The Bengal is a relatively new companion breed. It was created by crossing a domestic cat with a wild Asian Leopard Cat, with the goal being to transfer the wild cat's exotic markings to a new, tame domestic breed. Today's Bengals are long, sleek and muscular cats of medium size. They come in a number of different coat colors and patterns. All Bengals have spots, marbling and/or swirls, and many look remarkably like a tiny wild leopard. Bengal kittens are usually born with a fairly coarse, camouflage-patterned coat, which gradually changes to the adult color and characteristics. It can take up to one year for the mature leopard pattern to develop. It is preferred that Bengals have large spots arranged randomly in a horizontal flow, eventually developing into beautiful, peacock-like rosettes.
Crosses between wild cats and domestic cats have been attempted since the 1800's, if not earlier. The first outcross behind the Bengal occurred in 1963. It was orchestrated by an American geneticist named Jean Mill-Sugden. She crossed a domestic male with a wild female Asian Leopard Cat – a breed that was and remains indigenous to southeastern Asia. The mating produced only one kitten – a female named "Kinkin" – who ended up being fostered by the mother of a purely domestic litter. Kinkin eventually was bred back to her father, producing several spotted offspring.
However, a successful and consistently reproducing pure Bengal breed was not established in America until the 1980's. In 1981, Ms. Mill-Sugden and another geneticist, Dr. Willard Centerwall, began a serious breeding program to develop the domestic Bengal breed. Crossing domestic cats with wild cats was and still is controversial. Acceptance of the Bengal required its breeders to breed out most of its wild tendencies and develop a cat that reliably reproduced in terms of temperament and type. The first generation, or F1, cats produced from one wild and one domestic parent were often unpredictable and inconsistent in physique. However, thoughtful, well-planned crosses, re-crosses and outcrosses eventually created a breed unique among domestic cats. That is today's Bengal.
A breed standard for the Bengal was published in 1988. Today, this breed has a large number of enthusiasts and devotees around the world, although it has not yet been officially recognized by the American Cat Fanciers' Association.
The Bengal is a healthy, vigorous breed, with an average lifespan of about 15 or more years. There are no widely reported health concerns in this breed. The Bengal's so recent wild ancestors crossed with completely unrelated domestic cats give it a particular health boost, called "hybrid vigor."
These beautiful, exotic and playful animals should have the disposition of a loving house cat, with the coloring and markings of a wild leopard. A sound temperament, without overt aggression, is essential in the domestic Bengal breed, given the closeness of its truly wild ancestors. Bengals are naturally inquisitive. They love to cuddle. Bengals are typically extremely affectionate and devoted to all members of their home. They can be wonderful pets, especially if children, other cats and dogs are already established in the household when the Bengal is introduced. The Bengal has a wide range of vocal sounds and frequently communicates through unusual but pleasing chirps, trills and cooing.
Bengals are muscular, energetic, athletic animals that usually enjoy playing in water. They are one of the few cat breeds that seem to really enjoy being walked on a leash around the neighborhood. Domestic Bengals are almost always indoor cats, as their close wild ancestry does not make them particularly suitable for an outdoor, free-roaming lifestyle. These active cats require a constant influx of activities and distractions, including new toys and rotation of climbing trees and scratching posts, to keep them occupied.
The Bengal's unusual range of vocalization is distinct among companion cats and is one of the remaining attributes of its wild Asian Leopard Cat ancestry. Because Bengals are genetically so close to a wild feline, this breed should be kept indoors and managed very conscientiously. Owners of Bengals need to ensure that their cats have a stimulating living environment and receive plenty of attention, to keep them from becoming bored and potentially destructive.
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