Bengals are all the rage in the cat community due to their gorgeous, exotic pelts and entrancing personalities.
Like many specialty breeds, Bengals have their own distinct characteristics as well as genetic history. A cat as special as a Bengal doesn’t come from just anywhere, after all – the Bengals we know and love today are the result of many generations of careful breeding.
So, just what makes a Bengal’s genes so special? There are a number of factors that go into answering this question.
Keep reading to learn all the basics on the history of Bengals and the steps that gave us these tiny household leopards as they exist today.
The Very First Bengal Cat
Though Bengals have only become popular as household pets in recent years, the first instance of a Bengal cat existed over 100 years ago, in 1889.
This unique cat didn’t just drop out of the sky, however – the Bengal was created by breeding a male domestic cat with a female Asian leopard cat. It took many years for another breeder to attempt creating more Bengals.
Jean Mill, the creator of the modern Bengal, had previously been involved in conservation efforts directed at preserving the Asian leopard cat breed. This beautiful creature had long been targeted by poachers who sold their pelts into the fur trade.
Mill realized that if people could have their very own household version of this enchanting cat, the fur trade might die down. In 1963, the renowned cat breeder crossed a black domestic tomcat with an Asian leopard cat, kickstarting the Bengal breed as we know it today.
Though Mill was not alone in her efforts, the creation of a family-friendly Bengal in particular can be credited to her.
Prior to Mill’s extensive breeding efforts, Bengals were wild and unruly, and therefore unsuitable as household pets. Mill bred Bengals past the F4 generation, making them more tame and friendly, and advocated for the breed extensively.
The International Cat Association (TICA) first accepted Bengals as a breed in 1983. Shortly afterward in 1991, Bengals gained championship status, which allowed owners to show Bengals professionally. Bengals quickly gained popularity, and as of 2019, there are over 1,000 Bengal breeders globally.
You might be asking yourself, what does “F4 generation” mean, and why does it matter to a Bengal owner today? Keep reading to find out more about different generations of Bengals, and how they are classified.
Bengal Cats and the Filial Scale
The Filial scale, or F scale, is a measure used to determine how far removed any given Bengal cat is from their Asian leopard cat ancestor. The closer the Bengal is to the first generation, the “wilder” it will be.
- F1 – 1st generation Bengal cat (female Asian Leopard Cat mated with male domestic cat)
- F2 – 2nd generation Bengal cat (F1 female parent mated with male domestic cat)
- F3 – 3rd generation Bengal cat(F2 female parent mated with male domestic cat)
- F4 – 4th generation Bengal cat(F3 female parent mated with male domestic cat)
- F5 – 5th generation Bengal cat(F4 parent mated with domestic cat)
In order to be a TICA (The International Cat Association) registered domestic Bengal, the cat in question must be at least an F4. That does not mean that any cat F1-F3 isn’t a Bengal; it simply means that these cats are not quite as genetically domesticated as their F4 and above relatives. F1-F3 male Bengals are also sterile, meaning that they cannot produce kittens. Only female F1-F3 Bengals are capable of reproduction.
An SBT (stud book tradition) Bengal is any Bengal that represents five consecutive generations of Bengal-to-Bengal breeding, making it a completely domesticated cat. Many Bengals that are available for purchase are classified as SBT Bengals, with just a small amount of Asian leopard cat blood in their genetics.
What Is It Like to Own Each Generation of Bengal?
So now we know exactly what each F-Scale rating means – but how does this affect a the behavior and care of a Bengal?
An F1 Bengal is the first generation of Bengal cat, parented by a domestic tomcat and an Asian leopard cat. This means she will be a relatively wild creature, with high energy levels. An F1 is also the most expensive type of Bengal, given the direct relation to their Asian leopard cat mother.
F2 Bengals are slightly more tame than previous generations but will still give any novice owner quite an adjustment period. One F2 owner I know has told me that his Bengal behaves more like a dog than a cat, and even likes to play fetch. An F2 Bengal is certainly a special pet!
F3 Bengals are a lot more similar to regular domestic cats than previous generations. Because they are further removed from Asian leopard cats, F3 Bengals take on more characteristics of their domestic lineage while maintaining their unique appearances.
Bengals are classified as SBT (stud book tradition) from generation F4 and onward. Since they are only one sixteenth Asian leopard cat, F4 Bengals make great house pets, especially for owners who are somewhat apprehensive about owning a Bengal.
The majority of casual owners are the proud parents of F5 Bengals, me included. F5 Bengals are very similar to regular house cats, the differences being in appearance, behavior, and temperament. F5s look just as wild as other generations of Bengals, and are more high energy than most cats, but are easily incorporated into a domestic setting.
Bengal Cat Size
Bengals are roughly the same size as regular house cats, with males weighing around ten to fifteen pounds, and females clocking in between eight and ten pounds. Some males can weigh as much as twenty pounds, though this is above average.
Bengals are very active cats, so it is unlikely that they will become overweight, but it is still important for owners to monitor their cat’s food intake to prevent weight related health problems.
