Bengal cats are hybrid felines that look like tiny tigers. These exotic-looking kitties carry a wild air about them and are becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Though they look rough and tumble, these big kitties make lovely family pets and enjoy being around people.
These wild-looking kitties will catch the eye and attention of all who see them. For a good reason, people always want to know more about the Bengal cat.
Where did this unique breed come from? There is more to the Bengal cat than a rugged look and an interesting history. This breed makes a wonderful pet but may not be suitable for everyone. We get into all the details about Bengal cats that feline lovers and prospective cat parents need to know. Keep in mind the information we provide is a breed overview. Some cats may be larger or smaller or have a different temperament. This information is to learn about the breed, not as a substitute for consulting a veterinarian or trainer.
Bengal cats are true hybrids. They were created by crossing wild Asian leopard cats with domestic felines. Asian leopard cats are a small wild species native to Southeast Asia. The Felis bengalensis, as they are also known, have a muscular, slender body. The name Bengal is derived from the wild cat’s proper name. They are nicknamed the “pet leopard” due to their tiger or leopard-like markings.
Many breeders had tried to crossbreed Asian leopard cats with domestic felines. However, the first successful hybrids were created for leukemia research in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dr. Willard Centerwall, a professor of pediatrics and leukemia researcher, created the hybrid kittens in a lab. He studied these cats to learn more about the Asian leopard cat’s partial immunity to feline leukemia. When the research was over, rather than destroying the kittens, Centerwall passed them on to a breeder, Jean Sudgen Mill.
Mill continued to breed the hybrids with other domestic cats producing the exotic-looking domestic cat we know today as the Bengal. Since these hybrid cats were introduced to the breeding world, other breeders have taken up the task and mixed them with other domestic breeds, so not all Bengals out there are descended from these original research hybrids. A couple by the name of Greg and Elizabeth Kent created their own line of Bengal felines. This bloodline continues to be found in some of the highest pedigree Bengal cats today.
Hybrid Vs. Domestic
There are two classifications of Bengal cats. There are the hybrid F1 to F4 generations and the domestic class F5 and lower. The true hybrids are larger and much less like cuddly house cats than later generations. Most pet Bengals from breeders will be F5, F6, or lower. F5s look more like domestic kitties and have more domestic behaviors. Those generations closer to wild cats have a higher pretty drive, less desire to be around humans, and look more like their wild cat relatives. Domestic Bengals are less wild, more agreeable, and do not have some of the wild animal-like instincts and behaviors the more direct hybrid offspring have.
Bengal Cat Bans
While they originated in the United States, Bengals are popular all over the globe. They are quite popular in the United States and even more popular in the UK. Despite this popularity, Bengals have been banned in certain states in the United States and are restricted in many places around the world due to their wildcat connection.
There is a large misconception that all Bengals are half-wild cats. Only first-generation offspring are half-wild. Further breeding reduces the wild cat genes. In some cases, first to fourth generations of these hybrid kitties can still have some more feral or wild cat-like behavior, such as remarkably high prey drives. They can also be very detrimental and destructive to the native landscape and wildlife if they get loose or are allowed to roam freely.
While some states ban the ownership of early generations of Bengal cats, many states allow ownership of fifth-generation and beyond. F5 generation can be owned legally in every state in America other than Hawaii. Hawaii is one of the only states that actively enforce bans and regulations on all Bengal cats. Some cities like Seattle, Washington, and New York City, New York have bans on all Bengals, while Denver, Colorado, allows only fifth generation. States with bans or strict regulations on Bengals F1 to F4 include Alaska, California (on F1 and F2), Connecticut, Delaware (permit only), Georgia (permit only), Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, and New York State. Prospective owners must check state and city regulations before adopting a Bengal.
Bengals are known for being extremely intelligent and very curious. These pet leopards have a ton of energy, and a high prey drive, meaning they love chasing birds, rodents, and smaller pets. Not all Bengals will have a higher-than-average prey drive, but owners should make sure to keep fish tanks, rodents, reptiles, and bird habitats closed securely. These kitties may be domestic, but they are skilled hunters and crave the chase.
Bengals kitties are highly affectionate and enjoy being around people. They love to play and will happily engage in games, as well as play with balls and other toys. These kiddos are known for their love of people and want to be around their owners all the time.
