The Joys and Hazards of Keeping a Pet Bengal Cat
Wild Animal or Domestic Cat?
Although there are a lot of Bengal cat breed enthusiast websites, reputable breeder sites, and organization sites like that of The International Cat Association (TICA) or The Cat Fanciers' Association, few describe what living with a Bengal is really like. In this article, I hope to educate readers on the breed's personality, instinctive behavior, reproduction and breeding, sociability with children and dogs, health issues, and more. Most importantly, I'll share my story about what it's like to live with Bengals as pets. Whether you recently acquired a kitten or you are simply a cat breed fancier, discover what a charming handful of a house cat these sprightly balls of fur can be.
Do Bengals Make Good House Pets?
The breed possesses the following unique attributes and is known for being:
- Exotic in appearance
- Verbal and communicative
- Athletic and entertaining
- Social (if paired or bonded early)
- Dog-friendly (if bonded early with a cat-friendly dog)
- Kid-friendly (when socialized)
What Is the Origin of the Bengal Breed?
The Asian Leopard Cat and Domestic Cat Cross
Bengals originated from crossbreeding or mixing domestic cats with the wild Asian leopard cat or Prionailurus bengalensis (a type of small wildcat or jungle cat). The purpose of this breeding was to obtain a cat with the disposition of a domesticated cat but with the wild and crazy markings of the Asian leopard cat.
Not to be mislabeled as the "Bengali cat" (Bengali or Bengal being the language of the region) or misleadingly named the Bengal "tiger" cat (Bengal tiger being a distinct species), the domesticated Bengal is a hardy cross of both wild and domestic species. These hybrids (typically termed F1s for "foundation" to denote the first generation, F2, and F3 thereafter) were bred across numerous generations. 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.
Some common traits of the breed like personality and patterning may carry over into half Bengal-tabby cat or kitten mixes, Bengal-Siamese mixes, Bengal-British Shorthair mixes, and other common domestic blends.
Breed Information and Traits
- Lifespan: 10–16 years
- Size: 8–15 pounds or 3.6–6.8 kilograms
- Body type: Long, muscular, and medium to large in size
- Ancestry: Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) and domestic tabby (or Siamese mix if of the "snow" variety)
- Coat type: Dense, soft, silky; sometimes described as "glittered"
- Coat patterns: Spotted or bull's eye, marble, or rosette
- Hypoallergenic: Mildly to highly hypoallergenic
- Shedding and grooming: Low shedding; low grooming requirements
- Activity level: High; active and athletic
- Sociability: High; dog-friendly and kid-friendly if socialized early; vocal
Bengal Cat Temperament, Personality, and Behavior Traits
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.
They Have an Affinity for Water
Like their ancestors, they adore the water. 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 than just drinking straight from the dish like the average house cat. They've also been known to play in water whenever they can, splashing water out of their bowl, interrupting their humans while they're showering or bathing, and displaying an almost painful delight at playing with running fountains and faucets. People with fish should also beware that some enjoy pawing around the tank and catching goldfish.
People with fish should be aware that some Bengals enjoy pawing around the tank and catching goldfish.
Video: They Love to Play in Water
They Are Highly Intelligent
Bengals are a very active breed. Add their high IQ or intelligence to this, and you generally have a recipe for trouble. No amount of toys will ever keep them 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 other animals just for giggles.
They Are Excellent Hunters
Because of their wild heritage, they are phenomenal fishers and efficient hunters. The only way to curb them from this particular tendency is to expose them to small animals constantly while they are kittens. 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 should always supervise Bengals around small animals such as birds, rodents, and other household pets.
They Are Territorial
The breed is fiercely territorial and can get nasty, which means that if you want to have more then one, you should get a pair (or have other cats already living in the home) from the start. Otherwise, introductions can be hard. They generally do not like big changes in their environment and should always have a box, cat tree, or crate that they can retreat to and hide in when they feel stressed out. They should also be kept inside due to the dangers they face in the outdoors and the dangers they pose to local wildlife.
