The Bengal could never be called delicate. He is an athlete: agile and graceful with a strong, muscular body, as befits a cat who looks as if he belongs in the jungle.
With his distinctive spotted coat and large size, the Bengal looks like a wild cat on the prowl, but although one of his ancestors is the small, wild Asian leopard cat, he’s a domestic cat through and through.
Bengals take their name from the Asian leopard cat’s scientific name, Felis bengalensis. They were created through crosses between an Asian leopard cat — which in the 1950s and into the 1960s could be purchased at pet stores — and domestic shorthairs. Jean Mill, a breeder in California, was the first to make such a cross, but not because she wanted to create a new breed. She had acquired a leopard cat and allowed her to keep company with a black tom cat so she wouldn’t be lonely. To her surprise, since she hadn’t thought the two species would mate, kittens resulted, and Mill kept a spotted female. Breeding her back to her father produced a litter of spotted and solid kittens.
At about the same time, Dr. Willard Centerwall was crossing Asian leopard cats with domestic cats at Loyola University. The leopard cats were resistant to the feline leukemia virus, so researchers were interested in finding out if the trait could be passed on to hybrid offspring.
Various breeders became interested in developing the cats as a breed. Mill was one of them. Changes in her life had caused her to give up cat breeding, but she was ready to begin again. She had acquired some of Dr. Centerwall’s hybrids and sought out suitable males to breed to them. One was an orange domestic shorthair that she found in India, of all places, and the other was a brown spotted tabby acquired from a shelter. Bengals today are considered to be one and the same with domestic cats, and any Bengal purchased should be at least four generations removed from any ancestors with wild bloodlines.
Bengal cats have “wild-looking” markings, such as large spots, rosettes, and a light/white belly, and a body structure reminiscent of the leopard cat. A Bengal’s rosetted spots occur only on the back and sides, with stripes elsewhere. The breed typically also features “mascara” (horizontal striping alongside the eyes), and foreleg striping.
The Bengal cat is usually either classed as brown-spotted or snow-spotted (although there are more colours, brown and snow are the only colours of Bengal that the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (UK) recognize). Within brown Bengals, there are either marble or spotted markings. Included in the spotted variation is rosetted, which consists of a spot with a dark line surrounding it. Snow Bengals are also either marble or spotted, but are also divided into blue-eyed or any other colour eyes.
The International Cat Association recognizes several Bengal colours (brown, seal lynx point, mink, sepia, silver) and patterns (spotted and marbled) for competition and shows. In the New Traits class, other colours may be shown, as well as longhairs.
Bengal cats are typically larger than the average house cat. Males on average weigh between 10-15 lbs (4.5 – 6.8kg) and females 8–12 lbs (3.6 – 5.4 kg).
The Bengal is highly active and highly intelligent. This makes him fun to live with, but he can sometimes be challenging. On the whole, the Bengal is a confident, talkative, friendly cat who is always alert. Nothing escapes his notice. He likes to play games, including fetch, and he’s a whiz at learning tricks. His nimble paws are almost as good as hands, and it’s a good thing he doesn’t have opposable thumbs or he would probably rule the world.
Fond of playing in water, the Bengal is not above jumping into the tub or strolling into the shower with you. Aquarium and pond fish may be at risk from his clever paws. He also loves to climb and can often be found perching at the highest point he can reach in the home. A tall cat tree or two is a must for this feline, as are puzzle toys that will challenge his intelligence.
On the rare occasions that he isn’t swinging on chandeliers or swimming in your pool, the affectionate Bengal will be pleased to sit on your lap. It goes without saying that he will share your bed. And yes, he steals the covers.