Bengal cats are beautiful animals with distinctive spotted coats, a very playful demeanor, and affectionate nature. They are also quite striking animals, making them very popular with families.
And while they may look a lot like a jungle cat (and sometimes tear around like one), they are completely domestic cats, often quite devoted to their families, including children and other pets.
If you’re interested in adopting a Bengal, or you just want to know more about them, what should you know?
The History of the Bengal Cat
Bengals take their name from the Felis bengalensis, created as a cross between the Asian leopard cat (which as recently as sixty years ago could be bought in pet stores) and the domestic short hair.
It was a complete accident! An owner of an Asian leopard cat left her alone with a black tomcat, not expecting them to breed and produce kittens. One of the spotted offspring was bred back to her father and resulted in another litter.
At the same time, Asian leopard cats were being bred with domestic cats at Loyola University to see if the Asian leopard cat’s resistance to feline leukemia virus could be passed to domestic cats. And onward down the line we go!
Bengals were officially recognized as a breed in 1991 and anyone who is purchasing one should be absolutely certain that their pet is at least four generations removed from the wild bloodline.
This ensures that your cat will be healthy, friendly, and trainable (well, as much as any cat can be) and won’t be shy, skittish, or nervous.
Common Characteristics of the Bengal Cat
Assuming you have a Bengal that is at least four generations removed, what can you expect from your cat?
- Bengals are very intelligent – with recorded anecdotes of them being able to switch lights on and off, open and close doors and learn tricks, so long as they choose to do it. However, they can also get bored if they aren’t stimulated and end up doing some fairly destructive, if head-scratching things, like removing CDs from stereos and getting into cupboards.
- About half of male Bengals are sterile when they are three generations removed and become increasingly more sterile at second generation with the first ones being entirely sterile. This slowed the progression of the breeding program for a long time.
- Bengals have that amazing spotted coat that makes them look like little leopards! Their coats are usually black and brown, but can also be silver, charcoal, and ‘blue’. They are generally spotted or marbled. Bengals are the only domestic cat with rosettes on their coat!
- Bengals are some of the larger cat breeds (though not the largest). Males can weigh between ten and fifteen pounds and females between eight and ten pounds. There have been a few male Bengals that have reached twenty-two pounds! They are quite thickly built and very muscular.
- Unlike most cats, Bengals love water and are often found playing in showers, bathtubs, sinks, and their own water bowls
- Bengals bond very closely with their families, including children and other pets. They are less friendly towards strangers.
- They aren’t always particularly chatty, but that will depend on the individual cat.
Bengals may look like wild cats, and sometimes play like a wild cat, but they are still domesticated and as such, can be very demanding for attention and care.
The main characteristic is their distinctive coats which feature two-tone rosettes and marbling. The colors are highly contrasting, making them a very obvious and unique appearance.
Otherwise, Bengal cats are one of the larger cat breeds (Though not the largest) and are quite sturdy and very muscular. Bengals are considered to be very athletic cats as well as being smart.
Their coats are short to medium length with a dense and soft texture and a normal length tail. The athletic build combined with their striking coats creates a cat that is quite unique in appearance and very obvious – you know when you are dealing with a Bengal at first sight.
What is the Temperament of the Bengal Cat?
Expect that if you’re going to get a Bengal to spend a fair bit of time every day playing with it. Bengals are smart, high-energy cats who enjoy playing, running around, and can even learn tricks.
If they are not intellectually stimulated by their owners and toys, they’ll find their own fun, often with results that can be quite messy or even destructive. Bengal cats are fun, but they can also be challenging:
- Bengals that are too closely related to their wild ancestors are nervous and shy.
- Bengals that are more distantly related are confident, friendly, and always on the alert.
- They have very clever paws and can figure out how to get into things that you wouldn’t expect.
- Bengals are very high-energy and love to perch on high spots to look around.
- Bengals love being around their humans and will happily sleep all over your bed. When they aren’t playing, they like to take overlaps too, but since they aren’t exactly small cats, be prepared to lose your entire lap.
- Bengals are absolutely fearless and sometimes play rough with other animals. It’s important to introduce other pets carefully.
- Bengals are usually quite loyal to their people.
- They have no problem with dogs and other cats, so long as they are introduced properly.
- Smaller prey animals like rodents should not be kept in the reach of a Bengal because their hunting instinct is quite strong.
Overall, Bengal cats are friendly, smart, bond with their humans, and are highly active. They love to play, learn new things, and enjoy playing with puzzle toys.
It’s also important to make sure they have high perches to survey their ‘kingdom’ from or else you may find them in places you wouldn’t expect like the tops of refrigerators and cabinets! (Mind, you’ll probably find your Bengal there anyway, but there’s no sense in encouraging it by giving no other options).
