The Joys and Hazards of Living With a Bengal Cat
Although there are lots of sites that just fawn over the Bengal breed there doesn't tend to be too many that describe just what life is like with these cats. In this article I hope to both educate the audience to basic Bengal facts and allow anyone to learn what a charming handful these sprightly balls of fur are.
What is a Bengal?
Bengals are a breed of cat that originated from cross breeding domestic cats with Asian Leopard Cats (a type of small wild cat.) The purpose of these breedings were to obtain a cat with the disposition of a domesticated cat but with the wild and crazy markings of the Asian Leopard Cat. These hybrids (called F1's to denote they were the first generation) were bred together through numerous generations with some more domestic lines occasionally finding themselves thrown in. The result was a stunningly beautiful, fiercely intelligent, and often quirky cat that could be kept in the household as a pet. Now Bengals are a recognized breed and can be shown at cat shows and sold legally in all 50 states.
Bengal cats are a varied breed. They come in several colors, coat patterns, eye colors, and even their weight can vary greatly from individual to individual. Still they maintain a certain distinction in the cat world for being probably the bulkiest of the cat breeds in terms of pure muscle mass. The males in particular have thick enormous muscles that ripple underneath their shimmering coats.
Their most unique feature of course is their elegant coats. Most people think of spots when they think of a Bengal but they do also come in marbled and rosetted. Rosetting is what causes some individuals to have spots which look more like doughnuts than dots. Marbling is a form of horizontal striping, a fascinating variety of swishes and swirls on their sides and back. Swirls that look like cinnamon buns are actually a default if you're showing but they are still gorgeous.
Bengal colors include Brown (an orangey-brown with black spots or marbling), Snow (a cream colored body with dark tan spots or marbling), Silver (a startling metallic silver with black spots or marbling), and Melanistic (black with darker black spots or marbling.) Melanistic and colors like blue are occasionally seen but are not recognized by cat clubs. Blues are actually almost always (if not always) crosses.
Eye color can be anything from a deep copper gold, to a startling minty green, to brilliant yellow, to ice blue depending on the breeds used in their original ancestry and whether or not the breeders in their lines have decided to concentrate on improving eye color or not.
Bengals are probably the most intelligent cats I've come across, even occasionally outwitting the cunning Siamese. Because of their intense intelligence and wild ancestry they tend to have some pretty strange behavioral quirks. Asian Leopard Cats adore the water and so do the Bengals that descend from them. Almost every Bengal will have some sort of overriding obsession with water. They often drink by dipping their paw into the water bowl and licking it off rather then just drinking straight from the dish like a normal cat. They've also been known to play in water whenever they can, splashing water out of their bowl, interrupting their human while they're showering or bathing, and displaying an almost painful delight at playing with running fountains and faucets. One Bengal I had for awhile even learned how to drain a five gallon watercooler so she could watch the bubbles pop up in the jug. Imagine my surprise to find the room flooded! People with fish should also beware as some Bengals do enjoy pawing around the tank and catching goldfish.
Because of their wild heritage they aren't only phenomenal fishers but also efficient hunters. The only way to curb them from this particular tendency is to raise them from kittenhood very carefully with small animals constantly in their presence. This being said it's still advised only to train them with the strictest precautions as accidents are always capable of happening. They are animals after all. Owners of small animals should not allow them out with a Bengal present without supervision.
Bengals are a very active breed. Add their high IQ to this and you generally have a recipe for a troublemaker. No amount of toys will ever keep a Bengal happy. They'll always get bored one day and venture off to find something to get into. They're known for stealing random objects and running off with them, destroying anything they think is expensive or precious, and staring down the other animals just for giggles.
Bengals are a fiercely territorial breed, which means if you want to have more then one you should get at least a pair (or have other cats already living in the home) the first time around. Otherwise introductions can be hard. Because of this they do not generally like big changes in their environment and should always have a box, cat tree, or kennel that they can retreat to to hide when they feel stressed out. They should also be kept as house cats due to the dangers the outdoors present to them and the dangers they present to local wildlife.
This all being said Bengals are an affectionate breed if they're raised properly. They tend to love their humans and act rather dog-like playing games like fetch and following their owners around watching their every movement. Careful though, they are constantly learning and can pick up "tricks" from watching their humans like learning how to turn door knobs, turn on faucets, and flush the toilet repeatedly to watch the swirling water.
New owners should also note one of the Bengal's most adorable characteristics, a pathetic little kitten meow they never grow out of. They're a verbal breed and do love to meep, mew, and meow at their humans for any reason at all.
So you still think you want a Bengal? They certainly are special. Once you go Bengal you tend never to go back. They're just that unique. However they are like having a wrecking ball with a warped sense of humor in your home. Now it's time you hear some of stories of my little furry rabble-rousers.
