serval cat diet

shera female serval

Serval Diet

Written by: MeChel Whitaker

 

A Serval in its natural environment is an obligate carnivore, meaning that their nutritional needs are met by eating a diet that consists mainly of animal-based proteins.   The evolutionary history of the serval indicates that it has eaten a purely carnivorous diet throughout its entire history.  Servals are very sensitive to the physical texture, odor and taste of foods. They consume live prey beginning at the head.  Food temperature is also important. They  prefer food near body temperature which is about 101 degrees fahrenheit. Which is to say, they prefer warm over cold.  Many cats will choose a new food over a diet that is currently being fed. The reverse is true in new or stressful situations, such as illness or hospitalization, where cats tend to refuse food they are not accustom to eating.

Servals have shorter intestinal length than omnivores and herbivores and because of this servals do not consume large meals and do not digest complex starches or fibers such as fruits and vegetables very well.  A servals stomach is small due to the fact that they do not eat large meals but instead eat small opportunistic meals throughout the day and night.

Servals have retractable claws that are curved and sharp to help them grab, capture, and secure their prey. Their scissor-like carnassial teeth are ideal for delivering the cervical bite used to sever the spinal cord of their prey. Their highly sensitive facial whiskers and hairs help them hunt in dim light.    

In the wild the Serval cat is mostly a nocturnal animal but sometimes can be diurnal. Serval Cats are very adaptable and are mainly a terrestrial cat, but can also climb and swim. They hunt in lightly bushed countrysides, grasslands, forests and around marshy places and rivers. Servals primarily hunt alone and are not known to hunt larger prey than themselves. In the wild where they have to compete for food, servals tend to live alone, but in captivity where food is plentiful they enjoy each other's company.

In the tall grass a Serval pounces up and down in pursuit of mice and other rodents. They also probe small holes with their long forepaws and shapely curved claws to search for prey and grab prey.  Their large ears are very sensitive and can listen to the motion of a rodent as far as 20 feet away. A diet for servals can vary widely depending on habitat and season.

 

A wild servals diet mainly consists of small terrestrial animals. So a whole prey diet including innards, fur, and bones is obviously the best diet you could feed your serval.  Try to find a supplier of feeder rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and chicks.  You don't need to add supplements to this diet because everything they need is in the whole prey. You can ask around in my " Serval cat lover Group" on facebook. There are hundreds of serval parents waiting to help you figure out the best diet for your serval.

 

In the wild, servals eat about 80% rodents (mice, rats, rabbits),the other 20% can be any combination of  birds,  reptiles (frogs and lizards)and insects. Domestic servals can be fed assorted grasses,  whole raw chicken, whole raw turkey parts, raw beef, raw venison, raw rabbit, raw squirrel, raw quail, and raw fresh fish.

 

It is hazardous to feed cooked meat or poultry with bones to your serval because the bones become very brittle and can splinter. Also make sure any frozen meat is completely thawed because the bones become brittle when frozen. Do not thaw meat in the microwave.

 

Some serval owners feed domestic cat food to their animal, along with different types of supplements. In some cases owners have fed the supplements everyday, along with domestic cat food.  This is not the best diet. You should skip the supplements and feed a good quality commercial wet food along with whole prey. It can be detrimental to OVER supplement these animals.  I do not recommend supplements unless a deficiency of some kind has been identified and especially not to kittens. The best diet you can feed is the one closest to what servals eat in the wild.

A Servals liver is smaller than most cats and it takes longer to rid their bloodstream of toxins. If you over supplement, the man made nutrients can build up in the liver and kidneys and cause issues and even death. You can cause a imbalances if you feed your kitten supplements which will cause seizures.  So it is extremely important to keep third diet balanced.

 

A serval kitten's diet should consist of a high quality wet cat food and a whole prey diet.  Since the serval kitten will most likely be too young to chew bone you can start them on a ground diet until they are old enough to chew the bone.  You can find a lot of suggested ground whole raw diets online and you can order already prepared diets from different companies. Facebook has several different raw diet cat groups.  It's a good idea to join a few of these groups in order to share recipes and ideas.

 

All recipes should contain 80 percent lean meat, 10 percent bone and cartilage, and 10 percent organs. This recipe should be ground up using a high quality grinder.   One with no plastic parts.   The Gander Mountain #12 Stainless Steel Electric Meat Grinder or one like it with no plastic parts, is a good choice.  Most grinders come with 3 blades. You may need to start with the medium sized blade and re-grind using the smaller blade to make it fine enough for kittens.  After you have ground all your parts, mix them all together very well to make sure all ingredients are spread out evenly.  Grinding your own food is less expensive and should be fed along with a high quality commercial wet food and whole prey.  The wet food will insure you are offering all the soluble supplements they require.  This recipe will make about 2 weeks of food for one serval kitten. The ground meat should be separated into sandwich sized plastic snap containers and frozen. Only thaw what you need for the day.  The grind should only be fed along with wet food and small mice. Stop feeding grind at 12 to 16 weeks and feed whole prey and good quails wet food.

