Bengal cat: breed characteristics, nutrition and health

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The Bengal cat is a unique breed. In a sense, it looks like a domestic leopard. Being a hybrid breed, Bengals tend to be larger than other domestic cats. They are agile and athletic and can weigh up to 7 kg and reach 70 cm in length. The Bengal cat is a relatively recent cross-breed, it originated in the United States in 1970.

Jean Mill, the first American Bengal breeder.
Jean Mill, the first American Bengal breeder.

Jean Mill, a cat breeder and a conservationist carried out the first experiment of crossing between a domestic cat and an Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) in 1963. Mill’s goal was to achieve a breed of tame domestic cats with the coat of their wild feline ancestors.

What distinguishes this hybrid cat? What character and behavior does it exhibit and do Bengali cats make good family pets? In this article you will find all the answers.

Bengals as a new cross-breed

The Bengal is a breed of a domestic cat selectively bred to look like exotic wild cats such as leopards, ocelots, margays, etc. The Bengal cat is a result of the crossing between a domestic cat and a female leopard cat. Bengals as a breed did not exist before 1975. Following her first efforts in 1963, Jean Mill resumed breeding in 1970 which yielded a cross-breed of Bengal cats in 1975.

The first three generations (F1-F3) that start with Felis Bengalensis as one of the progenitors are called foundation cats or early generation Bengals. These were hybrid cats, which were crossed with domestic cats with mottled features, such as the Egyptian Mau, in order to obtain a domestic cat with a coat similar to a leopard. From the fourth generation (F4) breeders achieved fertile and tame Bengali cats.

At present, it is not necessary to cross-breed a Bengali cat with a Felis Bengalensis, because the Bengali is already an established breed. Selective breeding of the best Bengalis is enough to perpetuate and improve the coat of this precious domestic breed.

Brief history of Bengal cats breeding

While this is a relatively new breed, it is not a new idea. In 1889, the British journalist and artist Harrison William Weir had already entertained the idea of a crossing between an Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat. There is also evidence of Belgian and Japanese publications from the years 1934 and 1941 concerning similar crosses.

Nevertheless, Jean Mill had the greatest contribution to Bengal breeding and is considered an official founder of the breed. Mill attended graduate classes in genetics at UC Davis in 1946. She wrote a term paper which proposed crossing the Persian cat breed with the new Siamese breed to make ‘Panda Bear’ cats. In the early 1960s she put her knowledge and ideas into practice. She crossed domestic cats with female Asian leopard cats.

The establishment of the breed

The first generation resulting from the direct crossing between a domestic and a wild animal is called F1. The offspring of a new cross between an F1 cat and a domestic cat are called F2 and so on. F1 and F2 cats often display the fierce behavior of wild cats. Jean Mill re-crossed the F1 females with domestic cats and obtained F2 cats. After the next two or three generations, the offspring already exhibited a behavior similar to that of domestic cats. Jean Mill stopped her experiments for some time, due to the death of her husband, but resumed them around 1970 when she had the opportunity to receive hybrid females from scientist William Centerwall, who had crossed Asian leopard cats with domestic cats to investigate immunity to feline leukemia virus. This was the beginning of the modern breeding of the Bengal cat, officially recognized by TICA (International Feline Association) in 1983.

At first, they were also crossed with breeds such as the Abyssinian, the Egyptian Mau and the American short hair, in order to define the desired appearance of the Bengal cat. Currently, only Bengalis are used for breeding, but only those from the fourth generation onwards (F4) are allowed in exhibitions. From this generation on, cats are considered as tame as domestic ones. Since then, the Bengali has gained a large following and to date the TICA has registered more than 60,000 pure cat breeds. However, not all breeding associations are in favor of hybrid cats, for example, the CFA (Cat Fanciers’ Association) does not recognize any breed that is descended from wild cats.

Physical features of Bengal cats

Bengal cats possess the following distinct characteristics:

  • Their torso is long and substantial, not thin and tubular.
  • They are well muscled, especially the male cats.
  • The head of Bengal cats is relatively small in comparison to their body, and dome shaped.
  • They have sturdy and dense bones.
  • Their paws are large with prominent knuckles.
  • The coat is short to medium, thick and luxurious with a horizontal pattern.
  • Hind legs are longer than forelegs, and they walk with raised rear and dropped tail.
  • The tail is thick and medium with a rounded tip.

This breed has prominent high cheekbones and oval shaped, although can be slightly almond shaped large eyes. They are usually blue or green. The ears are small, with a rounded tip and a wide base. The whisker pads and the chin on a Bengal cat are always strongly defined but not heavy. Bengal cats have large noses of a distinct shape with very puffed nose leather, similar to all wild cats.

