Last updated: February 18, 2017
Striking mini wildcats, the Bengal bring a slice of nature into your own home. Retaining many of their ancestor’s characteristics, this is a feisty breed that is a real asset to the right home. Despite only being around for the last few decades it has quickly become one of the most popular cat breeds in the world.
Bengal cats have a very traditional cat appearance, lacking any form of exaggeration such as the flat face of the Persian or the short legs of the Munchkin cat. Slightly larger than most domestic cats, females mature at 8-12 pounds with males a bit bigger at 10-15 pounds in weight. They are slim, athletic cats that are naturally agile.
Of course, no mention of the Bengals appearance would be complete without talking about its rather fabulous coat which should possess a breath-taking shine. The Bengal coat comes in two basic patterns; spotted and marbled. Spotted (or ‘rosette’) is the more common variety. The coat demonstrates a two-toned pattern on each rosette. In general, a lighter center is surrounded by a darker outer ring which can either be complete or partial.
The marbled pattern is less common. Instead of having individual markings the coat is full of interlinking swirls. Again the two tones should be displayed in the pattern however, the effect is very different. What is important in both patterned varieties, however, is the high degree of contrast between the background coat color and the markings.
The tradition color of the Bengal is brown, yet this can display large amounts of variation between individuals in regards to its intensity. Brown Bengals should have gold or green eyes, never blue. Snow Bengals also exist, yet are more creamy white rather than a bright white. The markings will show less contrast against the background in the snow variety.
Next up is the silver. Jet black markings contrast a silver background and any sign of browning on the coat is frowned upon. Blue Bengals are a diluted version of a brown Bengal, showing a more dilute color intensity. The blue, together with a very new chocolate variety, are considered unstandardized (not recognized as they are new) by many cat associations. Whatever the color of your Bengal, they can come in either a spotted or marbled pattern.
The Bengal first came to light in the 1980’s. They were originally bred by scientists who were investigating the Asian Leopards cat ability to resist feline leukemia, a devastatingly prevalent disease in domestic cats. As the Leopard cat cannot be infected with the virus, researchers studied the offspring when crossed with domestic moggie to see if there was any chance of preventing the disease via genome manipulation – basically altering certain genes that allow the virus to spread.
However, this project was put on hold when the lead scientist became unwell. Several first generation crosses (leopard cat crossed with domestic cat) were passed onto a lady called Jean Mill. Jean had already experimented with crossing Asian wildcats and domestic cats in the 1960’s, yet it was these cats that provided some of the first, ‘proper’ Bengal cats. Other breeders eventually joined in, with the breed going from strength to strength.
Some breeders stated that their original intention on creating the breed was to take the pressure off collecting pelts from wildcats; which were often under threat. The coat of the Bengal remains its most important characteristic and is indeed why many people are enamored by them. However, the early Bengal breeders soon discovered that early socialization of the kittens was vital. Without it, they often became wild and impossible to handle.
The first generation cross between a Leopard cat and the domestic cat is known as an F1 generation. These cats are truly striking, yet all males from an F1 or F2 (the next cross) are infertile. After the original Leopard cat cross, the offspring are counted as ‘true’ Bengals that can be shown after three generations of Bengal to Bengal breeding (i.e. the F1’s grandchildren). At this stage, they retain many of their wildcat characteristics, yet are more suitable as pets for the average owner.
Saying this, it is important to note that the Cat Fanciers Association of America does not recognize the Bengal as a breed at this time. However, it is recognized by the America Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA), The International Cat Association (TICA), the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GGCF – a UK based club) and many other organizations worldwide.
Overall, the Bengal is a very healthy breed of cat. However as our awareness of animal health increases so does our knowledge of the diseases that affect our pets. Over time, it has become apparent that the Bengal can suffer from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HMC), a hereditary heart condition. It causes abnormal thickening of the heart muscle walls, resulting in heart failure or causing other complications such as blood clots. The disease is identifiable through genetic markers and as such adults should be screened before they are bred from to ensure it is no passed onto kittens. Regular screening of breeding Bengals is the only way to eliminate the disease in the breed.
The other problem that can affect the Bengal is Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK Def). Another genetic condition, this time it causes anemia. In very bad cases, it can be life threatening. Luckily this is another disorder that is easy to detect. By taking a swab sample from the inner cheek, cats can be identified as either positive for the disease, carriers or normal. Very few cats are actually positive, but if two carriers are bred together there is a chance the kittens will either be positive (in 25% of the kittens) or again will be carriers (in 50% of the kittens produced). By testing the parents before they are bred from, again the disease can be eradicated from the breed.
Finally, it is important to remember that although Bengals were originally bred to investigate whether or not the leopard cats can transfer their immunity to feline leukemia across, this wasn’t the case. Bengal cats can still get this disease which is a common cause of cancer and blood disorders in cats. Always get your Bengal vaccinated against this disease.
