A female Bengal Cat with tricolored rosettes and a clear coat.
|Foundation bloodstock||Egyptian Mau, Abyssinian, and others (domestic); Asian leopard cat (wild)|
|Feline hybrid (Felis catus × Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis)|
The Bengal cat is a domesticated cat breed created from hybrids of domestic cats, especially the spotted Egyptian Mau, with the Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). The breed name comes from the leopard cat's taxonomic name.
Bengals have a wild appearance; their golden shimmer comes from their leopard cat ancestry, and their coats may show spots, rosettes, arrowhead markings, or marbling. They are an energetic breed which needs much exercise and play.
The next recorded mention of an Asian Leopard Cat × domestic cat cross was in a 1924 Belgian scientific journal, and in 1941 a Japanese cat publication printed an article about one that was kept as a pet.
The early breeding efforts always stopped after just one or two generations. Jean Mill was the breeder who decided to make a domestic cat with a coat like a wild cat.
Bengals as a breed
Jean Mill of California is given credit for the modern Bengal breed. She had a degree in psychology from Pomona College and had taken several graduate classes in genetics at University of California, Davis.
She made the first known deliberate cross of an Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat (a black California tomcat). However, Bengals as a breed did not really begin in earnest until much later. In 1970, Mill resumed her breeding efforts and in 1975 she received a group of Bengal cats which had been bred for use in genetic testing at Loma Linda University by Willard Centerwall. Others also began breeding Bengals.
The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) was one of the last organizations to accept the Bengal cat into their registry. "The CFA board accepted the Bengal as Miscellaneous at the February 7, 2016 board meeting. In order for a Bengal cat to be registered with the CFA it must be F6 or later (6 generations removed from the Asian Leopard Cat or non-Bengal domestic cat ancestors)."
Early generation Bengal cat
Bengal cats from the first three filial generations of breeding (F1–F3) are considered "foundation cats" or "Early Generation" Bengals. The Early generation (F1–F3) males are frequently infertile. Therefore, female early generation Bengals of the F1, F2, and F3 are bred to fertile domestic Bengals. F1 hybrid Bengal females are fertile, thus they are used in subsequent, unidirectional back-cross matings to fertile domestic cat males. Some male Bengals produced viable sperm as early as the F2 back-cross generation: this is considered rare in the breeding communities, who regularly back-cross early generation females to late generation, fertile hybrid males.
To be considered a domestic Bengal cat by the major cat registries, a Bengal must be at least four generations (F4) or more from the Asian leopard cat.
The Bengal breed was more fully developed by the 1980s. "In 1992 The International Cat Association had 125 registered Bengal Breeders." By the 2000s, Bengals had become a very popular breed. In 2019, there are more than 1,000 Bengal breeders worldwide.
|Year||TICA registered Bengal Breeders|
* The 2019 number only represents the breeders who use the word "Bengals" in their cattery name.
Bengals come in a variety of coat colors. The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes several Bengal colors. Brown Spotted, Seal Lynx Point (snow), Sepia, silver, and Mink Spotted Tabby Bengals.
The Bengal cat is the only domestic breed of cat that has rosette markings.
People most often associate the Bengal with the most popular color: the Brown spotted/rosetted Bengal. However, Bengals have a wide variety of markings and colors. Even within the Brown spotted/rosetted category a Bengal can be: red, brown, black, ticked, grey, spotted, rosetted, clouded. Many people are stunned by the Bengal Cat's resemblance to a leopard. Among domestic cats, the Bengal markings are perhaps the most varied and unique.
Domestic cats have four distinct and heritable coat patterns – ticked, mackerel, blotched, and spotted – these are collectively referred to as tabby markings.
Christopher Kaelin, a Stanford University geneticist, has conducted research which has been used to identify the spotted gene and the marble gene in domestic Bengal cats. Kaelin studied the color and pattern variations of feral cats in Northern California, and was able to identify the gene responsible for the marble pattern in Bengal cats.
The Bengal is an average to large-sized, spotted cat breed. Bengals are long and lean. Bengals are larger than the average house cat because of their muscular bodies.
In the United States, legal restrictions may be in place in cities and states. In New York City and the state of Hawaii, Bengal cats are prohibited by law (as are all other hybrids of domestic and wild cat species). In various other places, such as Seattle, Washington, and Denver, Colorado, there are limits on Bengal ownership. Bengals of the F1-F4 generations are regulated in New York state, Georgia, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, and Indiana. Except where noted above, Bengal cats with a generation of F5 and beyond are considered domestic, and are generally legal.
Bengals were regulated in the United Kingdom, however the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs removed the previous licensing requirements in 2007.
In Australia F5 Bengals are not restricted, but their import is complex.
Bengal cats are smart, energetic and playful (though in some rare cases they may be quite lazy). Many Bengal owners say that their Bengal naturally retrieves items, and they often enjoy playing in water.
