You have just adopted a cat or a new kitten and you’ve noticed some peculiarities with his or her behavior, personality, color and/or pattern. You are now thinking, “This is like no other tabby I have ever seen or known.” Perhaps someone told you that your new cat or kitten looks or acts like a Bengal cat! You begin your search on the web, talk with friends, make some inquiries and you begin to think that maybe, just maybe, you do have a Bengal cat or a Bengal-mix because your new cat or kitten definitely has some of the behavioral traits of the Bengal breed and it looks similar to the Bengals that you have seen on the internet.
Can you know for sure?
Feline behaviorist, Marilyn Krieger, Sal Vitale, the president of Bengal Cat Rescue and Tracy Painter a Bengal Cat Rescue Volunteer try to help you determine if your cat is indeed a Bengal cat or perhaps a Bengal cat mix. (Written for Bengals Illustrated.)
Bengal Cat Rescue and Bengal breeders are frequently asked by individuals to help them positively identify the breed of cat of a cat with an unknown heritage. Additionally, shelters too, to determine if the cat just received is a Bengal, will often contact rescuers and sometimes breeders for breed identification assistance.
Without a pedigree in hand, registration papers or specific information from the person that surrendered the cat, there is no guarantee on breed type (especially with poorly bred cats/kittens or with breed mixes). Even the “experts” can be uncertain of breed identity (or cannot come to a unanimous decision) based on photos and descriptions of a cat with an unknown origin.
The following may help you to “deduce” if a particular cat or kitten is a Bengal or a Bengal-mix.
Let’s start with some background information.
A Little History
The Bengal breed has an interesting history. It starts with the Asian Leopard Cat. The leopard cat is a small wild cat found throughout the forests and jungle areas of Asia (hence the name Asian Leopard Cat or ALC). There are many subspecies of the leopard cat. It is believed only two subspecies were used in Bengal breeding programs. The first and predominate subspecies used was Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis. The second subspecies utilized was Prionailurus bengalensis euptailura, also known as the Amur Leopard Cat.
Documentation reveals a cross between an ALC and a domestic cat occurred in 1963 by Jean Sugden (Mill). This breeding was between a black domestic shorthair (DSH, a generic, domestic cat) and an ALC female. The very first Bengal from this pairing was a female named KinKin. KinKin went on to produce offspring. Due to family issues in 1966, Jean stopped the experimental breedings (which she resumed some years later). There were others involved in producing Asian Leopard Cat crosses in the early developmental years. Most notable was Dr. Willard Centerwall who was doing research on human leukemia and the ALC’s resistance to leukemia. He crossed domestic cats to the Asian Leopard Cat’s for more handle-ability in the laboratory and to progress his research. It should be noted, Bengals DO NOT have any special resistance to feline leukemia. Jean Mill got in touch with Dr. Centerwall and obtained a few female F1’s (50% ALC, 50% domestic), from his lab and continued her development of the “toy leopards.” Her goal was to discourage fur trade and owning of exotics that are often misunderstood by the general public and viewed as a status symbol. (For more Bengal cat History, see Bengal Cat History)
The Bengal As We Know It
With multiple breeds and generic cats mixed in, Bengal breeders soon discovered interesting surprises in their litters. Recessive genes began to display themselves. Most
were color related, such as lockets (non-desirable white spot generally on the neck or groin, but can be anywhere on the body), ticking (lacking contrast between the background color and the markings) and the “Marble” or classic tabby pattern. A truly unexpected surprise was long hair. The “Snow” Bengals (three different types of albinism) and the “Marble” Bengal are highly prized and accepted now, but this was not always the case. Their beauty and attraction lead them to be recognized for championship show status. Bengals can be brown, silver (both dominate color genes), snow (seal lynx, seal mink and seal sepia and silver snows), blue, melanistic (black), smoke, red, torbie, and cinnamon with patterns that are either spotted or marbled. Currently the accepted colors for show status are brown, snow and silver. Some breeders are working towards the acceptance of blue, melanistics, and long haired Bengals (also referred to as Cashmeres) for championship status.
Most breeders avoid breeding color recessives, unless it is a desirable one or a color they are working with toward the goal of championship status, but these colors still crop up. These kittens are typically sold as pets along with other kittens that may not meet the Bengal standard for showing or breeding.
Since Bengals are classified as a tabby their bellies must always be spotted (occasionally marbles have elongated belly spots). Just because a cat has spots on its belly, does not mean it’s a Bengal or a Bengal mix (tabbies have spotted bellies). A very unique trait known as “glitter” does not occur in all Bengals, and is not given preference for show. Toby/Tory of Delhi is attributed to bringing glitter in to the breed. Glitter is best described as a variation in the hairs where the tips have less color pigment (are more translucent). When light passes through these hairs, it has a similar effect as light on a diamond, this reflective anomaly makes the cat’s coat “glitter.”
