The Bengal stands out among cats for its lush, dense, and remarkably soft coat with its distinctive leopard-like spots, reminiscent of its larger ancestors living in the wild. These intelligent, curious cats are highly active, love climbing to high places, going for walks on a leash and are generally a ball (of yarn) to live with.
The Bengal cat breed is the only successful pairing of a wild cat with a domestic cat registered with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy. There is some anecdotal evidence that pairings of the Asian leopard cat with domestic cats had been attempted prior to the 1960’s. But, it was only when amateur breeder Jean S. Mill began the Bengal breeding program in 1963, that later resulted in the Bengal breed we know today. Interestingly, most Bengals today descend from cats bred by her in the early 1980s.
The story began when Jean crossed a domestic cat with a beautifully spotted, shy wild cat species from Asia, an Asian leopard cat. The Californian had acquired the leopard cat and allowed her to befriend a black tom so she wouldn’t be lonely. Since the breeds were so different, Jean wasn’t expecting the two to become mates, and was surprised when a litter of kittens was born. She kept a spotted female, breeding her back to her father, which produced a litter of spotted and solid kittens, which though delightful had not quite met the idea she had for the perfect Bengal.
At about the same time, Dr. Willard Centerwall was crossing Asian leopard cats with domestic cats at Loyola University for research. It turns out that the leopard cats were resistant to the feline leukemia virus, so researchers were interested in finding out if the trait could be passed on to hybrid offspring.
Jean then acquired some of Dr. Centerwall’s hybrids and sought out suitable males to breed with them. One was an orange domestic shorthair that she found in India, and the other was a brown spotted tabby acquired from a shelter, these kittens fulfilled Jean’s goal of creating a docile, civilised house cat sporting the striking, patterned coat of wild jungle cats like Leopards, Ocelots and Jaguars.
The Bengal cat was officially named in 1974 by Bill Engler, as a reference to the scientific name of their forefathers, the Asian Leopard Cat – Prionailurus bengalensis. In a fun bit of irony, Bengal serves as a homonym to Mr.Engler’s Initial and surname, B.Engle. The International Cat Association recognised Bengals in 1991.
These are some cute and clever cats. They can be trained to walk on a leash and learn a variety of tricks, but their intelligence also means they’re very aware of their independence and will tell you (loudly) what they think, most of the time, expecting you to pay close attention. Siamese cats adore their owners and will follow them around closely, observing every move. They’re very much lap cats and at night will probably want to be in bed with you, comfy under the covers.
Siamese are also agile, athletic and love to play. You can keep them stimulated and entertained with puzzle and teaser toys, and big cat trees for climbing. Just be sure to leave them with something to busy themselves with, as boredom can turn to mildly destructive behaviour.
As affectionate cats, they require lots of attention and play time with their owners. A Siamese cat is ideal if you’re the type who looks forward to spending time and interacting with your cat.
You’ll need to give your Bengal plenty of play time, as intelligent and savvy creatures they need lots of challenging, action-filled interactions to keep them out boredom and trouble. These energetic felines love to jump and climb to high-up locations, so you might want to consider keeping breakable objects out of harm’s way and off of open shelves and acquiring tall cat trees and window perches.
While every cat is an individual, most Bengals get along with other pets, including dogs. And as for grooming, they have short coats that are easy to care for with weekly brushing and as a bonus, your Bengal will love the attention!
If you want a cat companion that’s 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 socialised)
Then this is the breed for you. And if you’re serious about becoming a Bengal owner, consider contacting some local shelters and enquiring whether there are any that require forever homes.