Bengals have slightly different body types when compared to regular domestic cats. Bengals tend to have longer limbs and bodies, giving them a more athletic appearance.
When he is completely stretched out, my Bengal Winston measures a healthy three feet (yes, thirty-six inches) from end to end.
Their faces tend to be broader, with high cheekbones, wide, round eyes, and rounded ears. These features contribute to their “jungle cat” appearance – they really do look like wild creatures!
Bengal Cat Temperament
Many cat owners know that a cat’s love is earned, not given. The same goes for Bengal cats, but fortunately, they are a bit easier to win over than some other domestic felines.
Bengals have a certain set of expectations when they go about their daily lives, and as long as they are satisfied, they are pretty much the perfect pet.
Here are some of the more important points to keep in mind when considering your Bengal’s mood.
Feed on a Consistent Schedule
No one likes to be kept waiting for a meal, especially not Bengals. C
ats seem to have an internal clock that alerts them to exactly when they should be fed – though they sometimes prefer an early meal!
Making sure your Bengal is fed at the same time every day will keep both you and her happy. Cat owners around the world know the same familiar story; their kitten gets hungry at 4am, 5am, 6am…and she’ll make sure you know it!
When my Bengals know that it is mealtime, they take it upon themselves to inform me of this by meowing loudly until I set their dish down.
Some cat owners choose to free feed their pets for this reason, but without regulating their diet, cats can become obese and develop weight problems.
One solution to this is to use an interactive feeder, which forces the cat to engage with her food bowl and play around in order to be given food. Definitely a Bengal favorite!
Make Sure They Burn off Energy
The biggest complaint that novice Bengal owners make is that their cat is destructive and poorly behaved. The reason that a Bengal could display these behavioral problems is most likely an excess amount of energy. Bengals are extremely athletic and active cats, and just like any rambunctious child, need a way to disperse their energy. If a Bengal is sedentary for too long, she will inevitably become destructive.
There are many solutions to this problem. The first and most obvious solution is to give your Bengal lots of room to run around, and plenty of toys to interact with. Bengals especially love teaser and chaser toys and can spend many joy filled hours hunting their “prey.”
Another option is to adopt another cat. If you notice your Bengal growing moody and frustrated, it is probably because she is bored and lonely. As much as we love playing with our cats, nothing quite compares to two kittens romping around and play fighting to pass the time. Once two cats are thoroughly bonded, they will depend on each other for stimulation, as well as love, affection, and comfort. Two Bengals can be a handful, but for many owners, it is exactly the right thing to do.
Initially, I only planned to adopt my darling Bengal Charlie, but ultimately chose to bring both him and his brother home. Looking at our home life now, I can’t imagine what life would have been like without the Terrible Twosome running around and playing all day.
Regularly Check for Health Problems
Like any domestic cat, Bengals are susceptible to a number of health problems including heartworms, urinary tract infections, fleas, tapeworms, eye issues, you name it! Closely monitoring your Bengal’s physical state is crucial to keeping her happy and healthy. After all, she can’t exactly tell you “my paw is hurting” through meows!
As predators, cats are inclined to keep their injuries and physical ailments a secret so as not to show weakness. Because your Bengal might refrain from showing pain, it is very important to watch any changes in her behavior closely, and of course schedule regular vet visits. If your cat suddenly scratches and hisses at you seemingly out of nowhere, it probably isn’t because she has had a change of heart – she’s probably in pain and needs medical attention.
Bengals Show Affection in Unique Ways
Many Bengal owners claim that their cats aren’t “lap cats,” but this depends entirely upon the individual. Some Bengals love cuddling up to their owners, purring and grooming them – and others show their love by playing around, bringing them prey, and rubbing against their legs. Bengals are extremely loving creatures that tend to bond to whatever “pack” they are in, so don’t worry if she hasn’t curled up in your lap just yet. She’s probably figuring out how best to say, “I love you!”
The easiest way to get a Bengal to bond to you is to be her primary caretaker. If your Bengal knows that you are the one who feeds her on a regular basis, and gives her all of her favorite toys, she is bound to grow attached to you. Though they might not always show it, Bengals can’t help but feel grateful to their human companions.
Make Sure Their Environment is Clean
Cats are notorious neat freaks, and Bengals take this to the next level. They can be very picky about their living space, and if they think it isn’t up to their standards, they might act out. For this reason, it is incredibly important to regularly clean her litter box – or she might find somewhere else to do her business! These fastidious creatures keep a high standard of living, so make sure to keep her domain neat and tidy.
Conclusion – Is a Bengal Cat Right for Me?
Bengals are a rare and special breed of cat that deserve all of the love and attention they get – which they are happy to remind you of. Now that you are well equipped with knowledge about Bengal cat genetics and their typical behavior, do you think that a Bengal would make a good pet for you? Or, if you already own a Bengal, are some of her Filial traits more obvious to you than before? Leave a comment below!