They Are Affectionate
Bengals are an affectionate breed if raised properly. They tend to love their humans and act rather dog-like—playing games like fetch and following their owners. They are also trainable and can learn basic commands like "sit" and "stay." Careful though, they can learn bad behaviors from watching their human like how to turn door knobs, how to turn on faucets, and how to flush the toilet repeatedly.
They Are Vocal
New owners should also note one of the breed's most adorable characteristics: their pathetic kitten meow. They're a verbal breed and do love to meep, mew, and meow at their humans on all occasions. They talk a lot!
How Much Do Bengal Cats Cost?
Bengals are expensive and might be one of the most expensive cat breeds in the world. According to the Bengal Cat Club, their value depends on their generation rating. Recall the "foundational" generation ratings. A female kitten from an F1 generation (with a direct Asian leopard cat parent) can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 USD. An F1 male, in contrast, sells for $1,500 because they are born sterile. F2 and F3 generations can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 USD.
Coat color and patterning, of course, also factor into their value. The snow Bengal is considered to have the rarest coat type, and spotted types are also high in popularity.
Why Adopt or Rescue?
Besides saving a life, adopted or rescued Bengals can be acquired for $150-200 USD.
Breeder Pricing Quick Reference
Estimated Selling Price
Asian leopard cat parent
$2,000 to $10,000 USD
Asian leopard cat parent
$1,500 *always sterile
Bengal x Bengal cross
$1,500 to $5,000 USD
Often Bengal x Bengal cross
Bengal Cat Appearance and Characteristics
The breed is highly varied in appearance in terms of coat color and patterning. Eye color and even weight can vary greatly from individual to individual. Still, Bengals maintain a certain distinction in the cat world for being the bulkiest of the breeds in terms of pure muscle mass. The males, in particular, have thick, enormous muscles that ripple underneath their shimmering coats.
Why Are They Popular Pets?
Their most unique feature, of course, is their elegant coat. Most people think of spots when they think of a Bengal, but they also don marble and rosette coat types. Rosetting is what causes some individuals to have spots which look more like doughnuts than dots; in other words, the rosetting is comprised of spots with two colors (brown or black spots with rust or orange inside or surrounding). Marbling is a form of horizontal striping, a fascinating variety of swishes and swirls on the side and back of the body. Swirls that look like cinnamon buns are actually a default if you're showing a cat, but they are still gorgeous. Here is a breakdown of the specific coat pattern types:
- Arrowhead rosette: triangular spots pointed distally; fades toward the tail
- Doughnut rosette: outlined spots with a darker interior compared to the full coat color
- Pawprint rosette: c-shaped or dappled spots, punctuated with half open and dark outlines
- Marble: random patterning and swirls; patterning continues to change within the first few years of life
Variations in Coat Type
Bengal coat colors include brown (orange-brown to cool-brown with black spots or marbling), snow (cream-colored body with dark tan spots or marbling), silver (metallic-silver with black spots or marbling), charcoal brown or charcoal (dark face mask and cape), and melanistic (black with darker black spots or marbling). The snow variety comes in either lynx point, mink, or sepia. Lynx point is the lightest of the snow variety, presenting with light markings on the points (ears and nose), and the sepia variety is of a soft tan coloration with pronounced accents. Melanistic fur and blue (dilute) fur are occasionally seen but are not recognized by cat clubs. Blues are almost always (if not always) crosses.
Eye Color and Coat Color Pairings
The breed is noted for its "mascara" (horizontal striping lateral to the eyes) and striking eye color—anything from a deep copper-gold to a startling minty green, to brilliant yellow and ice blue (depending on the ancestral breeds used and whether or not the breeders in their lines have decided to concentrate on improving eye color or not). Brown Bengals often have gold or green eyes, or a hybridization of the two; lynx points have blue eyes, and mink, with slightly darker cream to tan fur, have blue eyes as well. Sepia types again have green or gold eyes, or a combination of these eye colors; their fur is slightly lighter than your standard brown coloration.
