What is a Bengal Cat?

Many people dream of owning a wild cat? Maybe a tiger, leopard, or some other “wild and exotic” cat? Unfortunately many legal and practical difficulties (not to mention the real dangers), make owning a truly wild cat unrealistic. However, if you are looking for a wild look in your cat, then the Bengal is just the cat for you! The very unique genetic legacy of the Bengal, together with rigorous breeding programs have produced a breed of cat with a singular, distinctive, wild look, exceptional personality and atypical behavior. It is this special personality and behavior, coupled with their wild visual appearance that make the Bengal so desirable.

The typical Bengal cat is medium to large in size with a sturdy, muscular body. The males are slightly heavier and larger than the females. The head is relatively small, with large eyes, a broad nose with prominent whisker pads, and short rounded ears. The tail is medium in length, thick and carried low, balancing the overall look of the cat.

Bengal cats have a striking appearance that reminds us of a wild cat. However, the Bengal is not a wild cat! It is a domestic breed of cat created by selectively breeding the small (10-pound), forest dwelling, wild Asian Leopard Cat (ALC), (felis bengalensis, indigenous to the jungles of Southeast Asia), with several domestic breeds. The domestic cats used in the cross included, among others, the Egyptian Mau, the Abyssinian, the Ocicat, the Burmese, and the Domestic Short Hair.

The objective of this cross-breeding was to combine the exotic leopard look of the wild ALC with the sweet disposition the much loved domestic cat. Therefore, the domestic Bengal cat does retain a strong physical resemblance to the beautiful, wild ALC together with the gentle sweetness of the common house cat.

How large does a Bengal get?

There seems to be an expectation, understandably, that the Bengal is a “Big Cat.” It is easy to understand why most people might think this since the Bengal is descended from the Asian Leopard Cat. However, the Asian Leopard Cat should not be confused with the Leopard, which is a big cat often seen in movies, zoos, and wild animal parks. This is totally wrong. In fact, the ALC is a small, long, and lean cat weighing about 10 pounds. It is a nocturnal, jungle dwelling animal built to climb trees and catch small prey. It is the domestic cat used in the cross that contributes the “heaviness.”

The Bengal is much like any other domestic cat. They vary in length from about 15 to 20 inches, excluding the tail. Male Bengals can easily weigh up to18 pounds, however about 15 pounds is most common. The females are usually smaller and lighter, weighing about 4 pounds less than the male. In exceptional cases, male Bengals have been reported to attain a weight of 20 or more pounds. I would not expect your new Bengal kitten to grow to that size.

Instead of being concerned about size, most responsible breeders are working toward creating a graceful, athletic cat with an exotic, wild look, a slinky jungle-like walk, a wonderful temperament and delightful personality.

What do Bengals look like?

The Bengal resembles a small, forest dwelling wild cat. It is medium to large in size, sleek and very muscular. Its hindquarters are slightly higher than its shoulders. The relatively short, thick, black tipped tail has a rounded tip. Bengals appear to walk right out of the jungle into your living room. They will go on the “prowl” with their tail held low, stalking their toys, other cats, or even other pet animals like a Leopard going for the kill. Of course, this is all in good fun and a natural instinct for the Bengal.

The coat of the Bengal is short to medium in length, thick, luxurious much like a pelt, and exceptionally soft to touch. Some often appear to be dusted with golden glitter that sparkles in the sunlight. The different coat patterns are either leopard spotted or marbled. The leopard spotted Bengals have a distinct wild appearance with brown or black spots on a background color of golden brown, rust, orange, sand, buff, or ivory. Marbled bengals have a distinguished swirl pattern reminiscent of a marble table-top. Snow Bengals (mink, sepia, or lynx point) may have a spotted or marbled pattern with a lighter, cream colored background. The spotting or marbling pattern should always run horizontally, never a bulls eye or vertical pattern. Patterns should be well-defined with a clear background color and strongly contrasting markings. The Bengal has a white underbelly with spots and the paw pads are black.