Bengals are a very vocal breed generally. Not all Bengals are loud, but this breed does have a reputation for being chatty. Some kitties of this breed will make a chattering noise, especially when watching local wildlife through the window. Sometimes this sound is also referred to as a chirp. Bengals are not hesitant to let their owners know how they feel and have no problem interrupting until they get the attention they crave.
When socialized well, Bengals will get along with other feline breeds and other pets, but they must be introduced to them very young. Getting a Bengal to accept a new pet in the home can be a big challenge, so owners must handle this very carefully. If a Bengal has a particular attitude, they may prefer to be an only pet. They can be territorial with both people and other pets. Owners can seek help from a feline trainer or behaviorist if there are concerns about these kitties interacting appropriately with other pets in the home. Early socialization and training are advised.
Bengals may get bored or suffer separation anxiety when home alone for a long time. This breed does not like to be on their own for too long. A few hours a day is ok but much longer, and they can become agitated, upset, destructive, and emotional. This is due to their prominent level of intelligence. Owners should be aware of this before bringing a Bengal home.
Bengals are muscular animals that can be medium to large when fully grown. They can weigh between 8 and 20 pounds though most are about 12 to 15 pounds. Males will be larger. They can range from about 16 to 22 inches long, which does not include the tail. This breed will stand between 13 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. A Bengal’s back legs are longer than their front legs. They will grow until at least two years. Some will grow longer. Maturity can take about two years as well. These felines retain a kitten-like attitude and mentality well into their adult years. Some will still have plentiful playfulness levels and energy, even as senior cats.
Shedding / Hypoallergenic
Bengals are classified as hypoallergenic and can be an exceptionally desirable choice for people who suffer from feline allergies. Pet leopards are excellent at self-grooming and have very short, fine coats that require less brushing. Additionally, Bengals produce less of the protein spread in their saliva, dander, and urine, which triggers allergy symptoms in humans. In addition to this, they do not shed heavily. Like most feline breeds, they do shed regularly and will have periods of higher shedding that coincide with significant temperature changes.
However, Bengals shed extraordinarily little, along with producing and spreading fewer allergens. This makes them a very hypoallergenic breed. Keep in mind that everyone has a different level of sensitivity, so some may have an allergic reaction to some of this breed. Feline owners looking for a very hypoallergenic breed can inquire with breeders to find out if they have any bloodlines that are known to be less allergy-provoking.
Though they are very skilled at self-grooming, Bengals will need regular brushing and grooming from their owners. Bengals do not need to be brushed as often as other breeds. However, spending a little time once or twice a week running a soft bristle brush or slicker brush through their hair is a good idea. It is an excellent opportunity to inspect their skin for any irritants, cuts, or other issues, freeing them of any extra hair, pests, and debris. Grooming is a wonderful time to bond with a pet, and making it a regular routine will help your pet look forward to this special time. Rewarding your kitty with lots of treats and cuddles after a good grooming session will also help them enjoy this time and tolerate inspection of their skin, paws, and ears.
Bengals like playing in the water and can benefit from occasional bathing. While this does not need to be a weekly or even monthly activity, bathing a Bengal can help keep their fur clean and silky smooth. These kitties need regular nail trimming and dental cleaning along with occasional bathing. These are two areas that are often overlooked for feline care. Investing in high-quality nail clippers and dental care tools and training your kitten at an early age to tolerate nail trimming and teeth brushing will go a long way towards ensuring long-term health.
Bengal cats have a uniquely exotic and very alluring look. They genuinely look like miniature versions of a wild cat and earn their pet leopard nickname by appearance alone. There are three standard colors of Bengals that The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes. Those are silver, snow, and brown. However, Bengals come in several other colors, including solid black, blue, charcoal, and black and gold, which are also called melanistic. Bengals can be spotted, marbled, or in a mixture called sparbled. Some Bengals will have a glitter-like effect on their coats due to translucent hair that causes a shimmery effect when the light hits it. White stomached varieties are incredibly rare and are highly sought after. Most Bengals have short fine hair, though crossbreeding with long-haired domestic cats has created a longer-haired variety. These are known as Cashmere Bengals and have long, fluffy, silken coats.
Brown Bengals are incredibly popular and have many variations and ranges of color, including golden brown, caramel, honey, red, orange, brownish-orange, and several other shades. The brown Bengals generally have darker brown to black markings, including marbling or solid rosettes. These kitties are often called leopard Bengals because they closely resemble wild leopard cats. Often these kitties will have golden or green-colored eyes.