Sophra I got as soon as she was weaned but even before I brought her home she started to show her true colors. She was out running around the breeder's house getting some exercise when we suddenly heard a horrible thump. There Sophra was, a tiny little kitten, at the bottom of the stairs. She fell off the banister and hit the hardwood floor with her nose, not her feet. It broke. Since then her nose has always been dented.
Right after I brought her home she started manipulating me. She would only eat if I was standing there watching her and since I didn't want her to starve I caved for this cunning little game of hers. When she grew older I was starting to believe my house had a poltergeist. Random objects would disappear never to be seen again. Children's plush toys, bottles, hair ties, cough drops, hard candy, elastics, yarn, and anything that was light enough to lug off. Occasionally I'd find them stashed in bizarre places. My pet sitter once had a nasty surprise when she was staying over to take care of the animals. She pulled up the covers on the bed only to find that Sophra had plucked a pincushion dry and spread pins and sewing needles all throughout the blankets and sheets. It's my personal belief that she did it to hear the pet sitter scream. She's funny like that.
Howl as a kitten and as an adult continuously gets trapped in garbage cans, empty small animal and bird cages, his cat carrier, and even closets, cupboards, and cabinets. Now he's bigger he can usually find his way out but when he was a kitten there was almost a daily rescue mission. Currently he likes draining his bowl while Sophra repeatedly flushes the toilet.
Once I was foolhardy enough to baby-sit for a small Bengal cattery. I brought the cats to my home and let them run around one room. They consisted of two tomcats who had to be separated from each other (as they did not grow up together and you know how tomcats usually are!) four adult females and two six month old kittens. These were cattery raised cats that did not know the comforts of a home and you could tell. They were wild! I may as well brought in a troupe of rabid badgers.
I let one of the males run around and stuffed the other one in a large cage so they wouldn't kill each other. Little was I to know that this angry 25 pound cat would find a way to break out of an impenetrable cage within hours of being put in it. I ran into the room when I heard the most horrendous screams that I have ever heard. It sounded like the screams were emanating from the bowels of Hell. There the two tomcats were beating the piss out of each other. Fur was flying everywhere and I knew these cats didn't like me when they were in a good mood. I couldn't just grab without one without myself being mortally wounded, so I reached for whatever was nearest to me, a broom, and started to beat them into separate corners. After that I was stuck with the problem of getting the giant male back in the cage.
This male was enormous. He was a pit bull in cat fur. His neck was so thick with muscles I couldn't grab his scruff (he had none!) though desperately I tried. This resulted in 25 pounds of writhing angry muscle dangling from my arm by the teeth. When he finally let go I had to pin him to the floor by sitting on him but this too failed and he ran off. I had to chase him with a broom to get him back into the cage. He escaped unscathed but I ended up with a nasty scar.
I thought that room was empty but every day I'd go in there and find something else broken on the floor. Bowls, unidentifiable glass objects (which I still haven't a clue where they came from) light bulbs, lamps, toys were all in the middle of the floor in shards. The cage the giant male was in was totalled in the time he was here. The curtains were turned into shreads and the only cat that actually liked me was also the same one who thought it'd be hilarious to drain the 5 gallon water cooler out onto the floor. After a month I was more then ready to send the hellions home! Never again will I take on caring for an adult cattery or cage raised Bengal!
Still I adore the two I have which were raised from kittens here. They keep me on my toes. Sophra can usually be seen darting full speed through the house with cough drops and hard candy dangling from her mouth. We haven't had candy dishes out for more then a year, likely two. She either has a stash somewhere or she's picked up magic. When she gets bored of that she likes to jump up on the furniture in the wee morning hours and push everything she can off like a little bulldozer. It doesn't matter If its paperwork or knickknacks, she'll still watch it fall with amazement. So what do you think? Are Bengals too much personality for you?
Tips on Keeping a Bengal
- If the Bengal is not going to be used for breeding purposes it should be fixed before it reaches sexual maturity. This should prevent them from marking their territory by spraying your home (once this behavior starts it's a hard habit to kick in both males and females.)
- Keep lots of cat toys out and put anything precious and destructible away!
- Keep the lid to the toilet down so they don't have an excuse to start flushing.
- Put their water dish on a Linolium or tile floor if possible to make for easier cleanup.
- Socialize the kitten early on with as many people as you possibly can to prevent the cat becoming a one-person cat (and believe me once they bond in this manner they're usually petrified of everyone else for no reason at all.)
- If you're going to have other pets make sure you get the cat used to them when it's still a kitten.
- Never expect a lap cat or perfectly behaved pet. They're going to start trouble sooner or later you just don't know how or when.
- If you want a weird hobby try agility training your Bengal - yes, there's tournaments for cat agility now and Bengals take the place of border collies as the most popular breed there.
- Please keep all cats, not just Bengals, inside at all times. It's a big bad world out there and everyone's better off in the house. if you want to bring them outside Bengals are easily harness trained.