serval vet care

Miss Jada serval kitten


Recommended Serval Health care

written by MeChel Whitaker




This article is a compilation of several exotic veterinarian (vet) opinions from around the world. Discuss your servals health care plan with your vet and make sure they are familiar with the different health care requirements specific to servals. You have to be careful with some vets who mistakenly think all cat species should be treated the same. If your vet is not easy to talk to, and will not listen, I suggest getting a new one.


Picking an exotic vet

Before your serval arrives, arrange a visit with an exotic vet. Not all vets treat exotic animals so search for one and call them to make sure they do and let them know that you are considering using them for your serval’s care. It is a good idea to try and take your serval on regular happy visits to the vet in order for the vet and serval to get acquainted. Bring some of your serval’s favorite toys along and encourage your vet and staff to play with him. You may want to start every visit like this if possible.  


The health care responsibility of your serval starts the day you pick your serval up from your breeder. So within three days of delivery or pickup visit your vet and have a thorough check up done on your new fur baby. Check bone strength and density, check for heart abnormalities, do a CBC- complete blood count, Chem 24, viral panels and get current on shots (vaccinations). Most breeders require that you do this initial vet visit and if you don't any contract to replace would be voided. A breeder can only guarantee your kitten is healthy at the time of delivery. What happens afterwards is your responsibility.


Monitor your serval

Servals are usually very healthy animals if kept on the right diet and in a clean and safe environment. It is important to be prepared in case your serval gets sick. If there is any reason that you suspect that your serval is sick, take your serval straight to the vet. A serval kitten can go down quick so don't waste time. Your pet serval can't tell you what is bothering him so you have to be the one to look for signs of illness. Always keep an eye on your serval and look for any signs of illness, which include drastic mood changes, vomiting, diarrhea, straining while using the litter box, litter box habit changes, lethargy, fever and loss of appetite for more than a day. Particularly, you should be wary of diarrhea (watery stools) in young servals, this can dehydrate them in a few hours and they may need fluids intravenously. If you see diarrhea more than two days in a row, it would be a good idea to have a vet immediately check them out. Diarrhea can sometimes result from a change in diet which goes away within 48 hours. Mild diarrhea can be handled by giving probiotics( ben a bac is one example of a probiotic) and whole canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin can be used for diarrhea and constipation. If your serval has diarrhea, the pumpkin fibers help remove the excess fluids from the GI tract.The pumpkin also helps form mucus to move the poop through the GI tract if your serval is constipated. Every 3 months, and up to a year, take a fresh stool specimen to your vet for a flotation test to check for parasites. Continue doing this every 6 months after your serval turns one year old.


Monitor your servals environment

Do a clean sweep daily for any left over bone or animal parts left in the feeding areas. Don't leave them out to spoil and rot. Your serval may get sick if he eats the bad bacteria that grows on rotting meat. Leftover food attracts ants which will cause other issues. Servals like to chew on things, especially when they are young. Be careful not to leave small objects big enough to swallow lying around. Constantly check your house and enclosure for any items that could be ingested and cause a digestive blockage. Servals are bad about swallowing foreign objects which could become lodged in their throats or intestines. If this happens, they will need surgery to remove the object. One way to help keep them from chewing on random things is to offer them plenty of chicken necks, chicken legs and chew bones. This will help them continue to have good teeth and reduce the cravings to chew on other things. Be careful with stuffed animals the stuffing can also cause a lower bowel obstruction. Try the toys you can place a water bottle inside.They can be found at Petsmart and other leading Pet stores. Replace bottle as needed.


Fleas, ticks, worms, and mites, oh my

Revolution, Advantage Multi and Capstar are used for heartworm prevention and flea control. The Seresto collar will cover fleas and ticks for up to 3 months and is safe for servals. Revolution and Adv Multi gets roundworms and hookworms (as well as ear mites). Panacur (fenbendazole) is safe for certain tapeworms or you can use Droncit Feline 23 (praziquantel), Ivermectin or strongyloides. I would not recommend worming unless you have a positive floatation result. Marquis (ponazuril) Antiprotozoal is a good single dose for treating coccidia.The alternative anticoccidial drug Albon (sulfadimethoxine) will also work eventually...but takes multiple doses and can end up stripping the intestinal lining before it works. It's always a good idea to give ben a bac (a probiotic) after worming to help add good bacteria back into the gut. Fleas, ticks and mites are a problem in most states and it can be a challenge when trying to apply flea spray. I use revolution or multi advantage because it can be easily applied with a few drops between their shoulder blades and it also contains worming medicine. Servals do not like being sprayed and will run and hide every time. If you have a problem getting your serval to stay still while you apply the medication, it will help to get some of their favorite foods and sit it close enough to you to make it easy to reach them. I use chicken hearts by placing them close to me while I'm sitting and when the Serval starts eating apply the ampules. It is usually over before they realize what is going on. If all else fails you can use a monthly pill called Comfortis (spinosad). It is also helpful to use a Capstar flea remover (nitenpyram) oral Tablet before you apply the multi advantage, revolution or comfortis. The capstar tablet will knock all the fleas off within the first couple of hours. Make sure they are out in their enclosure when you orally give them the capstar tablet. You do not want the fleas to jump off in your house.  After a few hours go ahead and give the comfortis or apply the multi advantage or revolution ampules.