The International Cat Association (TICA) describes the Bengal cat as an active, inquisitive cat that loves to be up high. Most Bengals enjoy playing, chasing, climbing and investigating. In general, Bengals enjoy action. Bengals are generally confident and curious.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a major concern in the Bengal cat breed. This is a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). A thick heart muscle can make it harder for the cat's heart to pump blood. The only way to determine the suitability of Bengal cats meant for breeding is to have the cat's heart scanned by a cardiologist.
HCM is a common genetic disease in Bengal cats and there is no genetic testing available as of 2018. The current practice of screening for HCM involves bringing Bengal cats to a board certified veterinary cardiologist where an echocardiogram is completed. Bengal cats which are used for breeding should be screened annually to ensure that no hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is present. Currently North Carolina State University is attempting to identify genetic markers for HCM in the Bengal Cat.
One study published in the Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine has claimed the prevalence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bengal cats is 16.7% (95% CI = 13.2–46.5%).
Bengal progressive retinal atrophy (PRA-b)
Bengal cats are known to be affected by several genetic diseases, one of which is Bengal progressive retinal atrophy, also known as Bengal PRA or PRA-b. Anyone breeding Bengal cats should carry out this test, since it is inexpensive, noninvasive, and easy to perform. A breeder stating their cats are "veterinarian tested" should not be taken to mean that this test has been performed by a vet: it is carried out by the breeder, outside of a vet office (rarely, if ever, by a vet) The test is then sent directly to the laboratory.
Erythrocyte pyruvate kinase deficiency (PK-deficiency or PK-def)
PK deficiency is a common genetic diseases found in Bengal Cats. PK deficiency is another test that is administered by the breeder. Breeding Bengal Cats should be tested before breeding to ensure two PK deficiency carriers are not mated. This is a test that a breeder must do on their own. A breeder uses a cotton swab to rub the inside of the cat's mouth and then mails the swab to the laboratory.
Bengal blood type
The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory has studied domestic cat blood types. They conclude that most domestic cats fall within the AB system. The common blood types are A and B and some cats have the rare AB blood type. There is a lack of sufficient samples from Bengals, so the genetics of the AB blood group in Bengal cats is not well understood.
One Bengal blood type study which took place in the U.K tested 100 Bengal cats. They concluded that all 100 of the Bengal cats tested had type A blood.
Responsible Bengal breeding
Responsible Bengal breeders learn which recessive genes their breeding cats carry. The most pressing concerns when breeding Bengals are hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), progressive retinal atrophy and pyruvate kinase deficiency. Cat breeders must be aware of all current breed specific testing. Bengal breeders should do all available testing to ensure they are not breeding cats with health problems.
HCM screening is a topic which Bengal breeders may debate. HCM can develop in their Bengal cats at any point in time, including soon after annual HCM screening. It is best practice to screen all Bengal cats used in breeding programs: HCM screening by a cardiologist is the only useful test that exists for Bengals and Bengal breeders in 2019. Responsible and consistent screening makes the breed healthier as breeders seek to eliminate cats that screen positive for HCM.
Shedding and grooming
Bengals are often claimed by breeders and pet adoption agencies to be a hypoallergenic breed – one less likely to cause an allergic reaction. The Bengal cat is said to produce lower than average levels of allergens,[better source needed] though this has not been scientifically proven as of 2020.
Cat geneticist Leslie Lyons, who runs the University of Missouri's Feline and Comparative Genetics Laboratory, discounts such claims, observing that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat. Alleged hypoallergenic breeds thus may still produce a reaction among those who have severe allergies.
Cashmere Bengal (long-haired)
Some long-haired Bengals (more properly, semi-long-haired) have always occurred in Bengal breeding. Many different domestic cats were used to create the Bengal breed, and it is theorized that the gene for long hair came from one from these backcrossings. UC Davis has developed a genetic test for long hair so that Bengal breeders could select Bengal cats with a recessive long-hair gene for their breeding programs.
Some Bengal cats used in breeding can carry a recessive gene for long-haired. When a male and female Bengal each carry a copy of the recessive long hair gene, and those two Bengals are mated with each other, they can produce long-haired Bengals. (See Cat coat genetics#Genes involved in fur length and texture.) In the past, long-haired offspring of Bengal matings were spayed or neutered until some breeders chose to develop the long-haired Bengal (which they called a Cashmere Bengal)
Long-haired Bengals are generally not recognized by cat registries; however, since 2013, they have "preliminary" breed status in the New Zealand Cat Fancy (NZCF) registry, under the breed name Cashmere Bengal.
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- The International Bengal Cat Society
- Complete Bengal Cat History
- Bengal Cat Guide
- Bengal Genetics
- About the Bengal
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