A cat that is loyal, smart, and eager to learn tricks – that’s the Bengal. However, before getting a Bengal kitty, you must understand that this breed requires extra dedication. Because of its wild ancestry and sharp intellect, the Bengal has a knack for mischief. It also hates being alone.
In this article, you'll find everything you need to know about the unique breed. Feel free to click on each question to get straight to an answer:
Origins and history of the Bengal breed
The Bengal cat is a cross between the domestic cat and the Asian leopard cat. It gets its name from the species Prionailurus bengalensis – the leopard forest cat found across South Asia and the nearby islands.
The modern Bengal cat was developed as a breed in the second half of the 20th century. Its founder is Jean Mill, who successfully crossed the wild leopard cat with a domestic cat and backcrossed the offspring through five generations to create a domestic Bengal cat that is adequately removed from its wild ancestors. The idea was to preserve the wild cat's beauty but maintain the domestic cat's soft temperament.
In 1963 Jean Mill (then named Jean Sugden) purchased a female leopard cat, which she crossed with a domestic male. Supposedly, Mill created the breed to raise awareness about the hunted leopard cats and help stop poaching. Her logic was that if people have cats that look like wild animals, they won’t be wearing the animals’ fur.
In the 1970s, Mill worked on developing the Bengal breed with Dr. Willard Centerwall, professor emeritus of medical genetics and pediatrics. Because the Asian leopard cat has a natural immunity to feline leukemia (viral cancer), Dr. Centerwall was interested in wild animals.
He studied and bred them to see if their immunity could be replicated in the new domestic cats. As a result, many of today’s Bengal cats trace their heritage to Dr. Centerwall’s medical studies.
Many other people were involved in breeding the hybrid Bengal cats in the 1980s, and in the 90s, the new breed was finally accepted by The International Cat Association. The American Cat Fanciers Association followed later, but under the condition that the cats participating in its shows must be four generations removed from their wildcat ancestors.
Bengal ownership restrictions
This four-generation restriction is still important to Bengal cat parents today – a cat has to be four generations away from its wild ancestors or its ownership is deemed illegal in some states. The first four Bengal cat generations are called F1-F4.
F1 is the first generation produced when a leopard cat is bred with a domestic cat. Then, the F1 females are bred with a Bengal male or a leopard cat to produce F2 and so on. The first three generations (F1-F3) are the foundation cats to the Bengal cat, but technically they are not Bengal cats themselves, says the American Cat Fanciers Association.
Are Bengal cats illegal?
Although today's domestic Bengal cats typically come from breeding Bengals to other Bengals, some lawmakers are concerned about the cats' wild instincts. That’s why proof that the cat has been removed from its wild ancestors for at least four generations may be required in some states. Check your state's regulations before buying or adopting a Bengal cat.
Personality of the Bengal cat
Bengal cats have certainly inherited a unique temperament from their wild grandparents: agile, intelligent felines that love to swim and climb. The modern Bengal cat also possesses these characteristics, so if you are looking for a calm lap cat, the Bengal is not for you.
Do Bengal cats make good house pets?
Bengals are very entertaining and affectionate. Тhey make great pets, but you have to be prepared for their playful personality and incredible intelligence. Like their ancestors, Bengal cats are very active creatures. They are energetic and require entertainment. If these cats do not get the action they need, they may damage household items and furniture.
Bengals are also known as avid thieves. They often steal and hide items they find intriguing (imagine jewelry, coins, keys). On top of this, most Bengals love splashing in the water and playing with paper, so keep important documents locked and offer lots of toys to keep them busy.
Overall, Bengal cats are confident, curious, and happy. They are no more aggressive than the average domestic cat, and, as with all cats, their temperament can be molded with training. They are also friendly and loving, and it’s not unusual for them to develop great loyalty to a single family member.
Do Bengal cats like to go outside?
These kitties like to explore. Bengals will not rest until they know every corner of the house. They also like to venture outdoors, and leash training is not a problem for them. That’s because Bengal cats need mental stimulation. Learning tricks is easy for these felines and they enjoy being trained.
Why do Bengal cats meow so much?
Bengal cats are smart and very communicative. They often meow when bored and voice their frustration if you aren’t giving them the attention they want. Keep in mind that these felines not only seek attention but also would do anything to get it, so don’t ignore them or you’ll pay.
Can you leave Bengal cats alone?
Bengal cats appreciate the company and get lonely easily, so it’s not recommended to leave a cat alone for extended periods of time. Consider adding another pet to your family if you won't be home to spend time with your Bengal cat every day. Bengals are very social and usually get along well with other animals.
Do all Bengals have litter box issues?
Some experts say that Bengal cats are more prone to soiling issues, while others insist that Bengals are no different than all purebreds. Either way, if you are considering a Bengal cat, research the breed through the sites of breeders and cat associations and information from sanctuaries and rescue organizations.
