The Bengal is a beautiful spotted or marbled cat that was developed through cross-breeding wild Asian Leopard Cats with domestic tomcats.
Bengals look much like the young wild cats that the ancient Egyptians tamed and used to help capture game such as waterfowl (much in the same way that modern falcons are used). However, despite their resemblance to the first domesticated cats, the Bengal is a relatively new breed.
Bengal Cat History
Contributors to the Bengal breed included a spotted cat from India, various California tabbies, and the Asian Leopard Cat, a tiny spotted wild cat found in Thailand, Malaysia, China, and India. The first successful hybridization of the Asian Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis) and a domestic cat (Felis catus) occurred in the early 1960s when Jean Sugden bred a black domestic tomcat with a female Asian Leopard Cat. A number of other breeders followed suit and the breed was soon established.
Among the offspring of first-generation Bengal cross-breeds (and many second-generation crosses as well), males are sterile, but females are fertile. Thus, a female Bengal hybrid must be bred with a domestic male tomcat.
The Bengal’s most distinctive feature is its spotted or marbled coat. The spots or marbling, which may be black, charcoal, cocoa, rust, or chocolate brown, are aligned horizontally or randomly spaced over a white, creamy, or orange-tan background. With their short fur, Bengals require little grooming.
Bengals have small, rounded, wide-spaced ears and large oval eyes, much like many wild feline species. Their coats are sleek, and their overall appearance is that of a beautiful small wild cat. Male adult Bengals weigh 10-15 pounds, but may appear heavier due to their long, muscular bodies. Female Bengals tend to be smaller at 6-9 pounds, but still quite muscular.
From about 7 weeks to 6 months of age, some Bengal kittens develop long gray fur, a stage known as the “fuzzy uglies.” In the wild, this would serve to mute the bright coat, thus making the kitten less obvious to predators until it was older and better able to hide or fight.
Bengals are sharp, quick, and very alert. They are good hunters, and like to practice their skills on a variety of cat toys. One of the more intelligent breeds, Bengals are curious and interested in everything that is going on around them. They often follow their favourite humans from room to room, and may try to “help” with various tasks.
Most Bengals are not lap cats, or at least not when people pick them up and try to get them to stay put. A Bengal might jump up on a lap by choice, but is likely to squirm away if placed there or held for more than a couple of seconds. Many Bengals prefer to ride around on an owner’s shoulders. Bengals love high places, so providing a tall cat tree can make a Bengal very happy.
Bengals are one of the doglike cat breeds, which makes them easier to train than many other breeds of cat. Many Bengals can learn to do tricks and enjoy fetching soft objects. Outgoing Bengals are more likely than cats of most other breeds to take to leash walking as well. Bengals have unusual voices, and some are talkative whereas others are quiet except at feeding time.
Many Bengals are very interested in water, and enjoy playing with running water from a faucet or trying to fish toys out of a full bathtub. Some Bengals will even come into the shower with their owners, and others will attack sprinklers or running hoses. Bengal owners who have pools should attach carpeted ramps at several places around the edges, as a Bengal may jump into the pool to chase a floating object and then have trouble getting back out.
Contrary to popular belief, Bengals are not more inclined to develop behaviour problems than cats of other breeds due to their wild ancestry. However, Bengals are extremely sensitive and are unlikely to forgive unkind treatment. If mistreated, they can lose their trust of humans completely. Owners should also never play roughly with Bengal kittens, because they grow up to be big, strong cats. Gentle handling from the start increases the likelihood of having a gentle, loving adult Bengal.
Bengal kittens usually adapt well to other pets, but an adult Bengal may have difficulty accepting another cat, unless she is able to dominate the interloper. However, once a satisfying hierarchy has been established, relationships are usually peaceful.
Are Bengal Cats Hypo- Allergenic?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Bengal cats are less likely to provoke allergic reactions in those with mild cat allergies. This does not mean that they are entirely hypo-allergenic , but some people can tolerate them better than other breeds. Those with allergies should spend time with a Bengal before adopting to gauge allergic reactions.
Adopting Bengal Kittens or Adult Bengal Cats
For those considering adopting a Bengal, there is a list of Bengal cat breeders available online. Purebred kittens can be extremely expensive, and there are many adult Bengals in need of loving homes. Various Bengal Cat Breed Rescues have Bengal cats in need of adoption.
Those who adopt Bengals should not allow them to wander freely outside, as they are often targets of pet thieves due to their beautiful and unusual appearance. Many Bengal owners train their cats to walk on leashes or build or purchase outdoor cat runs, fences, or enclosures for their pets to keep them safe.
- Mill, J.S. (1999). Guide to Owning a Bengal Cat. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.
- The International Bengal Cat Society. (2009). “The Bengal Cat.” BengalCat.com.
- Wild Expressions. (n.d.). “Wild Expressions Proudly Presents the Bengal.” WildExpressions.ca.