Can a Serval Cat Kill a Human? Why You Should Consider Leaving Them Alone

Serval cats are illegal to keep as pets in many places for a reason, you don't want to get in their way.

Eva Hagan - Author

Mar. 18 2024, Published 11:07 a.m. ET

A serval cat stands in between the grass on a dirt path looking at the camera.
Source: iStock

Serval cats are grassland cats native to sub-Saharan Africa. Although they are wild animals, some states allow servals to be exotic pets. However, a serval's natural wild instincts, habitat needs, and overall territorial behavior can make having one in your home difficult or even dangerous

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Servals are larger than a house cat, and when you see their teeth you may find yourself asking: can a serval cat kill a human? Here's what the research says.

A serval cat crawls on wooden planks while holding something in their mouth.
Source: iStock
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What are serval cats?

Serval cats are wild animals native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are considered exotic pets, although they are only legal in some states. Servals are larger than the average house cat, reaching about two feet in length and weighing anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds, per The Spruce Pets.

According to Petful, most servals in the United States are found in zoos or cat rescues. Although they can be domesticated, they are traditionally wild animals and not easy to care for. Owning a serval is not only a difficult undertaking but a long-term one too. The normal lifespan of a serval is 20 years, whereas, according to PetMD, a house cat lives on average 13-17 years.

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Because they are not domestic creatures, servals also need large habitats. These cats need room to do things they would do in the wild, such as hunting, running, and swimming. Most servals end up in a large zoo-like enclosure instead of a home because they are also known to be clever and will escape if not given the space they need, per Petful.

A serval cat stands up in a grassy field while looking at the camera with their mouth open.
Source: iStock
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Can a serval cat kill a human?

It's possible for a serval to kill a human, but it isn't very likely.

According to The Dodo, during a birthday party at the Potawatomi Zoo in Indiana in 2018, a serval cat bit a toddler on the head. PR manager for Big Cat Rescue (BCR), Susan Bass, told The Dodo, "Approaching any animal from behind, even a domestic cat or dog, can cause injury when the animal isn't aware you're there. When those wild instincts kick in, the animal can hurt or even kill a child."

While servals are not usually aggressive towards people, they are still undomesticated animals removed from their natural habitats. When their needs aren't fulfilled, they can become frustrated or stressed, per Lions, Tigers, and Bears, potentially making them more aggressive.

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A side-profile photo of a serval cat standing in a field of tall grass.
Source: iStock

If you do choose to have a serval, according to The Spruce Pets, they aren't recommended to be around other pets or children. As carnivorous predators, servals are accustomed to hunting for their own food, potentially putting other small mammals (such as guinea pigs, rats, hamsters, or other rodents) around the house at risk.

Servals can also be dangerous to humans and pets because they are very territorial, and their instincts can take over, per Carolina Tiger Rescue. In 2019, a dog in Ohio was attacked by a loose serval cat, which led to the serval cat ultimately being shot because deputies did not know whether or not the cat was going to attack them, per 10 WBNS.

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