The Bengal has a wild and formidable looking head that has a modified-wedge shape, longer than it is wide and somewhat smaller in proportion to the body. The face has a distinctly non-domestic, feral expression with a large nose and prominent whisker pads and intense facial markings with black outlines on the mouth, nose, and eyes. The Bengal’s ears are medium small, short, with a wide base and rounded tips. The ears are set as much on the side as the top of the head. The cat’s eyes are large and oval in shape, though a slight almond shape is also allowed.

A long, thick, muscular neck which is large in proportion to the head joins the Bengal’s head to its long, substantial body, which is characterized by heavy, robust bone and considerable muscle.

What is the difference in a spotted and a marbled Bengal?

The Spotted Bengal

Spots come in a variety of shapes, sizes and patterns that must be in extreme contrast to the background (ground) color. Larger spots are more desirable than smaller spots and rosettes are preferable to single spots, but are not required by the standard. The rosettes are formed by a darker color around a distinctly lighter center, creating shapes that may appear as arrowheads, half-doughnuts, full-doughnuts, or paw prints.

The spots should always have high contrast, distinctly standing out from the background color. The edges must be sharp and the pattern distinct. They should be random or horizontal in alignment, with little to no vertical baring or alignment.

The Marble Bengal

The Marble Bengal has a glorious swirled or marbled pattern representing a dramatic change from the spotted Bengal. This pattern is comprised of swirls of colors flowing in a horizontal fashion that resembles a streaked and swirled piece of marble. Many times the marble will have a tri-colored pattern with a background color, markings and dark outlining of those markings. The contrast must be extreme, with distinct shapes and sharp edges. Each marbled Bengal exhibits its own unique pattern that, when coupled with its fluid movement, presents a striking “wild” look.

A circular “bulls-eye target” look on the cat’s side, expected in the classic tabby, is undesirable in the Bengal. T hey can also show rosetting on their hindquarters or shoulders.

What Color is the Bengal cat?

All First, we should make a distinction between color and pattern. Bengal cats come in two different patterns: spotted (leopard) or marbled. The following discussion will deal with color. For information on the patterns click here.

Bengal cats come in three different background (ground) colors:

• a shade of brown (or black),
• snow which is a shade of cream (or white),
• and silver.
Extreme contrast and sharp edges must exist between the markings (pattern) color and the background (ground) color.

Snow Bengals come in three distinct colors and each may be spotted or marble::

• Seal Sepia Pattern color is a shade of seal sepia on an ivory, cream, or light tan background color. Paw pads are brown, tail tip must be dark seal brown. Eyes are gold to green, the more richness and depth of color the better.

• Mink Pattern color is a shade of seal mink on an ivory, cream, or light tan background color. Paw pads are brown, tail tip must be dark seal brown. Eyes are aqua (blue-green) to green.

• Seal Lynx The blue eyed Bengal. Pattern color is dark seal brown, light brown, or tan on an ivory to cream background color.

The Brown (Black) Colored Bengals

The Brown Tabby is the “original” color of the Bengal and the ground color can vary in intensity ranging from yellow , buff, tan, golden to orange. The pattern color must be in extreme contrast to the ground color. The Asian Leopard Cat has a modest amount of color variations, therefore you should expect the same in the Brown Tabby Bengal.

The markings (spots or swirls) can be brown, black, tan, cinnamon or various shades of chocolate. The under belly should be whitish with dark spots. The nose leather should be brick red and the paw pads and tail tip must be black. Eye color ranges from green to gold, or bronze.

Light spectacles encircle the eyes and the whisker pads should be very pronounced and have a white background color. The chin, chest, belly and inner legs should also have a white ground color.

The Snow Colored Bengal

The Snow Bengal can be either spotted or marbled, but instead of the warm colorful base coat, they have varying shades of cream, ivory or light tan as seen in the Siamese, Burmese or Tonkinese. The ground color is creamy white, not pure white, with the contrasting pattern color ranging from pewter to a rich nutmeg color. The pattern color is much more subtle than the brown Bengal, with dark markings of equal intensity all over the cat.

The pattern may be sharply defined patches of color; reminiscent of a stained glass windows, or flowing, twisting streams of clear color.

