The Bengal is a domestic cat that has physical features distinctive to the small forest-dwelling wildcats, and with the loving, dependable temperament of a family pet. As such, some characteristics in the appearance of the Bengal are distinct from those found in other domestic cat breeds.
The Bengal may look like a wild cat, but some say this breed is as lovably friendly as any domestic cat. Full of life and very people-oriented, Bengals are playful, gregarious, energetic cats with a generous dose of feline curiosity. Fans of the Bengal rave about their personality and playful antics. Bengals form strong bonds of love and loyalty with their families, and become faithful, affectionate, fun-loving friends, provided you meet them halfway and give them the love they need in return. Athletic and agile, Bengals love to climb and will gravitate toward the highest point in any room. Bengals are often great sources of entertainment. One of the main characteristics that make them so special as companions is their intelligence. It’s not surprising Bengals are sharp as furry tacks since surviving in the jungle takes wit as well lightning reflexes. Bengals learn very quickly, and enjoy learning new behaviors. In fact, they may learn tricks you’d rather they didn’t, such as turning on and off light switches, opening doors, and flushing toilets. The curious Bengal may get into everything, and changes in the home often provoke a quick response from the Bengal. Open a cupboard and your Bengal may dive in for a look-see, and will rearrange the contents if they’re not up to his standards. Because of the leopard cat’s habit of eliminating in water to hide their scent from larger predators, some Bengals learn to use the toilet. Like their wild relatives, Bengals relish their freedom; they dislike being held or restrained. This isn’t unique to Bengals but to most very active breeds. Bengals often love water, particularly if it’s running. Some only dip an occasional paw under the faucet, while others may try to go for a romp in the tub or shower—as long as it’s their idea. Some report that their cats’ fascination with water borders on obsession, and steps must be taken to keep floods to a minimum; Bengal owners quickly learn to keep the toilet lid down.
The Bengal breed originated as a hybrid of a domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) and a leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). The leopard cat looks very much like a domestic cat, except for the larger, snapping eyes, pronounced whisker pads, longer legs, and brilliant leopard-style markings. It looks, in fact, like a miniature leopard. The Bengal breed began when a female leopard cat was purchased from a pet store. Unlike today, at the time leopard cats could be purchased at pet stores in the United States. This is no longer the case due these cat’s special needs and state requirements. The intent of purchasing the leopard cat was not to create a new breed of cat, the individual, Jean Mill, simply wanted a unique pet. After several years, Mill thought her little leopard cat looked lonely, so she obtained male domestic cat to keep her company. While completely unintended and to her surprise, in 1965, her leopard cat produced a litter. Only one kitten survived, a female hybrid named Kin-Kin. Mill contacted Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, for advice on how to handle the hybrid, and was told that Kin-Kin was probably sterile. That proved to be not the case, since Kin-Kin grew up, mixed with her domestic father, and produced two kittens. One of the kittens inherited the sweet domestic disposition of his father. After some consideration, Mill decided that creating a crossbred breed would benefit the plight of the leopard cats, while providing the American market with an acceptable and domesticated spotted substitute. And she set about trying to do just that. Later, it was learned that only after the cats were four generations away from the leopard cat that the Bengal’s temperament became more predictably domestic. Still, many obstacles had to be overcome along the way. The first hybrid kittens (first generation cats are called F1s) often grew up to be nervous, shy cats similar to their wild relatives. Only after the cats were several generations away from the leopard cat that the temperament became sweet and predictable. Another factor that slowed the breed’s progress was that for several generations the breed could only develop via the female kittens born, since the male kittens are sterile, as is true of many hybrids. Second generation males (F2s) are sterile as well, and only about 50% of the third generation males (F3s) are fertile. In 1985, she had sufficient generations who have become today’s Bengal. Current standards require that Bengals must be at least four generations (F4 or more) to ensure a mild, docile temperament and a happy, healthy pet cat. All associations other than the CFA have fully accepted the Bengal. Bengals have proven to their satisfaction that the they are fully domestic in temperament and no danger to anyone in the household. Today, the exotic look and lively personality have won the Bengal an enthusiastic following.