For anyone who has dreamed of owning a wildcat but also wants to raise a family, the Bengal cat may just be the perfect pet. Known for being safe around kids and other animals, this cat was specially bred over the past 50 years or so by crossing Asian leopard cats with Egyptian and Indian Maus as well as domestic cats. The breeding process focused as much on the Bengal cat’s wild aesthetic as on its temperament, selecting specifically for factors such as friendliness and gentleness.
History of Bengal Cats
William Engler first registered the breed name “Bengal cat” with the American Cat Fanciers Association, or ACFA, in 1974 after using his connections as a zookeeper and member of the Long Island Ocelot Club to breed a similar-looking line of exotic house cats. However, the original line Engler bred is not related to today’s version. Though the appearance is similar, modern Bengal cats owe their domesticity as much or more to Dr. Willard Centerwall, Jean Sudgen Mill and perhaps a dozen others who were passionate about having this cat recognized as a domestic breed.
ACFA only registered the Bengal cat as an experimental breed during the 1970s, later rejecting it in seeming perpetuity. Fortunately, Jean Mill’s persistence and motivation in particular led to the wild-looking cat gaining acceptance from The International Cat Association, or TICA. Since then, the breed’s popularity has continued to grow among cat enthusiasts.
Size of the Bengal Cat
The Bengal cat tends to grow larger than most house cats. In fact, males of this breed often outgrow their more common counterparts by a full foot in length by the time they reach adulthood. However, this cat tends to have a slender frame, weighing only a few pounds more than the average domestic cat.
This thinness does not come from weak or delicate bones, though; the Bengal cat’s bones are quite dense and strong. These cats are also muscular in general and have large paws. The legs are longer in the back than in the front, reminiscent of the proportions of this breed’s wildcat ancestors.
In many ways, the Bengal cat is more like a cat-shaped dog than a typical cat. These cats are known attention seekers, often engaging their owners and other pets in games of fetch and staring contests. The desire for affection also comes through in a diverse set of vocals, which owners alternately describe as meowing, mewing, warbling, chirping and yowling. Bengal cats are also known for growling instead of hissing when distressed.
Because of their boundless energy combined with high intelligence, Bengal cats can be incredibly mischievous if left to their own devices. However, Bengal kittens are also highly trainable, and many children enjoy having an indefatigable playmate at any given time. Moreover, these cats are very receptive to harness training, and they love to accompany their owners to the park or the pet store. Going back to this breed’s similarities with dogs, some people have trained their Bengal cats for agility tournaments to help them burn through all that extra energy.
Unlike other cats, the Bengal cat enjoys water and can often be found playing in a water dish, a puddle or even the sink. In fact, some owners have reported their cats trying to get into the bathtub with them.
The normal litter size for Bengal cats is half a dozen kittens. These little sweethearts take a few months longer to mature compared to regular house cats, usually reaching adulthood somewhere between 18 and 24 months. Bengal kittens feel very soft to the touch, having longer fur than their parents for the first dozen months or so.
Because they result from crossbreeding exotic cats with house cats, there is a bit of jargon involved in the Bengal kittens’ pedigrees. It helps to understand what the two main terms, foundation and studbook tradition, or SBT, mean when it comes to choosing a kitten to take home.
Foundation and SBT
Foundation Bengal kittens tend to be on the wild side and are mostly used for breeding when they grow up. The closer a Bengal kitten is in relation to an Asian leopard cat ancestor, the lower the number of its foundation generation. Until the fourth generation, written as F-4, only the females are eligible for breeding since the males tend to be sterile. An F-4 male Bengal cat thus becomes a hot commodity for breeders, labeled by TICA as SBT.
Anyone looking for a Bengal kitten as a house pet should steer clear of F-1, F-2 and F-3 pedigrees. A good rule of thumb is that higher numbers equal greater domesticity. On the other hand, the more generations the kitten has from the Asian leopard cat, the less vibrant its markings may be. The decision often comes down to weighing looks against temperament.
Bengal cats usually live into the double digits, up to 15 years.
The extent of health risks depends largely on the quality of the breeder. These cats usually stay quite healthy with proper care and regular checkups with a veterinarian. The following list shows a few of the known health issues for owners to address with breeders and vets alike:
Progressive retinal atrophy: Some Bengal cats wind up losing their eyesight eventually to this disease, and unfortunately there is nothing breeders or vets can do either to predict or prevent it.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: The main two symptoms of this heart condition are heavy breathing and laziness, which should be huge red flags for anyone familiar with Bengal cats. While it tends mainly to affect older cats, the consequences of this illness can be devastating, leading to partial paralysis from related blood clots and even death from heart failure.
