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Choosing a Bengal

By: J. Anne Helgren

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If you like to walk on the wild side, the Bengal may be the breed for you. Originally created by crossing Asian leopard cats with domestic cats, the Bengal is a large, athletic, spotted cat with short, glossy fur. Now generations away from its wild ancestors, the Bengal is domestic in temperament but has retained its exotic, feral look. The Bengal is the most numerous and popular of the spotted domestic breeds and is the only domestic cat/wild cat cross that's widely accepted.

History and Origin

While the first Bengal was created in California in 1963 by an unintentional mating between a female Asian leopard cat and a domestic shorthair male, the breed as we know it today began in 1980, when breeders began a planned breeding program. The originator, Jean Mill, wanted to create a cat that looked like the Asian leopard cat but had a domestic's temperament. The Asian leopard cat, Felis bengalensis, a small spotted wild cat native to southern Asia, was used in the breed's foundation. Leopard cats provided by a geneticist at the University of California at Davis were bred to American domestics, ocicats, Egyptian Maus, Abyssinians, and Burmese to create the Bengal's unique appearance.

Appearance

The Bengal is a large, sleek, beautifully spotted cat with a powerful, athletic frame. Adult males are usually 10 to 18 pounds in weight, while adult females usually run 7 to 12 pounds. The body is long and very muscular, resembling the leopard cat's powerful appearance. The head is a broad modified wedge-shape and is longer than it is wide. Large almond-shaped eyes, set wide apart, and short rounded ears enhance the feral look.

In the Bengal, the spots are aligned horizontally rather than in random or tabby configuration. Like snowflakes, no two Bengals have the same pattern. Accepted colors are brown tabby, seal lynx point, seal sepia tabby and seal mink tabby. The spots can be black, brown, tan, chocolate or cinnamon and contrast with the background color. Vivid markings with sharp contrast of colors is the mark of a show Bengal. Some Bengals possess a recessive "glitter gene" that gives the fur an iridescent glow, as if covered with warm frost. The coat is short with a thick, luxurious, unusually soft texture.

Personality

What's the Bengal like? In a word - active. Bengals are lively, energetic cats with a healthy dose of feline curiosity. Graceful, strong, and agile, Bengals love to climb and will gravitate to the highest point in any room. Almost uncannily intelligent, Bengals learn quickly and can be taught a number of tricks - as long as you make it worth their while with a few cat treats, of course. In fact, some learn tricks you'd rather they didn't, such as opening cupboards, turning on and off light switches and flushing toilets. They are fascinated by water, and some will even join their owners in the bathtub for a dip.

Bengals form strong, emotional bonds with their human friends, and become loving, loyal companions. Because of their deep attachment to their humans and their high activity level, they need more human interaction than some breeds. If you're away all day and have an active social life at night, another breed might be a better choice.

Grooming

The Bengal is easy to care for; just a brief combing once a week to remove dead hairs will keep Tiger looking terrific.

Cost

Pet quality Bengals usually run $500 to $1,000, depending upon the breeder and location. Breeder quality will set you back $1,000 to $1,500 and show quality runs $1,500 to $2,000. When choosing a Bengal, make sure she is at least four generations away from her Asian leopard cat ancestors to avoid getting a cat with the Asian leopard cat's shy nature and unpleasant elimination habits. Leopard cats are virtually impossible to litter box train, because in the wild they eliminate in running water to keep bigger predators from tracking them. Ask the breeder if the cat has been bred Bengal to Bengal for at least four generations, and ask to see a copy of the pedigree.

Association Acceptance

  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)
  • Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA)

    Each year, the Bengal gains more fans as fanciers discover the breed's charms.

    Special Notes

    The breed is controversial despite its popularity, however, because some fanciers are concerned that the wild blood may cause temperament problems. Others are not in favor of breeding domestic cats to wild cats for conservation reasons, since most of our wild cats are threatened or endangered. Most likely, the Bengal never will be accepted by the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA), since CFA's board has voted not to accept any breed with documented non-domestic ancestry.

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