The Bengal is a medium to large cat of foreign type with a strong, muscular athletic body. Bengals are now one of the most popular short haired breeds although they only appeared in NZ around 20 years ago. The Bengal is renowned for the clarity, contrast and pelt-like texture of its beautiful spotted or marbled coat as well as its confident, playful and outgoing personality. The original Bengal breeders in the USA were aiming to create the look of a small spotted wild cat with the friendly and affectionate nature of a domestic pet.
The Bengal is a relatively new breed in,First imported from the USA in the early 1990s, The breed was developed from first generation (F1) hybrid females obtained by crossing an Asian Leopard Cat with a domestic tabby cat. Other short haired breeds such as Abyssinian, Burmese and Egyptian Mau were also used in the early breeding programs so the Bengal has a diverse background with a good sized gene pool. The original objective of the main founder of the breed (Jean S Mill) was to produce a sweet natured pet cat resembling a miniature leopard so that people would be less inclined to keep spotted wild cats as pets or wear their fur - both laudable aims!
Appearance and Colours.
The Bengal is one of the most striking of all our cat breeds; however there is nothing extreme about the shape of a Bengal. It is a typical foreign breed with a strong muscular yet elegant body. The head is a broad medium wedge with a slightly concave profile and prominent whisker pads and should be small in proportion to the body. The ears should be small with rounded tips. The hind limbs should be slightly taller than the front and the tail should be of medium length, thick and even with a rounded tip. Bengals have two recognised coat patterns - spotted and marble tabby. The original spotted tabby pattern has been modified by selective breeding and cats with large random two-tone rosetted markings are particularly prized. The marble pattern is based on the ‘classic’ tabby but is modified away from the symmetrical bullseye pattern. A good marble Bengal has a horizontally flowing, random, asymmetrical pattern made up of swirls of two or more colours. Bengals are genetic tabbies but the agouti banding of the hair has been suppressed by selective breeding to reduce the ticked appearance of the base coat to maximise the contrast and clarity of the markings, which should be extreme. Many Bengals are glittered and this effect is due to lack of pigment in the tip of the hair resulting in the characteristic lustrous appearance of the coat of a quality Bengal. Bengals come in a variety of colours. Brown is the most popular but snow, silver and blue Bengals are currently recognised within the breed standard.
Bengals make wonderful pets. They are very adaptable and are just as happy as a devoted companion to a single person as they are as a family pet. They are highly intelligent, alert, curious and lively and will play like kittens into old age. They particularly like water and will play for hours with a dripping tap and adore watching the toilet flush! They like children and cat friendly dogs and enjoy the company of other cats once they have got to know them. Like most cats, they are territorial and introductions as adults can be challenging. Bengals are affectionate cats and enjoy human company. They are not always lap cats but they like curling up beside you and sleeping on the bed - although they may decide to wake you up for a game of footsies in the middle of the night and will certainly tell you when it is time to get up!
Bengals are active athletic cats and need exercise and mental stimulation. They enjoy free access to the outdoors but this is only advisable in rural areas where risk of road accidents and theft is minimal. Breeders highly recommend garden enclosure systems to allow your Bengal the freedom to play outdoors safely. Bengals can adapt well to life indoors provided they have human or feline company and plenty of space. Cat activity centres incorporating scratching posts, tunnels and boxes in which to play and hide and high level beds for relaxation and keeping an eye on what is going on are ideal for keeping your indoor Bengal happy. If you work during the day it is best to buy two kittens so they can keep each other company. Bengals are similar to any domestic short haired cat in their care requirements. They are not fussy eaters and require minimal grooming. A light brush and combing once a week will keep your Bengal’s coat in top condition and remove loose hair. They are very clean cats and kittens very quickly learn to use a litter tray as soon as they are weaned. A well brought up kitten will be perfectly litter trained by the time it is ready for rehoming at 13 weeks. Vaccination, worming and parasite prevention treatments are the same as for other breeds. Females weigh less than males with a range of 8-12lbs (3.6-5.4kg) for females and 10-15lbs (4.5-6.8kg) for males and life expectancy averages 12-16 years.
The Bengal is generally a healthy cat. There are no diseases specific to the breed and they have no health problems related to their conformation. Their susceptibility to infectious diseases is comparable to other domestic breeds. Their vaccination requirements are exactly the same as other breeds. The only point for breeders and owners to note is that enteric protozoal infections are not uncommon in animals acquired from larger breeding establishments if hygiene precautions are not ideal. Any cat or kitten showing symptoms of diarrhoea that does not respond to simple treatment should be tested for the protozoal parasites, Giardia llambia and Tritrichomonas foetus. Two anatomical conditions that breeders and buyers need to be aware of which are seen occasionally include Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome (FCKS) and Patellar Luxation. FCKS is a multifactorial condition which develops in kittens a few days after birth. It is caused by abnormal development of the rib cage resulting in a flattened angular appearance. Although death from heart/respiratory failure can occur, affected kittens often survive and grow out of the condition to lead normal lives as pets but should never be used for breeding. Genetic and dietary factors are thought to be involved. Patellar luxation was seen in early imports but due to selective breeding the incidence is now much lower. In this condition the patella (knee cap) slips to the inside of the joint when the limb is extended due mainly to a shallow patellar groove on the end of the femur. If left untreated lameness and chronic osteo-arthritis will result. The condition can be corrected by surgery which is usually highly successful. In some cats patellar luxation is associated with hip dysplasia where there is incongruity of the ball and socket surfaces of the hip joint. Again this condition affects the gait and predisposes the cat to osteo-arthritis. There are a few hereditary diseases which breeders and buyers need to be aware of. None of these are specific to the Bengal. Pyruvate kinase deficiency which causes chronic anaemia is caused by a defect in an autosomal recessive gene. A commercial DNA test is now available. Although the incidence of affected (homozygous) Bengals has been found to be extremely low breeders are advised to test breeding cats so that matings between carriers can be avoided. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a hereditary disease caused by a defect in an autosomal dominant gene that affects many species including man. It is the most common heart disease in cats including non-pedigrees and does occur in some Bengal lines. The disease shows a highly variable clinical course; in severe cases death from heart failure can occur but many cats with mild HCM never show clinical disease and have a normal life span. Unfortunately no commercial DNA test is available in the Bengal. Screening of breeding cats by echocardiography is recommended and affected cats should be removed from the breeding program. A very rare condition called Peripheral Neuropathy is seen occasionally in kittens and young cats. The symptoms are flaccid paralysis of one or more limbs with the hind legs most commonly affected. Diagnosis can be difficult and is based largely on exclusion of other causes of paralysis. The cause of this condition is unknown but it responds extremely well to treatment with corticosteroids and most affected kittens make a complete recovery without relapse if treated early in the course of the disease. A rare eye disease called Progressive Retinal Atrophy occurs in some Bengals. This is now known to be caused by a genetic defect and a DNA test has become available which enables breeders to avoid producing affected kittens.