The first time you see a Bengal cat roaming through your house you might think some kind of wild animal has broken in. That’s because this spectacular breed sports a spotted or marbled coat that looks a lot like a wild leopard or ocelot. Yet, the Bengal is anything but wild, with a loving, affectionate personality. While Bengals were developed by breeding domestic felines to an Asian jungle cat, their wild natures have long been suppressed.
Bengal cats were first accepted as a breed in 1983, and since then this handsome cat has become one of the most popular breeds of domestic cats in the world.
Like some other hybrid breeds, Bengal cats are classified by how many generations they are removed from the original wild parent. One generation away from the Asian leopard is called an F1. And every generation after that gets a numerical designation such as F2, F3, F4, etc. To be considered a truly domestic cat, a Bengal must be at least an F4.
Before you buy a Bengal cat or kitten, be sure to check with your state and local governments; they are banned in some locations such as Hawaii and New York City. Or, they may be restricted if the animal is from an F1 to F4 generation.
Bengal cats are a lithe and agile breed that generally weigh between 8 and 15 pounds. They are prized for their dense, short coats, boldly patterned in different shades of brown, silver, and snow. Their fur is super-soft to the touch, feeling a bit like bunny hair. The most common eye colors found in Bengal cats are brown, yellow, orange, and green.
The coat of a Bengal cat is what sets it apart from all other breeds of cat. In fact, Bengals are the only breed that can have rosette markings that directly reflect their wild Asian leopard ancestry. Spotted or marbled coats are also popular. Because their coats are so short they only require a weekly brushing to remove loose hair and dead skin cells.
Although Bengal cats weigh about the same as a typical house cat, they are generally larger in size because of their long, muscular bodies. Their long legs make them excellent jumpers, so be prepared to find your Bengal staring down at you from shelves and countertops.
Considering how wild a Bengal looks on the outside, it’s amazingly soft and sweet on the inside. These affectionate cats are gregarious, although they might christen a particular family member as their favorite. Bengals do great with children, dogs, and other cats. The key, however, is early socialization and exposure to these household members at a young age. If you try to introduce a new pet to older Bengals already set in their ways, you might have a challenge on your hands.
Because they are an intelligent and curious breed, Bengal cats need to be stimulated with toys and other challenges. They also are known to love water and will enjoy a shallow water-filled tub to play in. Bengals can be taught tricks and even how to walk on a leash for outdoor adventures.
Bengal cats are also known to be a bit chatty with their owners. They won’t meow excessively, but there will be no mistaking what your cat wants you to do. A Bengal also won’t sit idly by after you come home from a long day at work. You can expect a royal greeting, complete with a serenade.
According to San Francisco-based cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC (aka The Cat Coach and author of Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement), Bengals are known for loud vocalization. Krieger, who has both a Bengal and a Savannah cat (another breed with a wild ancestor) says, “But, of course, not all Bengals are loud.” Her cat’s vocalizations are melodious, she says. She and her Bengal cat, Molly, sing a song together. “She makes different types of noises” during their duet, Krieger says.
A Bengal cat is happiest when they're near you. They don't care where they lives as long as you and your family are nearby. They do well in apartments or large homes as long as they have plenty of things to climb on and play with. A cat tree of some type is a great investment in keeping your Bengal entertained. If you spend long hours away from home, having a second cat is a good idea to help keep your pet amused and busy.
Bengal cats also have a high prey drive and enjoy watching birds, squirrels, and other animals from safely inside your home. That’s why it’s also a great idea to install a carpeted perch or two to give them a comfortable viewing spot out your windows.
Just try not to leave breakable items on a shelf or mantel that your Bengal can reach. Remember, this breed is super agile so it’s inevitable your cat will eventually explore every shelf or mantelpiece in your home. So, if you are proud of your collection of Faberge eggs, secure them someplace the cat can’t access.
Although they are not considered couch potatoes, Bengals will curl up on your lap for a good snooze after a busy day of chasing toy mice.
Mental stimulation is the key to a happy Bengal cat. Start young, introducing your kitten to other people, children, animals, the car, and even a leash and harness for outdoor jaunts. Because they are so intelligent, Bengals benefit from a wide range of experiences to keep them stimulated, so work with them early and often. It also helps to provide plenty of cat toys that you rotate every few weeks so your cat doesn’t get bored. “Bengals are highly intelligent cats and need activities,” Krieger says. She recommends clicker training. “It keeps them mentally and physically stimulated,” she says. “They have to think!”
Bengal cats are a relatively healthy breed, but they do have a few health issues you need to keep in mind before you purchase a new pet. Most serious breeders are careful to breed animals without genetic health problems, but three of the most common maladies among Bengals are heart disease, eye disease, and anesthetic allergies.
Heart disease in Bengal cats is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can cause thickening of the heart muscle, particularly in older animals. This can result in blood clots or congestive heart failure and a shorter lifespan.
Bengals can also get an eye condition called progressive retinal atrophy, which can cause deterioration of the retina and eventual blindness. And finally, Bengals can be extremely sensitive to anesthetics, so should be watched carefully during any surgeries—including neutering and spaying. An allergic reaction to anesthetics can result in cardiac arrest.
Although crosses between Asian leopard cats and domestic cats occurred as early as the 1800s, the breed didn’t really come into its own until the 1970s. That’s when breeder Jean Mill of California began developing the breed in earnest. By 1996, Bengals were entered in the Cat Fanciers’ Association registry. The animals that are accepted come from the F6 generation or higher, separating each Bengal from their wild ancestors by at least six generations.
Of course, when you consider their warm, intelligent personalities and eye-popping coat colors and patterns, it’s no surprise that they have quickly become one of the most popular breeds in the world, outpacing breeds that have been around for generations.