If you’re looking for a cuddly cat that will purr and snuggle its days away in your lap – then don’t get a Bengal! These Miniature Leopards, although very friendly, are exceptionally energetic and curious, agile, intelligent and constantly on the move. Bengal is a joyful kitty that will fill your home with laughter, lots of playing and some mischief. This should not be confused with aggression.
Main features of Bengal Cats
Often affectionately referred to as the “Miniature Leopards” among the domestic kitties, the Bengal is a unique breed designed to resemble the exotic wild cats such as leopards, ocelots, margays and clouded leopards.
Many people ask, “How big do Bengal cats get?” They are medium-sized, generally weighing from 8 to 15 pounds or more. They have a broad head, relatively short ears and a long, muscular neck. The body is lean and muscular, supported by medium-length legs and topped with a long, thick tail.
The coat is short, thick, soft and luxuriously silky. The coat pattern is spotted or marbled and can be brown (any shade from orange-brown to light- brown) or silver (white). The background colors are variable though and can range from golden and rusty tones to sand, buff and ivory. The spots and rosettes are contrasted and vivid, and can be multicolored too. Sometimes the fur can have a sheen, creating a shimmery or glittery appearance of the coat.
Origins of the Bengal Cat
Bengal cats were developed through selective breeding of hybrids of the Asian leopard cat (lat. Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis) and domestic cats mainly in California, US. The hybrids were backcrossed to domestic cats in order to create healthy and friendly cats who preserved the vivid, contrasted coat marks and resembled the temperament of a domestic cat.
While there are multiple records of the Asian leopard cat being crossed with domestic cats even before the breed was officially established, one of the people who is thought to have had a great impact on the development of the breed is Jean Mill. In 1940s, Mill got an Asian leopard cat and she allowed her black domestic Tom to keep the new cat company. Little did she know, the cats unexpectedly bred and produced beautiful hybrid kittens. Mill kept one female kitten, who she then backcrossed to her father.
In parallel, in 1970s, Willard Centerwall started breeding the hybrids for his genetic studies at the Loyola University, as the cats were found immune to feline leukemia virus. After Centerwall’s illness, Mill took upon some of his hybrids and continued the breeding program. There were other people involved in the development of the breed too, such as Greg and Elizabeth Kent (who crossed the leopard cat with Egyptian Mau).
While many breeders were involved in the development of the breed, Mill’s influence is thought of as the most important, as she was the one who worked hardest to get the breed officially registered. The breed was officially accepted by The International Cat Association (TICA) in 1983.
Breeding Bengal Cats
Bengal cats are categorized based on their relation to the wild ancestor, the Asian Leopard Cat. The categories are marked as F1, F2, F3, F4, and on. The “F” stands for “filial” or “offspring,” and the number refers to the number of generations away from the ALC. Accordingly, the F1 Bengal, being one generation away from ALC, is a direct hybrid of an ALC and a domestic cat. Subsequently, the F2 Bengal is a cross between an F1 female and a domestic male and the F3 Bengal is a cross between an F2 female and a domestic male. The same pattern is used to create succeeding generations.
Note: For the creation of the succeeding Bengal generations, domestic cats are outcrossed exclusively to female Bengals, because the vast majority of F1, F2 and F3 Bengal males are infertile. It is believed that this infertility is caused by a difference in the length of Y chromosomes between ALCs and domestic cats. The difference is reduced by the fourth generation, so F4 males are more likely to be fertile.
Bengal kitties are not likely to be lap cats. They are very social, but constantly on the move and a look out for new adventures. They love to fetch, go for walks, play with water and they are known to be able to master numerous tricks. Their personality can vary across the generations, however:
a) F1 Bengals
Being the direct offspring of the Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat, the F1 Bengals tend to be quite unpredictable and wild. These cats are typically highly energetic, inquisitive, and attention-demanding. Your F1 Bengal will need to be provided with plenty of cat trees and towers, interactive toys and time. They typically do best on raw meat-based diet, but a regular, well-balanced domestic cat diet should suffice too. Bengals of the first generation tend to bond more strongly with other animals than hoomans, but, if socialized properly, they can develop very close bonds with you too.
