In 1963, a domestic cat was crossed with the Asian Leopard Cat, a small wild cat with a yellowish-brown coat covered in two to four rows of elongated spot marks. Later, breeders used the hybrid offspring to create a domestic cat with the loving nature of your neighborhood tabby cat and the eye-catching coat of their wild ancestors. According to the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), the breed is the only domestic cat to display rosettes like the marking on Jaguars, Leopards, and Ocelots. Cat enthusiasts love the Bengal not only for its striking coat but also for its intelligence, trainability, athleticism, and social nature.
As with any companion pet, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with how to care for your Bengal. Our felines should be spayed/neutered and provided with a quality diet. They need regular activity and opportunities to express their natural behaviors. These felines should also have regular veterinary checkups, as they are predisposed to many health conditions.
Bengal cats display certain inherited diseases and may fall prey to specific lifestyle-related health problems. We review the top ten genetic health problems for Bengals, as well as other health concerns. Learn about the importance of DNA testing, pet insurance, and how to promote graceful aging.
Common Bengal Health Issues (A Vet’s Expert Opinion)
“Bengal cats are becoming an increasingly popular breed, thanks to their striking looks,” says Dr. Rebecca MacMillan, BVetMed, BSAVA, PGCertSAM. “However, like most pedigree cats, the Bengal is prone to certain health issues.”
Why do purebred cats tend to have more health problems than mixed breeds? While purebreds are treasured for their predictable appearance and personalities, their genetic pool is much smaller. This increases the chances of these cats developing hereditary conditions.
“The most common [issues] that I see in practice include joint issues, such as hip dysplasia and patella luxation (a kneecap that moves out of place),” says MacMillan. “These conditions may require surgical intervention to help improve things, and pain management if secondary arthritis occurs. The exact prognosis depends on the degree of severity.”
To ensure the health of your Bengal, skip the backyard breeders and instead choose a reputable cattery. Responsible breeders almost always have websites that educate potential buyers about their felines, including the cat’s parents, proof of genetic testing, health screenings, and other educational information.
10 Genetic Bengal Health Problems
Some genetic health problems can affect your pet’s quality of life and shorten their lifespan. Consider getting pet insurance to avoid significant vet bills in the event of illness. Signing up when your cat is young and healthy can prevent pre-existing conditions from being excluded from coverage.
Bengals appear to have an elevated potential for an adverse reaction to ketamine, a commonly used anesthesia and analgesia (pain reliever). While the effects of ketamine have not been studied in felines, it is theorized that Bengals struggle to metabolize ketamine quickly, resulting in an overdose or liver toxicity. Ketamine also stimulates the cardiovascular system, increasing blood pressure and cardiac output. If your cat already has cardiovascular issues, this could be dangerous.
For more information, read the article Ketamine And Cats by breed preservationist and animal wellness coach Meghan Waals.
Two studies, one in France and the other in Poland, suggest inherited cataracts is present in the Bengal breed. Cataracts is a condition where the eye’s lens becomes clouded or opaque. When a cat develops cataracts, the cloudy lens obstructs light reaching the retina, thus impacting a cat’s vision. Cataracts is not painful, but it can cause sensitivity to light.
The ideal treatment for cataracts is surgery, removing the cataracts and adding an artificial lens. If there is significant inflammation in the cat’s eye, surgery may not be feasible. Without surgery, cataracts causes blindness.
For cats with untreated cataracts, a vet will typically prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops to decrease inflammation in the eye. While this won’t cure caratracts, it does prevent glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when fluid cannot drain properly from the eye, causing increased intraocular pressure. Glaucoma is painful and does not respond well to medical treatment. It often requires eye removal, so medical treatment of feline cataracts focuses on preventing secondary glaucoma.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is a viral condition caused by a strain of the Feline Coronavirus (FCoV). FIP is a progressive and almost always fatal disease. In most cases, FCoV causes mild, treatable symptoms (such as diarrhea). However, the virus multiplies and mutates in about 10 percent of infected cats, resulting in FIP. FIP causes an extreme inflammatory reaction in the body. Certain breeds may be more likely to develop FIP, including the Bengal.
Early symptoms of FIP include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Cats may show additional symptoms as time passes, depending on the form of FIP. FIP’s “dry form” causes infection and lesions around the blood vessels, affecting the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin. You may notice your cat experiencing excessive thirst, jaundice, vomiting, and weight loss. In the “wet form” of FIP, fluids build in the abdomen, giving a pot-bellied appearance. Wet form FIP causes damage to the blood vessels, causing inflammation and fluid leaking from the blood into the chest and abdomen.
There is currently no treatment for cats with FIP.