Common and Uncommon Coat Colors and Patterns
Orange to cool-brown with light to black spots; charcoal brown (darkest)
Rosettes or marbling
Cream-colored body with dark tan spots
Dark tan spots or marbling; lynx is the lightest, with highlights on the standout features (ears and nose)
Metallic silver with black spots; no brown coloration
Black spots or marbling
Solid brown with muted markings; black with darker black spots
Black spots or marbling
Grey with occasional peach undertones
Spotted or marbled
What Are Common Health Issues in Bengals?
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy or HCM
Bengals are prone to a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM, otherwise known as "the silent killer." This form of heart disease is often inherited and may even be recessive or dormant in both parents. The disease can, therefore, pop up after generations of breeding. The condition leads to abnormal thickening of heart wall muscles, related thrombosis (or blood clots), and congestive heart failure. Initial clinical signs include arrhythmias or heart murmurs, which can be detected during auscultation in a physical exam. HCM is diagnosed via radiographs or an echocardiogram.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Cataracts
Both progressive retinal atrophy or PRA and cataracts are two hereditary eye conditions commonly seen in the breed. Retinal atrophy refers to a photoreceptor disorder—the wasting of the photoreceptors of the eyes—and leads to premature blindness. Responsible breeders should test their Bengals for PRA before breeding.
Cataracts are also a common issue; cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes increasingly cloudy over time.
Some individuals are sensitive to anesthetic agents, which makes them "high-risk" anesthetic patients. Specialty clinics that are accustomed to handling complex anesthetic cases can often manage your cat's surgery appropriately.
This condition is generally a result of an inherited malformation. Bengals are prone to luxating patellas, and it doesn't help that they are so active. In a healthy knee, the kneecap usually sits in a groove called the trochlear groove. When a knee "luxates," it pops out of place or dislocates entirely; this leads to sudden or prolonged lameness and degenerative arthritis. Luxating patellas can be managed by keeping a cat within a healthy weight range. Otherwise, surgery is often recommended.
Kidney Issues or Renal Failure
Chronic renal failure is not a condition specific to the breed, but it is a disease worth noting because it is so common in older cats. Chronic kidney issues are often first characterized by an increase in thirst and urination and commonly present in older cats. Kidney infections and stones put cats at a higher risk of long-term kidney issues; this susceptibility also compounds with age. Your veterinarian can perform diagnostic tests to screen for kidney issues.
Skin and Coat Issues
Psychogenic alopecia or over-grooming causes hair loss in all cats. It is a similar condition to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. The condition is generally triggered by psychological disturbances such as boredom, new household stressors, and similar drivers. Hair loss may also occur from flea allergies, environmental allergies, food allergies, and dermatitis.
Video: How to Cat-Proof Your Home
Dos and Don'ts: Caring for and Raising Your Cat or Kitten
This is some of the best advice I can offer when it comes to raising your Bengal kitten or taking care of your adult house cats:
- Get Your Cat Spayed, Neutered, or Sterilized: If the Bengal is not going to be used for breeding purposes, your male or female should be fixed by a veterinarian before it reaches sexual maturity. This helps to prevent them from marking territory by spraying and avoiding the litter box. (Once this behavior starts, it's a hard habit to kick in both males and females.)
- Offer Many, Many Toys: Keep lots of toys out and put anything precious and destructible away!
- Put the Toilet Lid Down: Keep the lid to the toilet down so they don't have an excuse to start flushing it.
- Place Water Dishes Thoughtfully: Put their water dish on Linoleum or tile floor if possible to make cleanup easier.