 

A serval kitten eats 4 to 5 small meals a day. As they get older you can reduce feeding times to 3 times a day but it's best to keep it at 4 to 5 small meals if possible.  Mix it up and feed different types of meals to keep your serval happy.  Just like us, they  get tired of the same thing.  For example:  You can feed your kitten a can of  high quality cat food in the morning, a couple of mice at lunch and meat grind at night.  You can also mix you grind with cat food and you can place your mice in the grind to add a little change.  As your serval gets older you can add whole prey such as guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, and fish.    You can also leave out a good quality dry cat food to munch on between meals.  It's good for their teeth and will keep them satisfied until their next meal. It's very important to make sure your kitten's diet is balanced because if you don't feed it a balanced meal there is a strong possibility that they will develop metabolic seizures. This can be corrected if you adjust the diet and follow you dietitian's advice.

 

While your serval is young you will need to monitor their fluids and make sure they are drinking water and know where the water is. When you first get your serval kitten or when you move the water bowl you may have to pick your kitten up several times throughout the day and carry them to the bowl to remind them to drink water. Water fountains work well and pique their interest to drink more water.  Servals in the wild get most of their water from their prey.

 

Make sure not to  leave any meat out for longer than 2 hours. Throw it away, better safe than sorry. Also monitor their poops and make sure they are pooping at least once every 48 hours.  If you notice your serval has not pooped in more than 48 hours give 3 cc’s of whole pumpkin in their mouth every 8 hours.  If this does not work within another 24 hours, it's time to see the vet to check for blockages.

 

The Diet will Change as your serval matures and she/he will enjoy a little variety. You can start feeding whole raw chicken legs when they get to be about 4 months old.  They will love gnawing on them and it helps keep their teeth strong. I would feed a couple of chicken legs a week.  Also a few other things that could be added to the daily diet are cubes of steak,  2 week old chicks, rabbits, quail, fish, mice, rats, and venison.

 

Some other snacks and foods that servals enjoy is fresh water fish such as tilapia, gizzards, steak, shrimp and chicken hearts.  Before selecting a diet for your kitten discuss a diet with your exotic cat dietician to get the exact proportion needed.  Probiotics (plain yogurt) is something to consider. I usually grind all of my meat parts up and add this if needed. Only add supplements that have been prescribed by your exotic vet.  Blindly adding supplements is detrimental to your servals health and could kill them if you over do it.  You have to take into consideration what you are feeding  and add to that if necessary. The calcium should come from the bones and cartilage of the animals they consume or commercial food. Make sure your serval is exposed to direct sunlight daily to insure the proper breakdown of nutrients.

 

When feeding your domestic serval, make sure the food is fresh, cleaned and thoroughly washed before feeding. Servals eat between one and six pounds of meat a day. The amount to feed a healthy adult serval would be 3% of his body weight per day.  For example a 30 pound should eat at least 0.9 pounds of meat a day.  For a growing kitten it can be as much as 5% of his body weight. The 3% pertains to real meat weight. Commercial diets like Blue Buffalo and Mazuri are condensed/concentrated and therefore fed in lesser amounts

 

The last dietary issue I would like to cover is one that might surprise you. It’s importance can’t be overlooked. It is critical that the serval has access to unfiltered sunlight and grass. Grass can be a very important part of any animal diet, it can be a valuable aid to the  digestive process. Sunlight is an important vitamin source for your cat just as it is for you. Vitamin D from sunlight helps your animal convert calcium and phosphorus to bone and teeth and helps keep them strong and healthy. This a major reason the outdoor enclosure is a must, but we’ll save all of that for another time.

 

The bottom line is that there are a lot of good diets and vitamins out there, but you need to choose what works for your lifestyle and what makes your serval happiest. If he is not happy on one diet, he will not thrive as well as being on a diet he enjoys more. Let him try some different balanced diets and see what he enjoys the most. You also have to consider what you can afford to feed long term.

 

Remember, this information represents my experience and my journey to become the best serval caregiver I can be. It is not meant to be the end all be all. It is important that we all keep learning from each other. Research, study, and commitment is what will keep our animals strong ,healthy, and thriving.