Flat Chested Kitten Syndrome
“Another abnormality I have seen frequently in this breed is ‘flat chested kitten syndrome’ (FCKS),” says MacMillan. “Sadly, some Bengal kittens are born with a deformity of their chest and spine and collapsed lungs.”
Clinical signs of FCKS are weight loss (or inability to gain weight), increased respiratory rate, and failure to suck from the mother. According to International Cat Care, most kittens with FCKS remain active and lively. In kittens with mild symptoms, FCKS becomes less noticeable with age and is often unnoticeable in adulthood.
“For severely affected kittens the prognosis is poor, and I have had to advise euthanasia at an early age,” says MacMillan. “In my experience, mildly affected kittens can thrive, however.”
Hip dysplasia occurs when the hip joint forms abnormally, making the ball and socket misaligned and loose. This causes the hip joint to knock and grind with movement. Over time, wear and tear on the hip can cause joint deterioration (osteoarthritis), making walking, jumping, and playing difficult and painful. Signs of feline hip dysplasia include avoidance of physical activity, limping, lameness, expression of pain when the hip is touched, and licking or chewing of the hip area.
While a specific cause of feline hip dysplasia has not been identified, research shows the incidences appear to be breed-dependent. Those cats with larger body types or who are obese are at an increased risk of joint deterioration.
Your veterinarian will X-ray your cat to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment may include dietary modulation, physical therapy, weight loss, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Surgery may be necessary for cats with advanced cases.
“Bengal cats can also be afflicted with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a condition causing thickening of the heart muscle), which carries a poor long-term prognosis,” says MacMillan.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) affects approximately 15 percent of the domestic cat population. Mutations of several cardiac genes have been identified in some cats (Maine Coon and Ragdoll), suggesting that genetics play a role.
HCM decreases the heart’s efficiency and can force the heart to beat too quickly, resulting in increased oxygen usage and possibly oxygen starvation in the heart. This further worsens heart function and can lead to the development of arrhythmias (a problem with the rhythm or rate of heartbeat). Severe HCM can cause blood clots, pulmonary edema, limb paralysis, heart failure, and sudden death.
Signs of HMC include:
- Labored or rapid breathing
- Open-mouthed breathing
There is no cure for HCM; however, medical therapy can improve your cat’s quality of life. Talk with your veterinarian to learn more about treatment options.
While all cats risk developing cancer, Bengal cats are more susceptible to developing lymphoma than other breeds. Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that evolves in the lymphatic system. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance states that lymphoma is the most common illness claim customers submit for their Bengal cats.
While genetic mutations can increase the risk of developing lymphoma, scientists believe that infections, environmental toxins, and lifestyle factors can trigger the disease in animals (and people) predisposed to lymphoma. To reduce your cat’s risk of developing lymphoma, keep up with their vaccinations and keep your feline inside to avoid environmental risk factors, such as exposure to radon and pesticides. According to Cornell’s Feline Health Center, feline lymphoma is closely linked to infections with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Unvaccinated outdoor cats are at greater risk of developing lymphoma. Additionally, make sure to feed your cat a nutrient-dense diet and avoid overfeeding so they stay at a healthy weight.
If your cat is diagnosed with lymphoma, your vet will determine the most effective approach for treatment based on the cancer’s location and stage. Chemotherapy is commonly recommended. Surgery and radiation are also treatment options.
Patellar luxation happens when the kneecap becomes dislocated or moves from its normal position. A luxating patella is diagnosed using a grading system (I to IV), with severity increasing with higher grades. As cats are very good at hiding their pain from us, the condition may not be noticed until it is pretty advanced.
Symptoms of patellar luxation include:
- Avoiding the use of a particular leg when moving
- Difficulty jumping
Mild to moderate luxation may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, while severe cases often require surgery.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a common genetic condition among Bengal cats. The disease is characterized by early onset retinal deterioration by two months of age, followed by rapid progression of blindness. A study first published in the Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS) journal found that retinal degeneration in Bengals was noted as young as nine weeks of age and became more noticeable over the next four months.
There is no cure for PRA, and it eventually causes blindness. Blind felines can still live a happy, full life, although they may require extra help around the house.
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency
Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK) is an inherited red blood cell enzyme disorder that causes chronic hemolytic anemia. The disease is the effect of a genetic mutation and causes lethargy, weakness, abdominal enlargement, jaundice, and weight loss. PK deficiency has been recognized in various breeds, including Bengals.
Your veterinarian can diagnose PK deficiency. They’ll likely perform a physical exam, urinalysis, and blood testing. Bone marrow transplantation is the only treatment available. However, this treatment is dangerous and expensive. Cats that undergo a bone marrow transplant often have a normal lifespan. Left untreated, felines typically die by four years of age due to bone marrow or liver failure.