They are generally not very adaptable to major changes in their environment (i.e. moving to a new home, furniture rearrangements etc.) and they often feel uncomfortable around strangers or kids.The US largely prohibits keeping F1-F3 Bengals because they are so closely related to wild cats. However, this may vary across certain cities or states, so make sure to check your local laws before getting yourself an early generation Bengal kitty.
b) F2 Bengals
F2 Bengals are genetically one generation further from the ALC, and their temperament tends to be a bit milder than that of first generation. They are still distinctly wilder than domestic cats, however, which is why early socialization is key. If properly handled and frequently held and cuddled as kittens, F2 Bengals can be quite comfortable around people.
If there are kids living in the same house as an F2 Bengal, it is important to expose the cat to the kids as early and often as possible. Bengals are incredibly smart, and they will quickly learn that children are not dangerous. Children, however, must be taught how to properly interact with the cat in order not to provoke, scare or surprise it. F2 Bengals also enjoy raw meat-based diet.
c) F3 Bengals
Along with F1 and F2 bengals, F3 bengals are called “early generation” Bengals. While they remain very closely related to ALCs, the personality of the third generation starts resembling the personality of domestic cats a lot better. F3 Bengals are playful, fun, and generally friendly towards strangers and kids. Socialization still plays a huge role in determining the personality of a F3 Bengal, so make sure your kitty receives plenty of playtime and cuddles! While F3 Bengals may enjoy a raw meat diet occasionally, it isn’t as important to them as for F1 or F2 cats. Therefore, most F3 owners rely on a normal cat food diet.
d) F4 Bengals
F4 bengals are no longer ‘early generation’ Bengals. It is legal to keep this generation Bengal in most parts of the US. The F4 Bengals highly resemble the domestic ancestors in terms of personality and behavior, while sporting the beautiful and distinct markings of the ALCs. F4 Bengals are also far asier to adopt than their F1-F3 counterparts, since they are commonly kept as pets and not just used for breeding.
Health and care
Bengals are known to be affected by several genetic diseases, such as Bengal Progressive Retinal Atrophy (or PRA-b), erythrocyte pyruvate kinase deficiency (PK-Def) and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) (Grahn et al, 2012 & Ofri et al, 2015). When it comes to coat care, Bengals are exceptionally neat, but they will require at least weekly grooming. Make sure to provide them with adequate dental hygiene and high-quality diet.
Fun facts about Bengal Cats
1. A Bengal cat is domesticated after 4th generation. In order to design a purrfectly happy, confident and friendly kitty, the breeding rules oblige that the breed is domesticated only after 4 generations of crossbreeding with the Asian leopard cat. This way the vivid coat patterns of the wild relative are preserved, while the breed resembles the temperament and personality of a typical domestic cat.
2. The silver variants are known as Snow Bengals. The Snow Bengals are a result of crossbreeding of the leopard cat with the Siamese cats.
3. There are long-haired variants of this breed too. Although semilong-haired variants have been appearing since the beginnings of this young breed, this variant has so far been recognized only by the New Zealand Cat Fancy registry.
4. They are exceptionally intelligent. Because of their curiosity and high energy, Bengals are exceptional learners. They often learn to open doors or bins by themselves, and they’ve shown to be highly trainable too. With a little bit of effort and patience, you can teach your kitty wonders. To help you get started on the training journey, here are our few tips and tricks on How to Train Your Kitty.
Bengal is a joyful kitty that will fill your home with laughter, lots of playing and some mischief. Their eye-catching, luxurious appearance and exceptionally funny personality make them for some of the coolest and most exotic companions we could ever dream of. Don’t expect this kitty to purr by your feet for too long, with a Bengal, you are in for an adventurous and exciting ride!
1. Grahn RA, Grahn JC, Penedo MCT, Helps CR, Lyons LA. (2012). Erythrocyte Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency mutation identified in multiple breeds of domestic cats. BMC Veterinary Research. 8:207.
2. Ofri R, Reilly CM, Maggs DJ, Fitzgerald PG, Shilo-Benjamini Y, Good KL, Grahn RA, Splawski DD, Lyons LA. (2015) Characterization of an Early-Onset, Autosomal Recessive, Progressive Retinal Degeneration in Bengal Cats. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 56(9):5299-308.