Have you ever put your hands on a quality fur and thought “Oh, that feeeels so good?” You should have the same response when touching a Bengal cat. The fur on a Bengal is
commonly referred to as a “pelt.” A quality Bengal will have a coat that is extremely smooth to the touch, and feels “polished.” A strong plush quality should exist. When you
run your fingers through the coat, it should leave little dimples or tracks that can be smoothed away when you reverse the motion.
Bengals can make amazing sounds. Their vocal range is very wide, generally exceeding that of the basic cat population. Bengal voices are made up of the standard “meow,” accompanied by any or all of the following sounds:
- Or any combination of the aforementioned sounds.
Bengals have unique conversational tones for other cats, other Bengals, and their humans. Owners have learned to differentiate between sounds for “Feed me,” “Pet me,” “You called me,” and “Turn on the faucet. I want a drink.” Bengals can be extremely vocal and talkative, or may only talk when they have a need for their human to provide them with something.
A well-bred Bengal will move like a big cat. You want to watch for fluid rolling of the shoulders when walking and the head should be out front, as if seeking prey. When you see a Bengal, something in the back of your mind should say “I know it’s a cat, but it moves like a leopard.”
The Bengal breed standard can be hard to comprehend even by an experienced breeder and or show person. The wording is not in layman’s terms and it doesn’t have pictorial examples. However, one can look at the top winning cats, to see good breed examples. Certain judges and breeders favor one look over another. This is all well and good for breeders and show persons, but can hinder uniformity of the breed. Add lost and never recovered breeding cats, unethical breeders that breed for greed and with no regard for the betterment of the breed and you can see how it would be hard to determine a Bengal or Bengal-mix without positive proof, such as registration papers (some unethical parties even falsify registrations). (For more information on the breed standard see The Bengal Cat.)
Filial or Early Generation Bengals
Early Generation (EG) Bengals, also known as Filial or Foundation (Fn) Bengals, can often be just as difficult to identify. A quick primer here on EG’s. These cats are the first three outcrosses from the ALC. In most feline registries (i.e. TICA), the SBT (four generations Bengal to Bengal breeding) is recognized for show and can be shown in championship competition. F1 (first generation from the ALC) males are sterile. This is not uncommon in the scientific realm. Some F2 (second generation from the ALC) males have been fleetingly fertile, and there have been a few F3 (third generation from the ALC) males that have sired litters. F1 females have occasionally had problems with sterility, but this rare. Due to genetics, you will not see a glittered F1 or a marbled F1. A Snow F1 or a melanistic F1 would be extremely rare, however traits such as albinism and melanism do happen in wild populations of most living creatures. This is not a very good survival strategy, and those displaying these colors typically do not survive to pass on their genes. However, in isolated or controlled breeding situations these recessives genes can and do show up.
What happened when you had all these early generation (EG) Bengal females and no fertile males?
A domestic male with traits desired to incorporate into the new breed of cat was sought. A lot of DSH’s were used of varying body type and color, most notably Tory of Delhi (also known as Toby) found in a rhino pen in India. Egyptian Maus (and many other specific breeds) were also used in the formulation of the Bengal breed. Much of the difficulty in EG identification lies in “what generation is this cat?” Usually F1’s look wild, like their ALC parent, but some may resemble a later generation. F2’s typically retain some of the “wilder” look, but can also look like a generation further on. F3’s look more domestic than earlier generations. Aside from generation, looking at color, pattern, clarity of coat, head and body type, there can still be drastic differences even with careful breeding and within litters (siblings). While ethical breeders work hard to improve the breed and strive for uniformity (type/standard), sometimes there are just surprises! If these surprises are not for the benefit of the breed they are “petted out,” which means they are placed as altered pets.
A Bengal, A Mix, or a Really Cute Cat
There are many variables to consider in identifying a Bengal cat. You have to take into account color, pattern, glitter, coat type, body type, etc. And then, you must also take into consideration similar breeds, pet quality cats bred for profit and/or without permission. Some that are unconcerned with the standard breed poor quality cats. Then there are mixes, different looks due to breed diversity (conformation, color and pattern), unsocialized, abused, neglected cats, and even well-socialized and loved cats…with all the variable, it is often hard for even seasoned breeders and rescuers to be unanimous on breed identification. The cat in question is often best judged in person, when you can really see the whole cat, watch it move, listen to its voice and interact with it. Photos are very often hard to help someone determine if a cat is a poor quality Bengal, or a possible mix. Mixes are the most difficult to identify, and other than knowing for a fact at least one parent was Bengal, we can never say for sure if your cat is a Bengal or a cross. Without papers there are only educated guesses via experience with the breed.
© 2007 by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC www.thecatcoach.com, Some of the material in this article was adapted from an article by Marilyn Krieger published in the Spring 2007 issue of Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice Bengal Cats have unique personalities and behavior traits.