Size and coat

It is a large cat. Male Bengal cats usually weigh up to eight or nine kilos, while female cats only weigh between three and five kilos. The jaws are strong and broad. The Bengal coat  is one of the main reasons for the creation of this breed. Their coat is flattened over the body and is short, soft and thick, while delicate. It is advisable to wipe the coat with a cloth so that the hair does not get matted.

The Bengali is one of the few cat breeds that have brindle coats. It is a brownish or tawny color of animal fur, with streaks of other color. The base color itself can vary in shades: ivory, cream, yellow, gold or orange. Their coat’s hue stains can also vary, which can range from black to chocolate or cinnamon. To be considered purely bred Bengal, a cat has to have a tail with a black tip while its foot pads and abdomen should be mottled; marked with spots or smears of color.

Types of Bengal cats

There are many Bengal cat patterns and color variations. The two basic pattern variations of the breed’s coat are spotted and marbled. Both types have unique varieties of pattern and a many combinations of coat colors.

Spotted coat types

This is the most popular style of coat. The spotted Bengal has small to medium-sized spots all over its coats. Large, random, two-tone rosetted markings are particularly sought after. This pattern style resembles the spotted tabby pattern found in domestic cats, which has been modified by selective breeding to create a coat similar to that of wild cats. These patterns were inspired by Jaguars, Leopards or Ocelots.

The coat is covered in random, diagonally or horizontally aligned spots on the torso, abdomen and legs. There are many variations to the spotted type.

Rosetted Bengal cats

The Single-Spotted or Rosetted pattern is characterized by solid spots splattered in droplets on a contrasting background, similar to those of wild cats like Cheetahs or non-hybrid spotted cats like that of the Egyptian Mau or Spotted Shorthair breeds. The Rosetted Bengal is the most popular spotted coat for a Bengal cat. Spots are called rosettes when they are two-toned contrasting colors distinct from the background color. There are five types of rosette patterns:

  1. Arrowhead Rosettes: can be solid and monochrome in the single spotted group, or they can be rosetted with different colors fading into the background.
  2. Donut Rosettes: these are spots that are darker than the background’s coat color and outlined with an even darker color. This type of coat is Inspired by the Jaguar’s coat, the lighter colored center of the spots is enclosed by a nearly complete dark outline.
  3. Paw-print Rosettes: this is a shaded spots pattern. The spots are open on one side with smaller and darker spots on the edge. A paw-print rosette is never entirely enclosed by the darker, surrounding color.
  4. Chain Rosetting: clouded rosettes are large, full spots that appear to fit together like a puzzle with little space between them.
  5. Cluster Rosettes: are small spots forming clusters around the center color.

Marbled coat types

The marbled coat pattern originated from tabby stripes that swirl. This is a horizontally flowing, random, asymmetrical pattern made up of swirls of two or more colors. The marble Bengal cat has four official types:

  1. Reduced horizontal flow
  2. Horizontal flow
  3. Chaos pattern
  4. Sheet marble patterns

The Sparbled Coat

The sparble pattern is a combination of spotted and marbled coats. This isn’t really an official pattern category. The term is used to describe Bengals who have both rosettes and marble markings or spotted Bengals with marble-like patterns. This pattern is a subtype of a spotted/rosetted Bengal.

Coat and eye colors

Color variationBase colorMarkingsTail tip colorEye color
BrownAll shades of brownBrown to jet blackBlackGreen or Gold
Snow LynxLight white creamDark or light brownDark brownBlue
Snow MinkIvory, cream, light tanTawny brown to dark brownDark brownBlue-green or aqua
Snow SepiaIvory, cream, light tanMix of black with a brown or red earthDark brownGreen or Gold
SilverWhite to dark steelDark grey to jet balckBlackGreen or Gold
CharcoalDark grey/brown or carbon coloredCarbon with white goggles around the eyes and a dark charcoal maskDark brownGold
BluePale blue gray to stale blue grayMedium blue to darker blueDark grayGreen, gold or hazel
BlackBlackBlack, faint to ghost like markingsBlackGreen, gold or hazel

Character and behavior of Bengal cats

The most remarkable traits of the breed’s character are hyperactivity and curiosity, as well as his insatiable desire to play and sociability. Although it originated from a wild cat, the Bengali cat is very affectionate and close to its human companion. They tend to follow you around the house, wait for you at the door when you return from work, etc.

Starting with the third generation (F3), Bengal cats are considered tame, although they are very active animals with a strong character, due to their wild heritage. For this reason, it is only recommended having them at home from the fourth generation (F4) onwards. Likewise, only F4 cats can be presented at exhibitions. According to the breed standard, the Bengal cat is reliable, attentive, curious and friendly.

As a general rule, the mothers (F3) of the fourth generation (F4) are highly socialized, since Bengal kittens grow up indoors and are used to human contact from the beginning. Therefore, they do not exhibit wild character alterations as pets.

Are Bengals easy to train?