It’s critical that kittens have good experiences in many new environments with many new people and animals so that, later in life, they don’t consider the new environments, people, and animals to be stressors. Their prime time for socialization is between 3 weeks to 3 months of age.— Dr. Sophia Yin
- Socialize Your Kitten Early: Are Bengals good with kids? Yes, but an important part of raising your kitten is to socialize them early on with as many people as possible—kids included—to prevent your cat from becoming overly loyal and affectionate towards one person and developing additional personality problems. (Believe me, once they bond in this manner, they're usually petrified of everyone else for no reason at all.)
- Introduce Them to Other Pets: Are Bengals good with dogs? Yes, but if you're going to have other pets like a dog, make sure you get your cat used to them while it's still a kitten.
- Expect Chaos: Never expect a lap cat or a perfectly behaved pet. They're going to start trouble sooner or later, you just don't know how or when.
- Consider Agility Training: If you want a weird hobby, try agility training your cat. Yes, there are tournaments for cat agility now and Bengals take the place of Border Collies as the most popular breed in agility.
- Make Them Indoor-Only: 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. Plus, they are less likely to be exposed to viruses like feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). If you want to bring them outside, Bengals are easily harness trained.
My Experience Living With Bengals
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, caring for one is like having a wrecking ball with a warped sense of humor in your home. Now it's time you hear some stories of my little rabble-rousers.
Meet My Male: Howl
Howl, as a kitten and an adult cat, continuously gets trapped in garbage cans, empty small animal and bird cages, cat carriers, and even closets, cupboards, and cabinets. Now that he's an adult, he can usually find his way out, but when he was a kitten, there was a rescue mission almost daily. Currently, he likes draining his bowl while Sophra repeatedly flushes the toilet.
Meet My Female: Sophra
I got Sophra 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 was Sophra, a 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 game of hers.
When she grew older, I started 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.)
Why I Love My Cats
Still, I adore the two. I raised them from kittens and they keep me on my toes. Sophra can usually be seen darting full speed through the house with hard candy dangling from her mouth. We haven't had candy dishes out for more than a year, likely two. When Sophra gets bored of the candy, 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? Too much personality for you?
Top-Rated Male and Female Bengal Cat Names
Yellow, orange, or brown fossilized resin.
An extremely powerful fire or a distinguishable mark (a streak).
An Afro-Cuban percussive instrument.
A large, spotted cat native to Africa.
A Bengal cat and Ocicat cross, or a cheesy, spicy chip.
Derivative of cocoa powder.
A reddish-orange metal.
A hot fruit of the Capsicum family.
A small, circular mark.
The cat of the 1978 comic chronicles "Garfield."
A zesty, hot spice.
A sweet substance produced by bees and pollinators.
A ground spice made from peppers.
Dried fruit used for spice/seasoning.
Lion; 5th astrological sign of the zodiac.
Short for Maximilian, "the greatest."
The protagonist of "The Jungle Book Series."
Fictional cat character in film; historic town(s).
The protagonist of Disney's "Lion King."
Patches of color; spots.
A circular dot.
The protagonist of Disney's "Tarzan."
Nickname for the plush teddy bear.
The largest of the felid cat family; a striped feline.
A fictional character in the "Winnie-the-Pooh" series.
A princess warrior.
Do Bengals Make Bad Pets?
Once I was foolhardy enough to babysit for a small Bengal cattery. I brought the cats to my home and let them run around one room. The litter 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!
Dealing With Cat Fights
I let one of the males run around and stuffed the other one in a large cage so that they wouldn't kill each other. Little was I to know that this angry 25-pound male 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 ever. The two tomcats were beating the piss out of each other and fur was flying everywhere. I couldn't just grab one without 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. His neck was so thick with muscles that I couldn't grab his scruff (he didn't have one), though I tried desperately. 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.
Dealing With Destructive Cats
Every day I'd go in to check on the cats, I'd 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, and toys. The curtains were shredded, and the 5-gallon water cooler had been emptied out onto the floor. After a month, I was more than ready to send the hellions home! Never again will I take on caring for an adult cattery or cage-raised Bengals!