When you come across a Bengal cat, you might just do a double take. Is this a family pet or a little leopard? As it happens, he’s a little bit of both.
Early Bengal enthusiasts set to work in the 1960s with a lofty goal: to develop a breed that had the exotic look of a wild cat, but with a friendly disposition ideally suited to a family pet. Inspiration was found in the Asian Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), a small wild cat native to central Asia. The Asian Leopard Cat was crossed with friendly domestic short-hair cats and successful litters resulted. Those hybrid kittens were then bred with carefully-selected domestic cats. Today’s Bengal breeders no longer incorporate hybrid breedings with wild cats; Bengals are bred with other Bengals.
Early enthusiasts of critical importance to the breed were Bill Engler and Jean Mill. Both worked at great length to champion the breed, but it is fair to say that it was largely Jean Mill’s persistence and dedication that led to the breed’s recognition in 1986 by The International Cat Association (TICA), as well as its growing popularity worldwide. TICA notes that the breed has become one of the most popular in today’s show circuit.
In terms of conformation, the Bengal is a medium-sized breed. Small females can weigh in at as little as six pounds; their male counterparts average closer to 15 pounds. The Bengal is an inherently muscular breed and rather long in the body, so often these cats appear larger than their weight.
Two accepted coat patterns have developed over the years: marbled and spotted. As for colours, you will find the Bengal in a variety of shades. TICA accepts colours and variations including brown tabby, seal sepia tabby, and seal lynx point tabby. The Bengal’s belly is always light to white in colour and spotted.
There’s no doubt about it, the Bengal’s coat is one of its most distinguishing features. Sleek and soft, many liken it more to a pelt than a plain old fur coat. This aside, two unique qualities make the Bengal coat even more striking: rosettes and glitter. Rosettes are rose-like markings found on the fur of a number of wild cats, including leopards, jaguars, and ocelots. In the case of predatory cats, those coat patterns serve a practical purpose—to mimic shadows, helping these animals remain stealthy on the hunt. And just what, exactly, is glitter? When it comes to cats, it’s a recessive gene that gives the hair a shiny, metallic look. In the right light, a Bengal with glitter looks as though he’s been sprinkled with gold dust. Like rosettes, not all Bengals have glitter and it is not a required trait, though it is considered highly desirable.
There is no question that the Bengal has the exotic look of a jungle cat, but when it comes to temperament, this is one big pussycat. Bengals are known for their friendly and affectionate demeanour, and their people-pleasing nature has many a fancier referring to them as downright dog-like.
Athletic and playful, the Bengal will be happiest in an environment where he receives plenty of your time and attention. The Bengal wants to be part of the action and daily play time is a must. While you’re away, leave out some interactive toys for this curious cat, particularly if yours is a one-cat household. Bengals tend to get along well with other animals, so if there is another pet in your home, you’ll most likely see your Bengal making fast friends with him or her. But don’t worry, you’ll still be number one. Bengals love their people and when they are not on the move they’re almost always at your side (or more accurately, on your lap.)
And here’s something you don’t hear about cats very often: Bengals actually like the water. A dripping water tap will likely strike your Bengal as a great interactive toy. There are countless stories about Bengals playing with water and even jumping into the shower along with their owners. Think of it as just one more way in which the Bengal stands apart from the regular cat crowd.
It is said that a leopard can’t change its spots. In the case of the Bengal, between its exotic appearance and a fun-loving, affectionate temperament, it’s safe to say that fanciers wouldn’t want to change a thing.