As with all cats, there are many factors that can impact a cat’s behavior throughout its life. Along with genetics and the environment, the way people interact with their cat impacts how a cat behaves. Having the genes of an Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) in the Bengal cat’s heritage doesn’t make them any more wild, or prone to behavior problems then any other cat breed. On the contrary, having the genes of a leopard cat does contribute to their high intelligence, alertness, personalities and activity levels. Bengals have inherited much of their uniqueness from the little Asian Leopard Cat. The ALC is a small, shy and non-aggressive cat that is both prey and predator. When given the choice, the ALC will flee from potential threats instead of fighting. In their natural world, ALCs are very agile, alert and elusive, adapting well to their environment. They are excellent swimmers and acrobatic jumpers and are very comfortable high up in the tree tops or swimming in a marsh. Bengals are very muscular and athletic like the little Asian Leopard Cat. Most Bengals love being up high, the higher the better. Like the ALC, Bengals make good use of vertical territory. It is not uncommon to find Bengals sitting on top of doors or perched on the tops of high cabinets. They are athletes, scaling walls and allegedly cat-proof fences with ease.
Bengals are busy little cats with agendas. Like the ALC, Bengals are very smart, agile and alert. They learn from watching and can easily figure out how to open doors, windows and cupboards. They also love to play fetch for hours. They need things to do, or they will make their own entertainment. Water has many uses in the life of an ALC. It is not unusual for Asian Leopard Cats to dispose of their excrement in running water. One theory for this is that eliminating in water will hide the ALC scent from large predators by washing the excrement downstream. Eliminating in water also hides their feces and urine scents from prey that would be scared away by the smell of a predator. Like the ALC, water plays a variety of roles in most Bengals lives. Most Bengals, no matter how far removed from the ALC, love to play in water. Some take showers or baths with their human companions, splashing around, chasing toys having a wonderful time. The majority of Bengals prefer to drink directly from a faucet or a fountain. The closer the Bengal is to the ALC, filially (F), the more ALC personality traits are usually present. Some early generation (EG) Bengals will occasionally urinate in their water dish, in the sink or bathtub. Most Bengals, of all generations, have unique ways of eliminating. Some perch their front feet, and sometimes all four feet, on the rim of their litter box while eliminating, others straddle the box. Bengals can be very creative in how they position themselves when using their litter boxes.
It has been observed that Asian Leopard Cats in captivity sometimes form strong affection bonds with other ALCs and depending on the circumstances, with their human caregivers. There are reports of captive male ALCs giving their food and sleeping areas to their females. Some male ALCs would be perfect candidates for 12 step co-dependent programs. Well-socialized Bengals form very close bonds with human companions. Some follow their human companions around the house. Additionally, Bengals want to be involved in many of the activities their human companions are involved with. Since Bengals are very socially motivated and need stimulation, leaving them alone every day for hours with no one to interact with can lead to behavior challenges. It is not uncommon for EG Bengals to form such strong bonds with their human companions, that changing owners or homes causes them to become depressed and sick. Because the EGs are so close to the ALC, they typically do not show they are ill until they are very seriously ill. Eighty percent of the cases involving transitioning EG Bengals to a different owner that this author has been involved with have become very sick, ten percent of those unfortunately died.
Generally speaking, Bengals do not do well when confined. This can be a serious, life-threatening problem for Bengals that are surrendered to shelters. Many shelters euthanize Bengals, labeling them as unadoptable because they react very badly when they are taken from their homes and the family they have bonded to, and then confined in small cages. Through education and persistence of rescue groups, more shelters are contacting the appropriate Bengal rescue groups for help. Additionally, most Bengals do not like being confined in one room against their will. Bengals want to be in the middle of everything, part of the family, always interacting with their special human companions. The Bengal Cat has inherited traits from both the Asian Leopard Cat and the domestic cat. The result of this union is an affectionate, active and intelligent cat with a very unique personality. Although Bengals are different from other cats because of their ALC ancestry, they are not more prone to developing behavioral challenges then any other cat breed.
Identifying a Bengal or a Bengal-mix without registration papers or proof that one parent was a Bengal, can be quite difficult and subjective. There are times when we see cats
in shelters or pictures that owners have sent us and we all clamor “that’s a Bengal,” but it is through years of dealing with Bengals as breeders, rescuers and owners, that we
can “see” through some of the vagueness. As often as not, we do not all agree as to which cat is a Bengal or a possible mix. You must always look at the whole cat, color, pattern, body shape and behavior/personality traits and also the sounds the cat makes to make an educated guess. Shelters often assign a breed name to their cats. Sometimes out of ignorance and often to give the cat a better chance of being adopted. A breed will often be adopted over a cat labeled DOMESTIC SHORTHAIR. So if it walks like Bengal, looks like a Bengal and acts like a Bengal, it just might be a Bengal! But…just because you are relatively sure you have a Bengal, DO NOT try breeding it. You don’t know its genetics, you may not see its faults and breeding this cat will harm the breed, not help it. Just love your cat for its uniqueness and as your beloved pet! Enjoy your Bengal, your Bengal-mix, or your wanna be Bengal!