The practice of vaccinating our animals to prevent disease is a subject of a great deal of debate. Heated discussions arise over what to vaccinate with, when to vaccinate, who to vaccinate, and even whether to vaccinate at all. Every side has strong arguments for why their way is the right way and can show statistics and tell horror stories to prove their point.The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a risk free life. Each one of us must make our own decisions, and no matter what decision we make, there are risks involved.


The incidence of injection induced cancer is about 1 in 10,000. Injections include the vaccine, medications and fluids. Discuss the risk factors associated with sarcomas forming on your pet after the vaccination. If a cat develops a palpable granuloma at the site of previous vaccination, the benefits versus risks of future vaccinations should be carefully considered. All vaccine-associated sarcomas should be reported to the vaccine manufacturer.  


Killed vaccines are the safest for Servals. You should wait until they are at least nine weeks old before vaccinating, because servals mature slower than domestic cats and they are still developing their natural antibodies for the first several months of their life. You don’t want to disrupt this process by introducing vaccines. You also have to be careful not to use vaccines that contain a lot of toxins, because servals have smaller livers than domestic cats and it takes a lot longer for servals to rid the toxins from their bloodstream. (This is also another reason you need to be careful with man made vitamins and mineral supplements. Excessive supplementation will cause toxins to build up in the liver and kidneys and the effects range from, seizures to renal failure. Some people will try to argue that you can't over supplement and if you give to much supplement, the serval will just “pee it out”.The body still has to process the supplements before clearing it from the body. The Feline urinary system is naturally built to conserve water.This water retention ability adapted Servals to arid environments. Unfortunately, this function also allows for toxin concentration. Fat soluble vitamins will be retained in the fat tissue and liver also delaying excretion).     


Killed vaccines offer very little protection from a virus but they are the safest. Talk to your exotic vet about what vaccines they recommend. The key here is not to over vaccinate and only give what is needed. Keep in mind if you do decide to use modified live virus vaccines try to find a brand that has the least amount of toxins. I recommend vaccinating your serval if they have any possibility of coming into contact with any unvaccinated animal.


If you are required to get a rabies vaccine use a brand that is without preservatives and for cats only. Kittens receive a single dose of killed or recombinant rabies vaccine at 12-16 weeks of age. Adult cats with unknown vaccination history should also receive a single dose of killed or recombinant rabies vaccine. For the recombinant vaccines, boosters are recommended at yearly intervals. The use of the recombinant rabies vaccine is recommended because there is some evidence that it is associated with a decreased risk of sarcoma formation. For the killed rabies vaccines, a booster is required at one year, and thereafter, rabies vaccination should be performed every 3 years using a vaccine approved for 3-year administration. According to recommendations of the vaccine-associated sarcoma task force, rabies vaccines are administered subcutaneously as distally as possible in the right rear limb.  


Felovax IV vaccine results in antibodies that can stay in the system for a long time, there is a blood test you can do later to find out whether or not your serval needs the vaccine again. It is called a titer test. It tests for antibodies in the bloodstream.The more antibodies present the better.These antibodies fight any antigens that enter the bloodstream. Titer testing also prevents over vaccination. Excessive vaccinating can lead to increased health risk such as cancer.

DIstemper upper respiratory vaccines should be given every 3 weeks until 16 weeks old, starting at 9 weeks. If there is a possibility that your cat will come into contact with stray cats the feline leukemia vaccination is recommended as well. Give the rabies vaccine at 12 weeks or later and give a booster in 1 year. After that the distemper/upper resp and rabies can be given every 3 years but the leukemia vaccine should only be given to animals at possible risk every year or two.


Disease and other vaccines

The Feline Calicivirus (FCV) vaccine (Calicivax) is a killed, adjuvanted vaccine containing just one of many different strains.The virulent Feline Calicivirus is known to cause severe systemic disease, including facial or limb edema, cutaneous ulceration, hepatocellular dysfunction, and high mortality.The disease is relatively rare, but has often involved otherwise healthy, adult cats that have been vaccinated with core vaccines containing FCV. No outbreaks have been documented.The FCV vaccine protects against the same FCV strain present in the vaccine, no field studies have yet been performed to determine whether it protects against other virulent strains. This vaccine is not recommended because it may increase risk of sarcoma formation, the disease is rare and spread tends to be self-limiting and the degree of cross-protection between the strain included in the vaccine and other virulent FCV strains is presently unknown.


Chlamydia felis causes conjunctivitis in cats that generally responds readily to antimicrobial treatment. Immunity induced by vaccination is probably of short duration and the vaccine provides only incomplete protection. The use of this vaccine could be considered for cats entering a population of cats where infection is known to be endemic. The vaccine has been associated with adverse reactions in 3% of vaccinated cats, and routine vaccination of low-risk cats with this vaccine is not recommended.