Despite its wild ancestors, the Bengal is a friendly, inquisitive cat. Kittens that are well socialized from a young age are more likely to be easier to handle, yet this is true of any breed.
The Bengal has been described as almost ‘dog like’; it thrives on company and can become destructive or aggressive without regular human interaction. Do not get a Bengal if you are looking for a cat to sit calmly on your lap for hours on end, this is an intelligent, active cat that is interested in everything. The Bengal is an adept climber which includes anything that is fair game – i.e. your curtains and clothes! They can be dominant with other cats so care should be taken when introducing them to cats already established in the household, especially if they have a nervous disposition. They get on better with dogs, but this may be due to the fact that they are bigger! Bengals retain their strong hunting instinct (like most cats do) and will actively try and get to small furry pets.
The Bengal is a vocal breed that you will know you own. With a strong personality, they are not for everyone. Yet if you are looking for an independent, beautiful cat and have a sense of humor, then they may be the breed for you.
When you bring your new Bengal kitten home they should already be used to using a litter tray. Bengals are intelligent and as such can easily be trained to come when called with a little bit of bribery. To achieve this, simply start by placing food a little way in front of them. As they go towards it, start introducing a ‘cue’ which is the command. This can be a vocal command such as ‘here kitty’ or a noise such as tapping the food bowl. Once they begin to associate the sound with the reward (i.e. the food) the distance between cat and bowl can be increased.
However, despite their intelligence, Bengals are incredibly independent so coming when called may be about it in regards to training! They may occasionally be taught to sit, yet this will take time and patience to achieve. If you do want to try, consider looking into clicker training.
Buying and Caring cost analysis
The Bengal is an exotic looking cat that has attracted the attention of breeders worldwide. Sadly not all of them are responsible and many do not care where their kittens end up, they simply want to make money. Avoid breeders who will let F1 and F2 generations go to just anyone. These cats need careful rearing and are for experienced homes only. You may simply be paying an extortionate fee for the luxury of owning a ‘designer’ cat.
A good breeder will care about where their kittens go and make sure that you are prepared for the strong, outgoing personality that the Bengal has. Make sure the parents have had the appropriate health checks and that they are registered with a recognized governing body such as The International Cat Association. Kittens should be ready to go to their new homes at the age of 12 weeks once they have had their initial vaccinations. Avoid people who do not register their kittens or are prepared to let them go at a younger age. Ask yourself why are they breeding? It is unlikely to be with the best interest of the breed at heart.
Prices can vary wildly. A pet quality Bengal may cost around $700 whereas a show quality kitten could be as much as $1300. Expect to pay more for a Bengal that is of breeding quality and is able to have its kittens registered (most breeders place restrictions on pet quality Bengals to prevent this).
Your kitten should have had its initial basic vaccinations, however if you are planning on letting them go outside they may need addition jabs. Otherwise, first-year costs may include neutering if you are not planning on breeding from your Bengal. Un-neutered male cats will spray urine to mark their territory and roam widely to find females. This can bring them into conflict with other males with can result in injuries. Females will call incessantly to attract males from far and wide. To avoid these problems it is best to have them neutered. Expect to pay around $50-$70 to castrate a male cat and $70-$110 for a female to be spayed.
After the initial expenditure, the Bengal costs the same to keep as any other cat. Ensure they are fed a good quality diet throughout their life. Cats are obligate carnivores and cannot be kept on a vegetarian diet. This stems from the fact that their ancestors only ate meat and they have evolved little from this. It resulted in cats being unable to produce certain essential vitamins and minerals as instead they rely on gaining them from their food. One example of this is the taurine which is found in meat. This amino acid is essential to keep them in good health, as a lack of it can cause blindness and severe tooth decay.
Commercial cat foods take this into account and provide your cat with everything they need. Saying this avoid cheaper brands that contain ‘fillers’, carbohydrates that have little nutritional value for your cat. Feed according to life stage. For example, when kittens are growing they need higher protein levels to facilitate this. Annual, routine costs will include worming and flea treatment. Worming should be undertaken every three months if your Bengal goes outside, and every 6 months if they are an indoor cat. Flea treatment needs to be applied each month and should target all life stages of the flea. Allow around $150 per year to cover these costs.
One last point to bear in mind is that it is always advisable to get pet insurance for your Bengal.
Veterinary bills can be expensive, yet this is just a reflection of the advances that have occurred in veterinary medicine over the years. Having pet insurance will provide you with peace of mind should your Bengal be unlucky enough to need it. The cost can average out at around $14-$26 per month although this will vary depending on the provider. Always read the small print of any policy you take out. Your cat should be covered throughout its life (the cover should not stop when they reach a certain age) and on-going problems should be covered for your Bengals entire life; not just for that year.