Without a doubt, they are fun cats, as well as intelligent and fearless, so they require a lot of attention to get their instincts heading in the right direction. While it is not easy to train cats, Bengals are certainly among the smartest ones out there. They can be trained to sit, stand, jump, roll over, jump through hoops or even use the bathroom. Bengal owners frequently affirm that the typical games and pampering are not enough to entertain a hybrid cat. Target and clicker training are very useful methods to create a boredom free environment for the Bengals. These cats also enjoy climbing and swimming. If they have the opportunity to go outside safely, they will not get bored and will be able to expand their energy. A large yard is ideal for creating a healthy environment for the Bengals, but a sheltered balcony or any activity room where they have different objects to climb on are also good options.

These cats are self-confident, rather dominant, and at times somewhat aggressive, which is why problems can arise if they are socialized with other territorial cats. However, it is never advisable to have a Bengali alone. Some quiet breeds like Persians or British Shorthairs can be good companions for them. In any case, a good coexistence between two animals will depend on the character of each one of them.

Adaptation

When it comes to a hybrid breed, the breeding of each individual cat is very important. Although it is true that a small wild cat resides inside every domestic cat, those with the closest wild lineage may display this inheritance more easily.

For example, first generation cross-breed cats are not as reliable as other established breeds, and it takes a lot of patience until they adjust to new environments and people. When acquiring a cat, be that any breed, you should buy only from professional breeders who understand the importance of socialization and who can support you during the beginning of coexistence. This is especially important when acquiring a hybrid cat.

Once the Bengal cat has adapted to its new home, it will be sociable and make friends with other pets, be it cats, dogs, or even ferrets. Their curiosity is insatiable, and they will inspect everything to get it under control. Their cunning and intelligence keeps them always alert.

Inherited taste for swimming

The Bengali cat, although it seems strange, is a great swimmer. This quality, unusual in most domestic cats, is a genetic inheritance bequeathed by its wild ancestor, which is characterized by its great qualities as a fishing cat and swimmer.

The Bengal cat is a sociable and affectionate pet, and very suitable for children despite its wild and mischievous origin. Once a Bengal cat is gently introduced into the family, it is certain to have a good experience. You will be pleasantly surprised to see how much your Bengal cat will enjoy playing with your children.

Diet and Nutrition

The Bengal cat does not need a very different care from that of any other domestic cat. A varied diet based on high quality food, fresh water and lots of love. It is a very active cat, so you will not encounter obesity problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle. It is recommended that you encourage them to enjoy daily exercise and abundant moments of play.

Each cat is unique and has its own particular tastes and needs when it comes to food. However, cats are carnivores and each cat must obtain 41 different specific nutrients from their food. The ratio of these nutrients will vary depending on age, lifestyle, and general health, so expect an energetic kitten that is still growing to need a different balance of nutrients than a less active older cat. Attention needs to be paid to the amount of food required to maintain ideal fitness in accordance with eating guidelines and taking into account individual preferences regarding the type of food (wet or dry).

Therefore, the food we choose for a Bengal cat, must be high-end to ensure that it contains good nutrients. For example, it is important that it has taurine to support heart and eye health. It also must be low in phosphorus to avoid kidney conditions. The most advisable thing is to feed them natural foods, preferably dry, of high quality, and suitable for the age of the cat.

Health conditions specific to Bengal cats

This breed can suffer from any of the most common cat diseases. In addition, they may suffer from a more specific illness. Some Bengal cats are prone to various genetic diseases, which must be detected in time for prevention and treatment purposes.

Patellar luxation (dislocation)

It is a joint problem that some felines suffer from, but it is more commonly found in Bengal cats. It occurs when the kneecap moves out of place, leaving the joint and can occur to different degrees.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

It is a heart condition that commonly affects Bengals. The heart muscle gets thicker and causes the organ itself to have to work harder to do its job. The most visible symptoms of this disease are lethargy and gasps that we can observe in our faithful companion. This heart problem usually occurs more in elderly cats, as it begins to develop after a long time of work and effort by the heart muscle.

Anesthetic allergies

Most living beings suffer from an allergy throughout our lives, whether chronic or specific. In the case of Bengal cats, they are prone to allergy to anesthesia. In case we know that our Bengali must undergo an operation with anesthesia, we should discuss the issue with the veterinarian to weigh all the options possible before the operation.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)

PKD is an inherited disorder that causes cysts (fluid-filled sacs) to form in the kidneys of Bengal cats. These cysts are present from birth. At first, they are very small, but they grow over time and can damage the kidney. When this happens, the kidney cannot function properly and kidney failure occurs. The cysts generally grow slowly, so that most affected Bengal cats do not show signs of kidney disease until they are adults, usually seven to eight years old. However, there are some cats that develop kidney disease at a young age. Unfortunately there is no treatment that can prevent the development of kidney failure in a cat that is affected by PKD.

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