Seal Lynx Point – Shows a very light background color ranging from ivory to cream with the pattern varying in color from dark seal brown, dark grey, light brown, tan or buff. There should be little difference between the color of body markings and color of ears, legs and tails. The tail tip must be dark seal brown and these cats have beautiful blue eyes. They are also known as the Blue Eyed Snow among breeders and as the “snow leopard Bengal” by many Seal Lynx Point Bengal fans.

Seal Lynx Point kittens are generally born nearly white, ivory or cream, without (or with barely visible) spotted, rosetted, or marbled patterns. Within a few weeks, color develops on the ears, legs, and tail. Their pattern develops over time, with full color usually complete by 12 to 18 months. Eye color will always be blue. The background color will be off white to ivory; markings can range from a light grayish-brown to nearly black, the more contrast the better. It is believed that one of the early cats carried the lynx point gene because the color started turning up in the early breeding.

Seal Mink/Seal Sepia Tabby

These two colors are hard to distinguish at times and are similar in looks but not in genetics. Minks and sepias have the ivory background and tend to have much better contrast and much darker markings then lynx points and they have aqua to green eyes or gold eyes). In order for a Bengal to be a mink it MUST have at least one Burmese ancestor. In order for a Bengal to be a sepia it MUST have at least two Burmese ancestors, one from each of its parents.

Seal Sepia Tabby – The Seal Sepia background color can range from ivory to very light tan; markings are dark seal brown. The pattern may be very dark bitter chocolate and there should be very little or no difference between the color of body markings and point color. The color of their pattern and markings will darken with maturity, usually becoming a rich dark seal brown, or almost black. The tail tip should be bitter chocolate color (dark seal sepia) and eye color should be gold or bronze, but may also be light green or green-gold.

Seal Mink Tabby

The seal mink color is a combination of one each of the pointed Siamese and the Burmese sepia genes. Their spotted, rosetted, or marbled patterns of warm brown are displayed on an ivory or cream background color. The tail tip should be chocolate color (dark mink) and these cats have blue-green or aqua colored eyes.

The Silver Color

The silver color is somewhat light in ground color resembling one of the snow Bengals. The foreground color of silver is actually quite striking. The silver color comes from the Mau influence. It is a dominant gene and a good silver should have no ruffosing in their background (called tarnishing).

What Is Glitter?

Only Bengals have Glitter:

Glitter is a highly desirable, translucent, sparkling effect of the cats coat unique to the Bengal. The would appear that some benevolent little fairy had sprinkled the Bengal’s plush pelt with fairy dust resulting in a gold or silver sparkling effect. Actually, glitter is caused by a clear, hollow shaft of hair. It offers a shiny reflection in the coat as the light prisms into and back out. In appearance it resembles gold and copper metal flake of glitter that gives the cat it’s shimmering, golden appearance in certain lights. Glitter is not mentioned in the breed standard and thus is not required in a Bengal, however it enhances their e xotic quality.

What are Rosettes?

Rosettes are highly desirable coat markings consisting of a dark colored ring around their spots creating a third color. The Bengal inherits this unique rosette characteristic from their Asian Leopard Cat ancestors. They are also found in some other wild cat species including big cats such as the leopard and cheetah. A rosetted pattern is desirable (but not required), as they are not mentioned in the breed standard.

What are the “ugly fuzzies?”

Bengals do not have fur but more of a pelt that is a lovely, soft coat inherited from their wild ancestors. Starting at about three weeks of age, and lasting until three to six months of age, the Bengal kitten often (but not always) go through an ugly, fuzzy stage. The coat grays out, and takes on a muted, washed out, gray, fuzzy appearance. This stage of development is similar to the camouflage stage that Asian Leopard Cat kittens display in their natural habitat to make them less vulnerable to predators.

Thankfully, the kittens gradually grow out of it and their spectacular markings, sharp contrast, vivid colors and patterns return

What is the big deal about a Bengal having a white tummy?

The Asian Leopard Cats have a ‘white tummy,’ therefore the underside of the Bengal should be lighter colored also, and should always be spotted. This is in contrast to the bright white paws and chest bib found in domestic tabby cats. We, as breeders, are striving to duplicate the white belly, throat, and neck of the wild Asian Leopard Cat, while, at the same time, keep the beautiful and vibrant body color.