Other Bengal Health Concerns
- Arthritis: VCA Animal Hospitals reports that about 90 percent of cats over 10 years old experience osteoarthritis in at least one joint. For arthritis prevention, encourage your cat to remain active and ensure they maintain a healthy weight. Keep your feline inside to avoid injuries. You can also add anti-inflammatory supplements to their routine. Look for a formula that uses fish oil, turmeric, boswellia, or bromelain. American BioScience’s DGP is a quality supplement to support mobility and flexibility.
- Dental Diseases: Cornell Feline Health Center notes that 50 to 90 percent of felines older than four years of age suffer from a variety of dental diseases. Dental health is essential to keep your kitty pain-free, and research shows a link between oral health and other health conditions. Maintain your cat’s teeth and gums through regular brushing. A high-quality diet also contributes to oral health.
- Gastrointestinal Conditions: Possibly due to their curious nature and tendency to nibble on things they shouldn’t, Bengals may experience gastrointestinal problems, like diarrhea and vomiting. The Bengal Rescue organization says irritable bowel syndrome is common among Bengals. Diet is essential in the treatment of any gastrointestinal condition.
- Kidney Disease: Kidney disease is a prevalent health problem for Bengal cats, particularly as they age. A good diet and adequate hydration are the best tools to protect against kidney disease.
Health Testing For Bengal Cats
When purchasing a pedigreed cat, always confirm testing has been done to check for genetic diseases. Responsible breeders use genetic testing to track their cats’ genes over generations to help minimize the likelihood of inherited health problems.
If you already have a Bengal cat and have no records of genetic testing or health screenings, you may wish to purchase a cat DNA test. A DNA health test will help you:
- See a complete picture of your cat’s health. Knowing your cat’s health problems will allow you to better care for your companion. Many diseases can be slowed or reversed through lifestyle changes and regular checkups.
- Confirm your breeder is truthful. Purchasing your own genetic test will let you verify any information given to you by your breeder. If you’ve signed an agreement guaranteeing your cat’s health, you may be able to get your money back if any negative information comes to light.
- Discover your cat’s ancestry. If you’ve purchased your cat from a rescue or shelter and don’t know their breed, a DNA test can reveal their ancestry.
Best Cat DNA Tests
Wisdom Panel Complete For Cats
Mars Petcare’s genetic testing unit by Wisdom Health is a pioneer in pet genetic testing. Its comprehensive DNA test, Wisdom Panel, screens for breed, physical traits, health insights, and blood type.
After receiving your pet’s results, you can speak one-on-one with a Wisdom Panel licensed vet to ask questions, get advice, and make future health steps for your furbaby.
Basepaws Breed+Health Cat DNA Test
Since successfully making a deal on Shark Tank, Basepaws has grown tenfold to be one of the top cat DNA test companies on the market. In July 2022, Basepaws made a $50 million deal and was acquired by Zeotis Inc.
Since the acquisition, Basepaws has expanded its offerings. The Breed + Health DNA Test now includes a brief breed overview, genetic traits (including susceptibility to viral infection), and health screening. Basepaws also offers a whole genome and oral health test for an additional cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Keep My Bengal Cat Healthy?
As with any cat, diet and exercise are the most critical factors for a healthy life. All felines need quality animal protein, animal fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. View our picks for best cat food for Bengals, including recipes that contain extra antioxidants to prevent DNA damage, reduce inflammation, and slow cancer cell growth.
Bengals are an extremely active breed, and exercise keeps your cat mobile and at a healthy weight. Play also keeps your cat mentally stimulated. Mental stimulation will keep your cat alert and happy and counteract cognitive decline associated with aging. Cats who don’t receive enough enrichment become aggressive, bored, destructive, or overweight. Dedicating 15 to 30 minutes of your day to playing with your cat can make a huge difference in ensuring they will be pain-free and happy in their golden years. View our picks for Bengal cat toys.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Bengal?
Bengals typically live 12 to 16 years. We cover everything you need to know about Bengal cat lifespan, including ways to expand your feline’s life expectancy.
Should I Get Pet Insurance For My Bengal?
Yes, we recommend getting health insurance for your Bengal. As with most purebred breeds, the Bengal breed has significant inherited health issues. Hereditary conditions are covered by insurance, so long as you sign your pet up before any symptoms arise. Pet insurance does not cover existing conditions, so getting insurance is best when your cat is still a kitten. Insurance can also cover accidents, dental, and even preventative care. View our picks for the best pet insurance for Bengal cats.
Before purchasing a Bengal cat, it’s crucial to understand all that’s required for the breed. Do you feel like you’re ready to take the plunge? Be sure to review our Bengal cat colors article, which shows the different appearances of this magnificent kitty.