What is the difference between the Bengal cat and the Savannah cat?
I have just been asked by a visitor to my YouTube channel for information about the differences in appearance, use of litter, activity levels and liking of water in relation to the Bengal and Savannah cats.
I'll try and answer the question without reference to any material whatsoever but it would be nice to get a breeder to comment as well.There are a great many similarities between these breeds as both are wild cat hybrids. However, the influence of the wildcat parent is diluted at the fourth and fifth generation levels. At these truly domestic cat generations the differences come through mainly in terms of appearance.
The Bengal was the first wildcat hybrid being created in 1963 while the Savannah started in 1986. Both breeds import into the home a bit of the wild cat.
The Bengal cat has a coat that has generally more "bling" than that of the Savannah cat. That is not a criticism of the Savannah - perhaps the opposite, in fact. What I mean is the coat generally has slightly higher contrast and there is that famous glitter finish the breeders seek. Sometimes individual Bengals also have more slightly more saturated colours than the Savannah cat. The Bengal is also either a spotted cat or the pattern in the classic tabby blotches. There are also silvers and snows....and, well yes, lots of different very flashy and interesting coats.
It might be said that the high contrast coat of the Bengal cat derives from the high contrast coat of its Asian leopard cat ancestor. Of course it is selectively bred for high contrast and for a coat other than a spotted coat, but the guiding standard will the original wildcat. And the Asian leopard cat has a very flashy high contrast coat.
The Savannah has a spotted contrasty coat as well but the breeding program has given this breed a coat that is in general less contrasty than the Bengal in appearance. Although judging by the photo heading this page I might be wrong!
Certainly the serval has a coat that is as high contrast (between the black spots and yellow background) as the Asian leopard cat.
Also the Savannah is not bred to have the blotched tabby coat. It is spots and short areas of banding but no swirls and blotches or mackerel lines! And incidentally, the Savannah cat tail should not be long as the serval has quite a short tail and as mentioned the appearance of the serval is the guide.
Martin Stucki is the expert on this subject. But he makes it clear that the Savannah cat is not meant to have that golden, rich, high contrast coat of the Bengal. The Savannah coat should reflect the serval coat (see serval description for a short video). There is clear ticking in the Savannah cat. Ticking reduces contrast.
Here is Martin talking briefly about the Savannah cat coat:
The heading photo also shows a difference in body type. The Savannah is more foreign in conformation while the Bengal, although elegant, is more cobby.
I my experience it is probably fair to say that the Savannah cat is better known for its F1 and F2 fillial cats (first and second generation from wild) than the Bengal, which is more a mainstream domestic cat with most cats being 4th and 5th generation from the wild. Although people do keep high generation Bengal cats.
As to activity levels the higher generations of both breeds will tend to be more demanding than the generations of cats that are further from the wild cat. This is for the commonsense reason that there is more wildcat in the first and second generation cats. Both the Bengal and Savannah are considered intelligent and active cats. See this video for instance:
As to litter, any generation of either breed will use the litter tray if as expected they are trained to use it by the breeder. They will naturally use it as any domestic cat.
In respect of their liking for water, both the Asian leopard cat and the serval have habitats that include water courses as this is where the prey is found. Both these wild cat therefore like water and their offspring will too or at least that will be the tendency.
Cost is similar as well. An F1 Savannah that is spot on in terms of desired appearance will cost a lot more than an F5 Savannah that has a tail that is too long for instance (a defect in the Savannah cat). A1 Savannahs sell male F1 cats at $7,500-$22,000. A male F5 costs $950-$6,000. It might be accurate to say that the Bengal cat is often cheaper when compared with Savannahs of the same generation from the wild - someone will say I am wrong on that I am sure. That may be because A1 Savannahs breeds absolutely top quality cats and quality ultimately dictates the price.
One last point the F1 Savannah is considerably larger (more than twice the size) when adult than the average house cat while the standard SBT Bengal cat is about the same size as a random bred cat of average size.
Hope this helps.