Published on April 8th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
The Bengal cat is an intriguing breed with an especially interesting patterned coat. It’s been bred only very recently, but despite this is a generally healthy breed of cat. Its inception is so recent, in fact, that it’s yet to be recognised by the American Cat Fancier’s Association, though the process has been begun. It has, on the other hand, been recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, the UK’s equivalent organisation.
In this article, we’ll examine this unique breed in greater detail, and see if we can shed some light on its origins – and what it’s like to have around the house.
Profile: What is a Bengal?
A Bengal is a fairly large breed of cat which was introduced to the UK two decades ago. It’s known for its most distinguishing feature: its coat, which replicates that of a wildcat. Bengals can have one of two sorts of coat – the spotted sort, which you might see on a leopard, or the marbled one which you might see on a snow leopard. Many Bengals lack pigment at the tips of their fur, resulting in a distinctive glittering appearance as they move.
You can get Bengals in several different colours. Of these, brown is the most popular, but other colours, like white, silver and blue are also available. A good marble should be one where the contrast between bands of pigmentation is at its most extreme, and this is the pattern that breeders aim for.
Aside from the coat, the Bengal is a relatively ordinary, healthy-looking cat (which was perhaps the objective of breeding it). They have a strong, athletic body, small ears with rounded tips and a thick tail.
History: Where did the Bengal come from?
The Bengal was first introduced into the UK just two decades ago, and was only recognised by the GCCF in 1997, and granted championship status in 2005.
However indulgent the idea of breeding a cat with leopard-like fur might be, the Bengal was actually developed to solve a problem – during the 60s and 70s, a significant number of households wanted an animal that looked like a wild cat. And these household weren’t about to wait for breeders to come up with a solution – they’d simply introduce a wild animal into their homes! As you might imagine, this enterprise was causing considerable trouble for those who attempted it. Wild cats, unlike domestic ones, are antisocial, prone to violent outbursts, and unwilling to be housetrained. Naturally, if you’re going to introduce an ocelot or a lynx into the same building your children are sleeping in, you’re asking for trouble.
Jean Mill was the first person in the United States to successfully cross an Asian Leopard cat with a domestic cat. It’s easy to see why this particular wildcat was chosen; it’s around the same size as a domestic cat, and yet boasts the distinctive, marbled fur coat that Mill was trying to create.
After abandoning her original breeding programme, Mill returned to her work, and developed a small pool of animals. On a visit to India, Mill noticed a male with a distinctive spotted fur coat, and decided that it would make an excellent outcross.
Jean would go on to play an enormous role in establishing the Bengal as a breed. She would co-operate with breeders across the country, offering them information and receiving it exchange. This meant that the breeding programme was hugely accelerated. In a market as ferociously competitive as the exotic pets one, it’s no small thing to share information so readily – and so Mill deserves enormous credit for doing so.
Personality: What’s a Bengal like to own?
The Bengal cat is an animal which is intelligent and inquisitive. They like to play, and will do so from a very young age right into their senior years. They are intrigued by water, and will often spend a lot of time in bathroom, swatting at leaking taps. Being short-haired animals, bengals do not require much grooming; a quick brush and a comb once a week will keep their coat in perfect condition.
Bengal cats are very sociable, and enjoy the company of other animals – whether those other animals are other Bengal cats, dogs, or humans. They’re therefore ideal for families, but, like many cats, they’ll might take time to get used to new people and situations. If you’re introducing a Bengal to your household, then a little patience is in order. You might wish to buy a pair of cats – particularly if you spend a lot of time outside the house. That way they’ll be able to provide each other with some company while you’re away.
Bengals benefit enormously from outdoor stimulation. They’re highly athletic, and like to jump, run and climb on things. For this reason, it might seem wise to allow them to play outdoors. But this is not always possible, unfortunately. In heavily built-up areas, there’s a high risk that your precious family pet might be targeted by thieves – after all, they’re valuable animals. By the same token, the animal might inadvertently wander into dangerous places like roads.
The best solution, and the one recommended by most breeders, is an outdoor enclosure. This will allow the cat the freedom to roam around without putting itself at risk. Such an enclosure might feature scratching posts, tunnels and boxes to occupy a bored cat’s mind.
Such enclosures are available from larger pet suppliers. If you’re in search of a DIY project, then it’s more than possible to construct your own enclosure – with just some timber and some chicken wire, you can create a space for your pet to enjoy the outdoors in safely.
Many breeds which have been developed over a short space of time are especially prone to health problems. But this isn’t so in the case of the Bengal. Breeding has made use of outcropping, ensuring diversity in the gene pool. Moreover, it’s just the colour of the fur that has been selected for – not the shape of the body, limbs and face. The result is a cat that’s generally healthy, and has the same vaccination requirements as other breeds of cat.