They are simply delightful cats with lots of love and energy and great opportunities for some funny videos!
Health and Common Conditions of the Bengal Cat
The advantage of mixed breeds is they tend to be more sturdy than purebred cats. Bengals are already combined with the more generic domestic shorthair and leopard cat, so they only have a few very specific genetic health problems that can crop up.
- A nervous system disorder called distal neuropathy that causes weaknesses. It can be seen in cats as young as 1 year old, but most will recover on their own.
- Hip dysplasia
- Heart disease (specifically hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
- Flat-chested kitten syndrome, though if the kitten survives, there won’t usually be any sign of it in maturity
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- A hereditary dislocation of the kneecap
- Male Bengals that are too closely related to their wild counterparts are sterile
As you can see, these are all fairly specific disorders and fortunately, most cats won’t suffer from them. Bengals are also subject to the same diseases any cat can have such as periodontal diseases, diabetes, and other illnesses, which is why it’s important to see your vet regularly and feed your cat quality food, not junk or human food.
Bengals should also be kept as indoor cats as this will protect them from injury, illness, and out of the local wildlife. Many are also just so curious that they’ll get themselves in trouble outside, so best to keep them safe indoors.
We’d recommend a catio or other outdoor enclosure for Bengal cats as that will let them get fresh air and look outside without risk of harm. And of course, there’s always the risk that an outdoor Bengal will get ‘rescued’ by someone who wants one without paying for it, so you could simply lose your cat to another owner.
Most Bengals have a life expectancy of ten to sixteen years, assuming they are healthy and well taken care of.
They do require the opportunity to get plenty of exercise and should eat good quality food to ensure their body keeps up with their demands.
What Type of Owner is the Bengal Cat Best Suited For?
Bengal cats get along with people just fine and even families with young children shouldn’t have problems with this particular breed of cat.
They are smart enough to stay out of the way of toddlers and they tend to love school-aged children since they have lots of energy. They do prefer to have at least one person around regularly so that they can snuggle and hang out, as well as an owner who can keep up with their energy levels and intelligence.
We would recommend a family with at least one child (but not too many children or the noise may start to annoy your cat) who enjoys playing gently and regularly with their pets.
Dogs are usually fine with Bengal cats, but small animals like gerbils and mice should be kept well away since Bengals, like most other cats, will chase them if given the chance.
A really good owner for a Bengal will have time to train one to do basic tricks and may even be able to train them to walk on a leash to let them explore safely.
You should also be prepared to spend some time properly socializing your cat with your younger children and other pets. Bengals can play rough with other animals if they don’t learn otherwise and that can lead to injuries or fights.
And if your Bengal can hunt for mice or birds, you might wake up to some dead ones lying around – if that makes you squeamish, this is probably not the cat for you.
Keep in mind too that Bengal cats aren’t cheap. Show cats can go for thousands of dollars and even a household pet can top out at $1500. Prices vary though depending on their show quality vs pet quality, age, beauty, and pedigree.
Bengals that have retired from competition, shows, and breeding also tend to be cheaper and they won’t be as high energy either, so not a bad idea to give one of these retired beauties a home.
The Bengal Cat is Pretty Awesome!
Bengal Cats rarely reach animals shelters because they are just that wonderful of a pet! Smart, curious, friendly, and able to bond well with others, this is a popular breed of cat.
Their striking coat is also fairly easy to take care of and while there are some health concerns, they tend to be very sturdy and athletic.
However, keep in mind that they are not animals that will spend their days loafing and sleeping – they want to play hard and explore their surroundings, so be ready to keep up with them!
This also makes them really fun cats, though if you don’t provide plenty of toys, perches, and puzzles, you may find them getting into things they really shouldn’t be.
The best way to get a Bengal is to go through a Bengal breeder. This ensures you get a cat that is far enough away (generation-wise) from their wild ancestors, that they will be healthy, and you will have a good idea of its temperament.
Reputable breeders will also be careful to match kittens with owners that can manage them and take good care of them. It’s important to pay attention to how far off their wild ancestors a cat is because the closer to their ancestors they are, the more problems you may run into.
A Bengal that is at least four generations off is considered the best way to go because it preserves the coat and intelligence but has all the warmth and companionship of a domestic cat.
Bengals will very occasionally end up in shelters, but they rarely stay there long, so you would have to haunt your local shelters pretty obsessively and get very lucky. Going through a breeder is a much more sure thing.
Love a Bengal cat or own one yourself? Drop a comment and a picture! We love seeing a well-loved and spoiled cat!
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.