Silver Bengals are incredibly striking looking with light-colored, almost white base coats with various silver shades. These light coats are adorned with gray and black patterning. Base coat color can range from silver two charcoal or blue. This variety also has green or golden eyes.
Snow Bengals have creamy white to tan or light brown base coats adorned with seal markings and a range of brown to tan markings. Markings can be spotted or marbled. Snow Bengals can have green, blue, aqua, or golden-brown eyes.
Blue Bengal cats are incredibly rare and expensive. They have a range of blue-colored base coats, sometimes with cream tones. This blue base coat will have dark gray-blue patterns of spots or marble. Blue Bengals usually will have green or hazel-colored eyes.
A black Bengal, also called a melanistic-colored cat, has quite a unique look. They look similar to miniature panthers or cougars and have dark base coats with spotted or marble patterns. The markings will be almost as dark as their coats and may be extremely hard to make out. Sometimes black Bengal cats are referred to as “ghost cats” because their markings are only visible when caught in a certain ray of bright sunlight.
Pet leopards are not the easiest kitties to take care of. They are highly affectionate, love people, are incredibly intelligent, and make great companions. However, because these kiddos are so clever, they can be challenging even for very experienced feline owners. These kitties need constant sources of mental stimulation to prevent them from getting bored and misbehaving. A highly intelligent, bored Bengal can become very destructive, which is not a situation any kitty owner wants.
Bengals are highly active kitties and need several physical activity sessions a day. They can be trained to walk on leashes, play games like fetch, and enjoy spending time outside. However, due to their high prey drive, these big kiddos should never be left outside alone. Bengal cats are best kept as indoor pets who spend time outdoors in a safe enclosure or under close supervision on a leash.
These kitties need a rotation of different toys (find the best toy for your Bengal cat) and stimulation periodically to keep them happy both physically and mentally. This is a particularly good breed for clicker training as it keeps them highly stimulated throughout the day. Make sure that any home Bengals are in has plenty of spaces for them to explore, as well as safe, comfortable nooks and crannies to hide in.
Owners need to pay remarkably close attention to litterbox cleanliness with this breed. They are very meticulous when it comes to personal hygiene. Cleaning their litter boxes at least twice a day and having multiple litter boxes, even if it is a one-cat home, is a good idea. Owners also need to take care to clean homes regularly and keep personal items away safe and secure. Pet leopards embody the phrase cat burglar. They love to steal things and are highly adept at swiping human belongings and hiding them forever.
Bengals are natural predators and should eat a meat-based diet. They need food high in quality animal protein to support their generous size and elevated activity level. Contrary to widespread belief, These tykes do not have different dietary needs than other domestic feline breeds. Like every feline, they are obligate carnivores and do their best on high-quality foods made with meats like beef, chicken, fish, lamb, and turkey.
Though they may enjoy fruits and vegetables as an occasional treat, feeding these kitties a plant-based diet is not a good idea. They should get everything they need from high-quality cat food. Make sure to provide kitten-formulated food to them for the first six months to a year after nursing. Growing kittens have different needs than adult and senior cats.
Some veterinarians and breeders will recommend a raw diet for this breed. If owners choose to feed their cats a raw diet, they should consult their veterinarian before making such a change. This can be an incredibly healthy choice for a feline. However, owners need to ensure that they provide all the essential vitamins, nutrients, and minerals needed. Simply feeding a cat a diet of raw meat alone will not be enough to sustain them. However, adding raw meat as a treat once or twice a week is a tasty, healthy supplement for the Bengal cat.
Always avoid low-budget cat foods and those that use a lot of filler ingredients and meat substitutes. Also, watch out for animal by-products used in place of high-quality animal proteins. A high-quality, well-balanced diet is one of the most essential building blocks to lifelong health, and feline owners should always feed their Bengal cat the best food possible.
This breed is incredibly intelligent, full of energy, and known to have a high prey drive. They are extremely affectionate, and some can even be clingy. As with most highly intelligent, energetic feline breeds, training must start young. Simple things like litter box training and socialization with other cats in their litter, humans, and other animals like dogs should begin when they are a few weeks old.
