By Deborah Barnes
It is no wonder the Bengal cat has taken the top spot as the number one most popular breed by TICA (The International Cat Association) for two years in a row. This miniature inspired leopard with its glossy coat and spotted fur is nothing less than stunning, and there is nothing ordinary about this breed whose claim to fame is a walk on the wild side.
It is for that very reason, that this cat also sparks some controversy and is not recognized as a registered breed with the CFA (Cat Fanciers Association). They consider this domesticated hybrid that descends from the Asian Leopard Cat to be “wild” (therefore with an unpredictable temperament) and that is why they don't accept the breed or allow it to be shown at CFA sanctioned shows.
The first Bengal was created in California in 1963 by an unplanned mating between a female Asian Leopard Cat and a domestic shorthair male. Fascinated with the concept, Jean Mill, the originator of the Bengal as we know it today, began a planned breeding program in 1980 to create a cat that looked like the Asian Leopard Cat, but had a domestic’s temperament. Leopard cats were originally bred to domestic shorthairs, Ocicats, Egyptian Maus, Abyssinian and Burmese, until the Bengal’s unique appearance of today was achieved.
The Bengal is a sleek and powerful cat with an athletic frame and a gait like its ancestors in the jungle – they prowl low to the ground with a fluidity of motion like a big cat in pursuit of prey. Despite that, because these remarkable creatures are a domesticated breed, they are actually very friendly and make a personable companion. They are amazing athletes, jumping two to three times higher than your typical cat, and are extremely intelligent, active, lively, graceful, strong, agile, curious and vocal.
A Bengal comes in a variety of colors and patterns, each one equally as beautiful as the next. The shape of the head, ears, eyes, nose, neck, torso, tail, legs, feet, texture, color, pattern and contrast are typically what distinguishes a pet quality cat versus show or breeding quality. Accepted colors are brown tabby, seal lynx point, seal sepia tabby and seal mink tabby. The spots can be a splendid palette of blacks, rusts and cinnamons, and some Bengals possess a recessive “glitter gene” that gives the rosette pattern on the fur an iridescent glow, as if covered with warm frost. There are also silver and snow Bengal’s that have markings in whites, grays and blacks, or marbled Bengal’s in a unique scroll pattern that can be found in leopard or snow leopard colors.
Bengals are classified in a range of generational types, from F1 to F4, with F1 cats being the closest to their wild ancestry, and F4 being the closest to the domestic. This changes the price and personality of the cat significantly and F1 cats should not be purchased without serious consideration, as they require informed owners who are equipped to take care of them and their special needs. They can be very difficult to socialize and tame, and do not always bond with a person as hoped or expected.
On the other hand, an F4 Bengal cat is generally very social and devoted to its family, forming strong, emotional bonds with their human friends. Because of this deep attachment and their high activity level, they need more human interaction than some other breeds. If you cannot handle an active cat or will be away from your home for prolonged periods of time, you should reconsider getting this breed. A Bengal must be provided with plenty of high spaces to safely jump up and down from, and can often be trained to perform tricks, as they are quick learners. They also enjoy water and take quite well to a harness and leash for walking outdoors.
If you want a docile lap cat, this breed is probably not for you. Besides being extremely active, a Bengal can be a noisy cat, with a very loud and unique yelping, bleating kind of sound, along with a tendency to growl. This is merely a form a communication, as they enjoy a good conversation with their humans, but not everyone will find this trait endearing in the early morning hours. Bengals require little to no grooming and are a very healthy cat with the exception of a few who are prone to heart murmurs.