The Bengal Cat has been the singular breed that was the result of a successful interbreeding between a wild cat and a domestic cat. Every detail in the chain of events is significant to the development of this beautiful leopard-like breed. Its genesis started with Dr. Willard Centerwall of Loyola University who had been crossing the Asian Leopards with the domestic cats.
The Asian Leopards were retrieved in order to test for their partial immunity to feline leukemia. The interbreeding with domestic cats is for the purpose of producing possible genetic viability in immunization development. In order not to destroy the cats after the program was completed, the homes were sought for them. Jean Sudgen of California became one such recipient of a group of cats.
This is where, in the early 1960s, the real focus on establishing the Bengal breed had just begun. Having an interest in breeding Asian Leopard hybrids, Sudgen had chosen to narrow down her intake of cats to only those that showed desired spotting patterns and those that had a predisposition for domestic temperaments. Coupled with the prior experiences she has had with cat hybridization through her studies in genetics at UC Davis during 1940s, Sudgen took on the opportunity with much enthusiasm.
However, not many shared her excitement as many breeders were resolutely against the crossing of a wild cat with a domestic one. This is manifest in Cat Fanciers Association’s refusal to accept registration of the Bengal for many years due to the breed’s wild bloodline.
During the time when Sudgen was remarried and had taken the name, Mill, she was informed that the offspring of her crossings would be sterile. It was proven true for the male hybrids, but the female hybrids turned out otherwise. Thus, hope prevailed, and Mill was able to initiate a new breeding program. Finding an appropriate male cat to cross with her female Asian Leopard hybrids was a challenge in itself.
Breeds such as the Burmese or Abyssinian, which were thought to be suitable, were considered genetically weak for the crossing. However, there was no impedibility for what was already made possible. A curator for the New Delhi Zoo in India informed Mill of a leopard-like street cat that had found its home in the rhinoceros exhibit at the zoo. This added to the string of opportune events when this cat, though feral, proved to be an excellent mate for Mill’s female Asian Leopard Hybrid.
The breeding program continued into fruition as the foundation upon which the purebred Bengal has built upon has been established. This cat’s name was adopted as the reference to the Asian Leopard cat scientific name, Prionailurus bengalensis.
These journeys have led to the unprecedented breed of Bengal that, though having a wild bloodline, has exhibited exceeding exception in friendliness, affection and gentility. Bengal cats have ever since won several show awards. Despite the existence of persisting reticence in some areas, this breed has been recognized by the International Cat Association since 1986 and has gained championship status in 1991.
Physical appearance and attributes
The Bengal breed is a medium to large cat, weighing an average of 11 – 18 pounds for males and 7 – 11 pounds for females. It has a pronounced muscular body that gives it an athletic stance suited for the wild. Its hind legs are slightly longer than the front, a trait that the Bengal shares with the Asian Leopard cat. This translates into long, powerful strides from the gluteus to the bicep muscles. The legs are set off in large round paws with prominent knuckles. Together with a boning that is sturdy and firm, these features have added to the attributes of a robust body.
The Bengal has a rounded wedge head that is smaller in proportion to its body. Distinguishing its facial features are the intense facial markings, the high cheekbones, a broad muzzle with marked whisker pads and a strong chin that is well aligned with the tip of a large wide nose.
The most prominent of all is its almond-shaped eyes that glisten in a brilliant yellow and highlighted with black rim around it. Snow Bengal, however can be marked out with having blue eyes.
Complementing its small face is a pair of small-medium ears that are wide at the base, faintly rounded at the tips and tilted slightly forward. When viewed in profile, the curve of the forehead flows into the nose bridge with no breaks. That is, the nose bridge extends both above the eyes and to the nose tip, creating a slight convex to concave gradient from the forehead to the tip of the nose.
Suited for the body is a long thick tail that tapers into a rounded tip. Covering the body is a luxurious short, soft coat that is silky to the touch. What defines this gorgeous breed is its coat pattern. There are three types, namely, spotted, marbled and glittered. The spotted patterns can be solid, arrow shaped or rosettes and they adorn the body either randomly or horizontally. They are dark and clear with a crisp outline that is contrasted to the body’s base color.
Bengal with marbled patterns have contrasting black horizontal swirls lining its body; bending, convoluting and elongating together with its every movement in myriad intriguing manners.
Bengal can also possess the glitter coat, which happens only in rarity as this is dependent on a gene that is recessive. Such a coat imparts an iridescent sheen to each hair, thus, making the coat appear to have been graced by a layer of gold organza.
The two most common coat colors are the brown and orange, and the black and grey combination. However, there has also been a range of other colors as a result of breeding experiments, and these include the light orange brown, dark orange brown, snow, seal, panther and silver.
Personality and temperament
While the Bengal has been bred to be adapted as a domestic cat with all its gentleness and affection, it has also retained an energy level that is likened to the wild. Being extremely active, the Bengal seeks play in the form of chasing, climbing and investigating. Their love for high spaces is complemented with their climbing agility. Thus, even though the Bengal loves to display its fondness and devotion by staying close by to its chosen humans, it is hardly anywhere near passive and prefers saving their cuddle time to when it is resting or sleeping.
Being the descents of the Asian Leopard cats, Bengals has a distinct love for water. Thus, any water activities can be added to the list of games for your Bengal, creating more opportunities to interact with this high attention-demanding breed.
This breed also loves socializing and it is exhibited through its highly opinionated and loud personality. Being exceptionally intelligent has given this cat the ability to learn tricks fast, while its adaptability has given it the necessary demeanor to get along well with other cats and cat-friendly dogs.
Care and health issues
The life span of the Bengal is between 14 – 16 years. The health of the Bengal is generally good if it is bought from a reputable and registered breeder and having had all the necessary health checks and tests carried out.
However, certain health issues that can be of a concern include Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), which is a disease that causes blindness and Pyometra, which is an infection in the uterus of the female Bengal. There might be other genetic related diseases in which an annual vet visit would be beneficial to keep the cat in a good health condition.
The Bengal’s short, soft coat has made grooming relatively easy. A weekly grooming will be enough to keep the coat healthy. However, regular combing will give the Bengal its desired attention and would help reduce the amount of hairballs around the house.
Basic care should not be neglected. These include frequent dental care with vet-approved toothpaste, weekly nail trimming, and ear cleaning. Cultivating such habits with your kitten at an early age will help increase the level of acceptance of your cat for these basic care activities.
The ideal home
The highly energetic and affectionate Bengal would be able to rub off life and warmth to any family that can shower it with love, care and attention. Creating vertical spaces coupled with cat trees and pole perches would be ideal for this enthusiastic climber. A safe and enclosed space would be what it needs to exercise, hunt and explore. Building a shallow pond with a water outlet would provide much pleasure for this water-loving cat.
Consideration should be made for including another Bengal if the family is not able to provide the necessary attention. Solitude and boredom might lead to undesirable destructive behaviors as the cat seeks its own activities around the house. Though it can do well in families with kids, the Bengal cat would prefer older children who are capable of interactive play rather than younger children who would usually only cuddle it.