Bengals can easily be trained to do tricks, play games, and much more. While highly intelligent, they can also be very independent with a stubborn streak. Owners need to set and stick to firm boundaries with this breed. Remember, they take longer to mature than some other felines and will try to test boundaries even after they reach one or two years old.
All cats should be trained in some basic behaviors, including:
- Not to scratch furniture
- Do not urinate outside of the litter box
- No biting other pets or people
- Do not scratch people
On average, pet leopards have a lifespan of 9 to 15 or 16 years. With proper nutrition and care, they can live long, healthy lives. Overall, this is a healthy breed of feline, though they can be prone to some common feline health issues throughout their lives. We highly recommend finding a pet insurance policy for your Bengal to help offset costs. Reputable breeders will invest time and money to screen for genetic defects and serious diseases. Bengals can be at risk for:
- Heart disease, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a condition in which the heart muscle thickens, resulting in congestive heart failure, blood clots, and other serious issues.
- Bengals are at risk for eye disease, including progressive retinal atrophy, a progressive retina deterioration that causes blindness.
- This breed also is extremely sensitive to chemicals used in anesthesia. Extra special care should always be taken whenever they need to be under anesthesia. An allergic reaction can be quite severe, even causing cardiac arrest.
- This breed is at substantial risk for feline lower urinary tract disease. This diagnosis describes several urinary tract conditions, including infection, bladder stones, and idiopathic cystitis. These are incredibly painful conditions that can be common among Bengal cats. In many cases, these urinary tract issues are caused by anxiety and stress. These kitties are also at risk of kidney disease, including chronic renal failure.
- In some cases, Bengals have a sensitive stomach and can suffer from upset stomach, gastrointestinal distress, and pain. They are also prone to pancreatitis and some cancers like lymphosarcoma, a cancer of the lymphoid tissues.
- Bengals can also experience arthritis and joint problems like patellar luxation. As well as with other large feline breeds, they may suffer from hip or elbow dysplasia.
- Hypothyroidism is a condition the Bengal cat may develop, usually in their older years. Sometimes this condition can be a sign that there may be a tumor on or near the thyroid. Additionally, this breed may develop type 2 diabetes as they age, particularly if they are overweight.
- Many feline breeds suffer from allergies, and the pet leopard is no exception. Allergens can include plants, chemicals, fleas, mites, and ingredients found in food. Human foods should not be fed to a kitty unless explicitly prepared for their consumption, as many ingredients we use to season and flavor are toxic or will cause an allergic reaction in felines.
The Bengal is one of the priciest cat breeds around. A high-quality bloodline for a pet kitten can cost anywhere from $1,500 to over $3,000 from a reputable, responsible breeder. Adoption from a shelter will be less expensive and can cost anywhere from $75 to $150. Adopting an older cat instead of a kitten is also a less costly option. While it is unusual for such a high-priced, exotic, highly sought-after breed to show up in shelters and rescues, it does happen. In some cases, this is because owners adopt one of these unique breeds, not realizing how much work they will be. Cats intended for breeding will be much higher, with a price tag of $3,500 to over $5,000.
Always look for a reputable breeder. The lowest price is not always the best option. Higher prices go into better care, more genetic testing, and a higher-quality animal. Ask your veterinarian, or check with the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) for breeders. Look at local shelters and the National Animal Humane Society for reputable rescues and shelters.
Owners can expect to spend about $500 to $1000 to get their Bengal set up at home. Supplies will include beds, collars, leashes, toys, blankets, treats, crates, kitty towers, and more. Additionally, in the first year of a kitten’s life, they will require several vet visits to complete vaccinations and have a spay or neuter procedure. After the first year, owners will not need to spend as much on veterinary care but should expect to take their kitty to the vet at least twice a year for vaccinations and checkups.
The Bengal is an exotic, highly sought-after feline breed. However, some custom-made mixed breeds with these pet leopards create quite remarkable felines. These include:
- The Bengal Maine Coon mix is a crossbreed between the mighty Maine Coon and the glorious Bengal. This crossbreed creates a lovable, wild-looking, rugged cat with a long bushy coat that looks like a small leopard. Coat colors and patterns can vary, as the Maine Coon also carries mixed genes. These kitties are incredibly intelligent, very playful, and quite large.
- A Serengeti is a cross between an Oriental Shorthair and a Bengal cat. These cats are bred to resemble a Serval wildcat, with the lovable temperament of a domestic feline. These kitties are highly energetic, very physically adept, and amazing athletes.