Coronavirus is very common in domestic cats, especially in catteries. A Coronavirus infection can develop into FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) due to viral mutation. Any serval that has been housed with a domestic cat may have exposure to the Coronavirus and could potentially develop FIP. I do not know what the incidence of FIP is in servals. Fortunately, the incidence of FIP in cats in general is low, considering the number of cats that have had Coronaviral infections. The vaccine for FIP is not very effective and is generally not recommended. The FIP vaccine is an intranasal modified live virus product. This vaccine can trigger FIP instead of guarding against it. So, not only is it ineffective at preventing the disease, but it can actually cause the disease.


Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is primarily passed through bite wounds, but queens can also pass to their offspring. This virus affects the immune system, making cats more susceptible to secondary infections and certain types of cancer. Cat's can live a full life with FIV. There is a vaccine for FIV that works and is primarily recommended for outdoor cats with high risk of exposure.  Unfortunately, vaccination of FIV-negative cats renders currently available serologic blood tests positive for at least a year following vaccination, and polymerase chain reaction based blood tests do not reliably identify cats with natural infection. Previous vaccination does not prevent infection, and the significance of a positive test result in a vaccinated cat is not relevant. Questions remain regarding the vaccine’s ability to protect against all of the FIV subtypes and strains to which cats might be exposed. Therefore, the decision regarding whether to use this vaccine is not straightforward, and the risks and benefits of the use of this vaccine should be carefully discussed with your vet.


FeLV (feline leukemia) is common and will result in the cat's death. Ways to transmit include grooming, sharing dishes, bite wounds, and is passed from queen to kittens. There is a vaccine available to protect cats from FeLv. It is recommended for outdoor cats or cats that may be coming in contact with cats of unknown leukemia status, such as fosters, neighbors, friends, or relatives kitties. There is one FeLv vax that is shown to last 2 years. It is not available in combination with a killed Distemper/Upper Respiratory vaccine. The FeLv in the combination killed vaccines only last 1 year. Vaccination is most likely to be useful in kittens and young adult cats, because acquired resistance to infection develops beyond 16 weeks of age. Vaccination is not recommended for FeLV-positive cats and indoor cats with no likelihood of exposure to FeLV.  Because of concerns relating to sarcoma formation following administration of killed, adjuvanted vaccines, we suggest the use of the recombinant FeLV vaccine, as there is some evidence that recombinant vaccines are associated with a decreased risk of sarcoma formation. Vaccinations are given down on a leg so if a tumor does develop the leg can be amputated to get all of tumor. If you choose to vaccinate, two doses of FeLV vaccine are given at 2-4 week intervals, after which annual boosters (recombinant vaccine) or 3-yearly boosters (inactivated vaccine) are recommended depending on risk.


When you need to take your serval to the vet and it needs to be sedated it is recommended to  use Acepromazine (more commonly known as Ace, ACP or by the trade names Atravet or Acezine 2, number depending on mg/ml dose) or Ketamine (ketamine hydrochloride) as an immobilizer first. Ask your vet for a large enough dose to administer at home in a stress free environment. Keep in mind the drug sedated cat hears, sees and feels all that you are doing so care must be taken not to traumatize your serval. After the immobilizer takes effect the serval can be gassed down in an anesthetic chamber or a carrier covered with a large plastic sack. There is increased stress on the cardiovascular system if no immobilizer is given before gassing.The cat goes through an agitation period when the mask and gas are introduced and if given the immobilizer first this can ease the process.

(It can take up to 2 hours for the Acepromazine to take effect. Be careful when using  acepromazine or ketamine, because your serval could stay in a drugged state for a day or more. Because of this some vets prefer Dexdomitor (dexmedetomidine hydrochloride) instead of acepromazine or ketamine).


After your cat is immobilized place them into a small carrier and take him to the vet. They may or may not be all the way out. It may be easier to put your cat in the carrier before you dose them. This depends on the cats temperament and your abilities to crate. At the vet cover the carrier with a large plastic sack. Isoflurane gas is the safest and used by most exotic vets. Make sure to put a catheter in place before gassing or as soon as possible after the cat is out. Never anesthetize any cat without a catheter in place. This assures a direct route to give life saving medication.


Once the isoflurane (IOS) gas has taken effect, very quickly pull them out of the carrier, put the gas mask over the face and lay them on the surgery table. Do not pressure a vet to use a anesthesia drug they are not familiar with at all or not comfortable using, because if something goes wrong, they may not know how to reverse the drug. Rather, find a vet who is more comfortable using anesthesia that you are more comfortable with and that is comfortable working with exotics. When you have a sick serval and do not know what is wrong, gassing them down in a carrier is the safest way to sedate them to examine them and to do further testing without risking harming their kidneys, heart, or liver. You need a vet that is willing to do that in an emergency. You always want a vet that is very familiar with servals. There is a different formula used to determine the proper dosage on servals, savannahs, bobcats and regular house cats. The doses used on exotics is less per KG because of their lower body fat percentage.

Once the gas mask is removed it doesn't take long for them to wake up so act fast and get him back in the carrier. Monitor your serval while he is under sedation. Keep him in a safe room or crate. If they are still unconscious, flip them from one side to the other every hour to help with blood circulation.This will also help rid the body of the drugs quicker.