

Using Isolation

Short periods of isolation in this fashion will show your Savannah that you are unsatisfied with their behavior. Even Savannahs that are more aloof do not like being segregated from their established family and quickly become lonely. The isolation is seen as a negative response to their behavior, that when repeated will eventually break them of the behavior.

Finally, if when out of isolation they are able to abstain from negative behavior, reward them with a treat or other positive reinforcement. They will now associate their healthy play habits with something positive.

Final Thoughts

While your Savannah cat’s biting behavior is completely normal as a natural predator, it should only be encouraged in a healthy and safe way. If possible, healthy play should be taught early on when your Savannah is still a kitten. Taking the steps above will create a healthy and safe play relationship between you and your Savannah.