What about the strange colored Bengals I have heard about?

Although it is true that other colors do occasionally occur within litters of Bengal kittens, these do not meet the Bengal standard. There have been Bengal kittens born with ground colors such as blue, black, torbie, chocolate, red, or cinnamon. There has also been an occasional long haired kitten. The aberrations are derived from genes of the domestic cats originally used in the creation of the Bengal.

These odd colors and long hair are an occasional occurrence and despite the fact that they are unrecognized by The International Cat Association, they still have the same wonderful Bengal personality and make excellent pets.

The intent in developing the Bengal breed of domestic cat was to replicate the physical resemblance of its beautiful wild ancestor. That is why those kittens born without that striking “Bengal look” are adopted out as pets and never used in a breeding program

What’s a Bengal cat’s personality like?

Well, you are probably wanting to know what qualities the Bengal has inherited from the its wild ancestors. Indeed, these qualities make the Bengal a very special domestic pet. Among these unique traits are Leopard like pelts instead of fur, acute hearing, great agility, keen vision, and, for many Bengals, a love of water. In order to survive, the Asian Leopard Cat demonstrates a great deal of intelligence, and this trait also survives in the Bengal.

The Bengal’s wonderful temperament and personality is second only to their exotic, wild look. When carefully bred and socialized by their breeder, the Bengal kitten has a loving, outgoing personality, is affectionate, purrs enthusiastically, and is entertaining and playful. With a keen eye for sweet temperament and a beautiful, wild appearance, the undesirable traits including the instinctive suspicion of the wild cat has been bred out.

Bengals, have a lot of personality and are just plain fun! Their antics will make you laugh. Although they are muscular, acrobatic and high-energy cats, they are NOT aggressive. They are quick, lively, active and incredibly curious about everything. The Bengal is confident, mischievous, likes to run, climb, loves heights and is very interactive with other pets and people.

The Bengals’ attitude towards running water is legendary. This trait is probably because the Asian Leopard Cat makes a habit of defecating in water as a way to elude predators. Some Bengals (but not all) will even go swimming with their owners! Most like to play in the water, therefore, many owners provide them with a wading pool. Some Bengals can be found playing in their water dish or begging you to turn the faucet on for a drink. They may even take a flying leap into the middle of your bubble bath or peek around the shower curtain before joining you under the waterfall. If you have pet fish – watch out! They may go fishing in the aquarium.

Some other surprising behaviors include walking on a leash and playing fetch. Some Bengals seem to take to the game of fetch naturally, while others can be easily trained. Just find their favorite toy and give it a toss. Keep up the game and you will be surprised how quickly the learn. Always reward them with a kind word and maybe a treat. It is quite amusing to watch Bengals use their paws like hands and jump to catch their toy in mid air. They often try and hide their toy from other pets by cradling it to their chests. Another wonderful thing about Bengals is that they continue to play the games of young cats into their adulthood. How lucky we all are to have pets like these!

Bengals are also very boisterous cats and do not have the normal meow of a domestic cat. They tend to have an extensive vocabulary including a coo, chirrup, peep, bleat, growl, hiss and then almost a raspy bark. Because of this wide vocabulary you will find yourself conversing regularly with your Bengal.

Bengals genuinely crave affection and seek to establish a very genuine two-way relationship with their owners. Bengals are always eager for human companionship and approval, and get along well with small children and other animals. Although you may be allowed to hold your Bengal for a while, they prefer to sit on or near you at their own discretion. The typical Bengal will spend lots of happy time resting in your lap, or next to you in the recliner, just purring away.

Generally speaking, Bengal cats and kittens are active, energetic, intelligent, self assured, outgoing, friendly, affectionate and make wonderful household pets and great companions that interact well with children and other pets.
* these cats look ‘wildly’ exotic, but are domestic in their habits.
* they eat any good quality cat food.
* have good litter box habits.
* receive the same vaccinations as any other domestic cat.
* they are devoted, loving, and people oriented.