The Bengal is a hybrid breed of domestic cat. Bengals result from crossing a domestic feline with an Asian leopard cat (ALC), Prionailurus bengalensis bengalensis.
The Bengal cat has a desirable "wild" appearance with large spots, rosettes, and a light/white belly, and a body structure reminiscent of the ALC. The Bengal possesses a gentle domestic cat temperament, if separated by at least four generations from the original crossing between a domestic feline and an ALC.
The name "Bengal cat" was derived from the taxonomic name of the Asian leopard cat (P. b. bengalensis), and not from the more distantly related Bengal tiger.
The earliest mention of an ALC/domestic cross was in 1889, when Harrison Weir wrote in Our Cats and All About Them.
However in 1927, Mr Boden-Kloss wrote to the magazine Cat Gossip regarding hybrids between wild and domestic cats in Malaya.
I have never heard of hybrids between bengalensis (the Leopard Cat) and domestic cats. One of the wild tribes of the Malay Peninsula has domesticated cats, and I have seen the woman suckling bengalensis kittens, but I do not know whether the latter survive and breed with the others!
The earliest mention of a confirmed ALC/domestic cross was in 1934 in a Belgian scientific journal, and in 1941, a Japanese cat publication printed an article about one that was kept as a pet. Jean Mill (née Sugden), the person who was later a great influence of the development of the modern Bengal breed, submitted a term paper for her genetics class at UC Davis on the subject of crossbreeding cats in 1946.
Greg and Elizabeth Kent were also early breeders, who developed their own line of Bengals using ALCs and Egyptian Maus. This was a very successful line and many modern Bengals will find it in their pedigree.
Although it has become a popular breed, with over 60,000 cats registered with TICA, not all cat registries accept them; in particular, the Cat Fanciers' Association, one of the largest cat registries in the world, does not accept any hybrids.
The British government agency, DEFRA, has proposed revising regulations under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 to remove licensing requirements for keeping of Bengal cats in the United Kingdom.
Currently, several varieties of domestic cat are being developed from the Bengal:
The Serengeti cat is developed from crosses with Oriental Shorthair or Siamese, with the aim to produce a domestic cat mimicking the appearance of an African serval, without actually incorporating serval genes by hybridization.
The Savannah does include serval genes. The Toyger is developed from crosses with domestic cats with the aim to produce a striped "toy tiger".
The Cheetoh is an attempt to blend two existing domestic breeds of spotted cats with defined characteristics (Bengal and Ocicat), into a third breed. They are only recognized by The International Cat Association.
Bengal cats have "wild-looking" markings, such as large spots, rosettes, and a light/white belly, and a body structure reminiscent of the leopard cat. A Bengal's rosetted spots occur only on the back and sides, with stripes elsewhere.
The breed typically also features "mascara" (horizontal striping alongside the eyes), and foreleg striping.
The Bengal cat is usually either classed as brown-spotted or snow-spotted (although there are more colours, brown and snow are the only colours of Bengal that the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (UK) recognize). Within brown Bengals, there are either marble or spotted markings. Included in the spotted variation is rosetted, which consists of a spot with a dark line surrounding it. Snow Bengals are also either marble or spotted, but are also divided into blue-eyed or Any Other Colour eyes.
The International Cat Association recognizes several Bengal colours (brown, seal lynx point, mink, sepia, silver) and patterns (spotted and
marbled) for competition. In the New Traits class, other colours may be shown, as well as longhairs.
Temperament and health
After three generations from the original crossing, the breed usually acquires a gentle domestic cat temperament; however, for the typical pet owner, a Bengal cat kept as a pet should be at least four generations (F4) removed from the leopard cat. The so-called "foundation cats" from the first three filial generations of breeding (F1–F3) are usually reserved for breeding purposes or the specialty pet home environment.
Since the late 1960s—when the Bengal cat was developed through hybridization of Asian Leopard cats and domestic cats—it has gained huge popularity.
However, in recent years, a novel early-onset autosomal recessive disorder was described in this breed. This disease appears to be an early-onset primary photoreceptor disorder, leading to blindness within the first year of age.