- The Toyger Is a gorgeous-looking mixed feline that looks like a miniature tiger. This cross between a Bengal and a Domestic Shorthair tabby creates an impeccable looking, intelligent, highly desirable feline companion.
- A Bengal Siamese mix is one of the most stunning-looking felines one will ever see. These cats are quite intelligent, very loving, and absolutely exquisite looking. They make for a wonderful pet and are always a conversation starter.
- The Bengdoll, or Bengal Ragdoll mix, is a large, fluffy, floppy cat that looks like a long-haired mini leopard. This mix is an incredibly affectionate, well-natured, docile kitty.
- A Bengal Savannah mix is one of the rarest crossbreeds around. Known for crazy high jumps, this breed is sure to impress.
There are several more mixed breeds with the Bengal. Some are relatively rare, and all are incredibly beautiful and exotic looking. Bengals can be crossbred with just about any other domestic feline to create a highly affectionate, intelligent, athletic, and loyal feline breed. Many breeders will specialize in mixes. The owners will need to do some research and be willing to wait if they want a rare crossbreed. Mixes are often healthier and live longer than their parent breeds, so though they are a huge investment, these pet leopard mixes are well worth every penny.
As Family Pets
Bengals make a wonderful family pet for the right owners. They do well with families and small children, though they require a lot of attention and supervision. When in homes with other small animals, it is best to socialize these kitties relatively young and ensure all animals kept in enclosures and terrariums have the lids on tight. Pet leopards are fiercely loyal, highly energetic, and need constant stimulation. They are not a good breed for first-time feline owners or those who are gone for lengthy periods of time.
These kitties do not do well being left home alone all day. They can get quite destructive and exhibit aggressive behavior if they do not have enough room or opportunity to get physical exercise. Because they are so high energy, they need owners who have time every day to spend with them playing and getting highly active exercise. This breed remains high-energy and enthusiastic throughout their lives, and their kitten-like ways do not fade with time. These big, wild-looking felines make excellent companions in homes with understanding owners who are happy to have a constant companion.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Bengal cats hybrids?
Bengals are hybrids. They were developed by crossbreeding wild Asian leopard cats with domestic felines. Most that are kept as pets are fifth-generation or more and are far removed from their wild cat predecessors. However, these kitties are one of the few genuine hybrid animals that exist.
Can Bengal cats go outside?
Pet leopards can go outside but should be kept on a leash and closely supervised at all times. Never leave this breed alone outside. They have a high prey drive and natural instinct to hunt. These kitties are incredibly smart and known for finding clever hiding spots. If left outside, they will survive. However, they will be very detrimental to the natural wildlife and will hunt small birds, rodents, and other small domestic animals that they encounter.
Are Bengal cats hypoallergenic?
This breed is hypoallergenic. They shed much less than many other breeds and spread far less of the allergy-provoking protein that triggers unpleasant symptoms in humans.
Can Bengal cats eat raw meat?
Yes, Bengals can eat raw meat. In the wild, a feline’s diet consists of raw meat, so their systems are perfectly adept at digesting this street. A raw diet for this kitty is sometimes a desirable choice. Always discuss this with your vet before making the switch. Raw meat of high-quality cut into bite-sized pieces can be served as a treat or mixed in with cat food to supplement their nutrition.
Are Bengal cats illegal?
Bengals are banned or under strict restriction in some places, including several states in the United States. First-generation offspring are not allowed to be kept as pets in most places. However, fifth-generation and lower are generally not restricted. Some areas like Hawaii ban ownership of Bengals in any generation. Make sure to check with your state and local ordinance if you are concerned that owning a Bengal might be restricted or banned in your area.
Bengals, or pet leopards, are exquisite, exotic-looking, hybrid felines. These glorious cats make lovely family pets though they require a lot of attention. Their magnificent coats are not high maintenance. However, these kitties are high-energy and extremely intelligent, meaning they need a lot of physical and mental stimulation. These pet leopards are known to be affectionate, loyal, and incredibly social companions. They love to spend time with humans and do well with other animals and small children if they have been trained appropriately. This is an incredibly popular breed and highly sought after. They are also one of the most expensive feline breeds out there, and for a good reason. Anyone looking to adopt a Bengal should make sure to do their research and have plenty of resources ready before they bring one of these feisty kittens home.