According to The Wildcat Sanctuary, most Bengal cats have litter box issues and behavioral problems. Apparently, the sanctuary receives more calls from owners wanting to surrender Bengal cats than all other wildcats and hybrids combined. So, before you commit, really get to know this unique and beautiful breed.
How to take care of Bengal cats?
Bengals require knowledgeable owners as this breed has distinct needs. Because Bengal cats are demanding and sometimes naughty, they need parents who would spend the extra time.
If you want a Bengal cat, providing vertical space is an absolute must. These cats are very active and athletic and need the space to release energy. Ramps, shelves, and hammocks can be very helpful. The cat trees and towers are other options to encourage your cat to climb, play, and scratch without damaging your furniture. Providing access to a large outdoor enclosure is ideal.
If you aren’t home for the bigger part of the day, consider bringing a second kitty into your home so your Bengal doesn’t get upset. This breed needs a company.
Running water is another important factor when caring for a Bengal cat: Most Bengals prefer drinking fresh water running from a faucet or a water fountain. And if the water comes in a bowl, don't be surprised if your Bengal cats play with it.
Feeding the Bengal cat is easy and Bengals do well on regular, commercial food. The food has to be appropriate for a high-energy cat and offer quality ingredients. Pick food that’s appropriate for your cat’s age.
Bengals have low grooming requirements due to their short coat, but they benefit from brushing like all other cats. They shed less than other breeds but still shed and are mildly to highly hypoallergenic. Their coat is easy to groom and their claws can be trimmed if needed.
Medical issues related to the Bengal breed
Caring for a Bengal cat also means understanding the genetic predispositions that may cause health issues. This does not mean that every Bengal cat will experience these issues, but Bengals may be at higher risk than other cats. Here are some of the genetic conditions that are a concern for Bengal cats:
- Progressive retinal atrophy: This condition is known as Bengal PRA or PRA-b and it means bilateral degeneration of the retina, which leads to blindness. A noninvasive vet test can determine it.
- Patellar luxation: A luxating patella is a kneecap that slips off. Signs of this condition appear gradually and can result in leg lameness.
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency: This inherited disease is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme pyruvate kinase. The enzyme is found in red blood cells, and, when missing, the lifespan of red blood cells is significantly reduced, resulting in anemia.
Another important health fact about Bengal cats is that they may have a different blood type. Most domestic cats have type A blood, but purebred cats may have types B or AB. Knowing your cat’s blood type could be critical in a case of emergency, so test it and add the result to your pet’s microchip record.
What are the physical characteristics of the Bengal cats?
The Bengal cat is an athletic animal – it has great strength, agility, balance and grace. The different Bengals may have a different coat and color, but they all have the same muscular build and shiny fur.
Coat of the Bengal cats
Bengal cats are known for their coat of vivid spots and their fur, which often glitters. This stunning coat was achieved by crossing the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) with either the domestic tabby or the Siamese cat. The latter resulted in the Snow Seal Lynx Bengal, which has the lightest base coat of all Bengals and is the only one with blue eyes.
The coat of the Bengal cat may have spots, rosettes or marbles. The regular spots do not have a colorful outline, while the rosettes each have a darker outline, giving the Bengal cat a look similar to that of a Jaguar.
The Bengal cat has an exotic look with a longer head than it is wide and relatively short ears – rounded at the top. Its eyes are oval – almost round – set wide apart.
The muzzle is full and broad, with large, prominent whisker pads and high, pronounced cheekbones. The neck is long and muscular, proportionate to the head and body.
The body is long and muscular too. In fact, the muscles are one of the most distinguishing features of the Bengals. The feet are large and round, and the tail is thick and medium in length. Overall, the Bengal cats have a sturdy build.
How big does a Bengal cat get?
Bengal cat size is no different than that of other domestic cats. While Bengal cats may appear larger because of their muscles, they don't get much bigger than other cats.
How much does a Bengal cat cost?
The price of a Bengal kitten depends on its generation (F1-F4), its gender, and the breeder's reputation. The cost can be as high as $10,000 if you are buying an F1 kitten, but remember that a first-generation cat means that you are getting a wild animal and you will have a hard time training it. You may face legal penalties too.
If you want a Bengal cat, consider adopting it from a rescue group such as the Bengal Rescue Network. The advantage of adopting from such an organization is that the cat's social and litter-box behaviors would already be assessed, and you'd be better prepared for your new family member.
If you choose to bring a Bengal cat into your family, you must be committed to the breed and its behavior. Bengals are mischievous, energetic, vocal, water-loving beings that demand interaction. Don’t get a Bengal if you actually want a sweet lap cat.
About the author
Viva Bolova holds a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. She spent 14 years doing work for major brands and writing for various publications. Now she writes on travel and pet-related topics and has experience as a PR expert for an international airport.