Allergy to anesthetics: A high sensitivity to the drugs used during surgery means Bengal cat owners should only schedule procedures that are absolutely essential. Instead of having the cats fixed, for instance, owners might try quarantining them during estrous or administering contraceptives to keep them from breeding.
Luxating patellas: Because the hindquarters are longer than the front legs, the knees in the front bear more weight and force when these cats walk, climb and jump. Thus, the kneecaps can sometimes dislocate, causing severe pain and requiring reparative surgery.
Polycystic kidney disease: Genetic testing can rule out this condition in a Bengal kitten, so a reputable breeder should be able to select against it. If a cat has this disease, it will likely succumb to liver failure and premature death since there are no treatments available other than pain relief.
Infections: Bengal cats have a higher than average susceptibility to feline infectious peritonitis, which typically causes fatality but has a vaccine in the works. The only other infection they are particularly prone to is a parasitic one called Tritrichomonas foetus, which generally leads to diarrhea at the worst.
Сare of the Bengal Cat Breed
The Bengal cat eventually emerged out of the breeding of Asian
leopard cats with domestic cats, a coupling meant to take advantage of wildcats’ genetic immunity to the feline leukemia virus. Nonetheless, this breed can still contract the disease, so owners should vaccinate as usual, especially if they intend to let the cat go outside regularly. Most veterinarians recommend keeping Bengal cats indoors most of the time, however, and only taking them outside in a harness.
Litter Box Training
While Bengal cats can be housebroken like dogs and walked a few times each day, most owners go with litter box training per the usual for cats. However, there is also a third option: These super intelligent cats can also be taught to use the toilet. The only caveat when it comes to toilet training is that Bengal cats often love to watch the water swirl around in the toilet bowl, so they may flush more times than necessary.
Bengal Cat Nutrition
The two main nutrition choices for Bengal cats include cat kibble and raw meat. The best cat food formula for these cats has high protein, plenty of fat to aid digestion, and no carbohydrates whatsoever. Bengal kittens require a bit more protein than the adults do, and canned food may be easier to chew until their teeth and jaws fully develop. A little raw meat, particularly the leanest cuts of red meat, can make for an excellent supplement to this breed’s ideal diet.
Coat Color and Grooming
Bengal cats come in a variety of patterns and colors. According to the TICA standards, there are just two patterns of coats, and most of the colors tend to be various shades of brown. The patterns and colors are meant to be of uniform intensity from head to tail. Most Bengal cats come in spotted patterns, so the rarer marbled coats with their signature swirls tend to impress at cat shows.
Bengal kittens have thick, fuzzy fur, so it can be difficult to be sure what their coats will look like when they are mature. As they get closer to 12 months old, the kittens’ patterns will become more distinct. Until then, the fur usually just has dark spots and lighter areas that lack significant definition. Needless to say, though, most people find Bengal kittens to be irresistibly cute anyway.
Once the coat matures into the silky splendor Bengal cats are known for having, the colors become much more vibrant. The following colors fall within TICA standards:
Seal silver mink
Seal lynx point
Seal silver lynx point
While TICA specifies that fur around the eye sockets, whisker pads, chins, chests and bellies should all be white in ground color, pattern colors in shades of white on the main body are not accepted. Nevertheless, Bengal cats do exist in ivory or cream white patterns, also called “snow.” Additional existing colors that TICA does not accept include blue, charcoal and melanistic.
Bengal Cat Grooming
Like other cats, Bengal cats tend not to need much grooming, besides brushing from time to time. However, sometimes a bath may be in order if one playfully gets into a house plant or some other household mess. The good news, of course, is that these cats love baths and water in general.
Children and Other Pets
Bengal cats have a decent diversity of qualities bred into them. Depending on whether the cats will be for show, pets or further breeding, breeders often select for different characteristics that will best serve their needs. For households with children and other pets, pet-quality Bengal kittens from reputable breeders, at the F-4 foundation level or higher, should be able to get along very well and become much-loved family members in no time.
Bengal kittens can be conditioned as they grow not to try to hunt and eat small household animals, but it is ill-advised to adopt an adult of this breed into a home with birds, rodents or other small pets. These cats can also be territorial, so owners will need to take proper precautions when introducing new pets into the home when they already own Bengal cats.
If anything can be said to sum up this breed, one thing is certain: Bengal cats make excellent family pets. Cuddly Bengal kittens grow into some fierce-looking cats, but they retain a sweet, playful demeanor along the way. Owning one of these cats means having the best of both worlds.