The Bengal cat is one of the most exotic looking and beautiful of the domestic cat breeds. Whilst it is predominantly bred to look similar to the Asian Leopard Cat, the breed can also come in several other colours and patterns. It is commonly desired that Bengals have a wild look about them. This is frequently demonstrated with striped patterns on their faces and tales to mimic those of an Asian Leopard Cat, Serval or Savannah.
The UK recognises six Bengals types. These are brown spotted, brown marbled, blue-eyed-snow spotted, blue-eyed-snow marbled, any-other-colour(AOC)-eyed-snow spotted and AOC-eyed-snow marbled. Recently, however, silver spotted and silver marbled have also gained recognition. These are recessive traits though, so can only be produced when both parents are silver.
Spotted Bengals are far more common than marbled, and are characterised by small to medium sized spots all over their coats. It is thought for breeding or showing purposes that the larger and sparser spots are more desirable. These can form ‘rosette’ patterns which are large spots which only occur on the back and sides of the cat, with stripes elsewhere. Bengals are either brown spotted or white, or snow spotted. There have been further classifications such as silver spotted and silver marbled as well.
The ideal markings on a spotted Bengal will be even distribution of spots, small or large across the back and sides of the cat. Spots that have joined up to form lines, especially on the sides or belly of the cat, are considered undesirable in the breed. Bengals should have a white underbelly with spots evenly spread across, and a wild-looking face. They frequently have dark ears and tail tips.
Brown Bengals are solely classed as ‘brown’ but there can be a wide variety in colour types. These can range from sandy, light brown hues to the more orange or red, whilst still being classified as brown. There is also a very desirable trait on brown Bengals known as glittering, where the tips of each hair are a very light brown or gold shade. It is a very attractive effect.
Snow Bengals are born completely white, so it can be very difficult to determine how their markings will show through as they get older. Snow Bengals are far rarer than brown Bengals, and it can be more difficult to find them with well placed spots. Snow Bengals can have blue eyes, which is considered a very desirable trait.
There are several different types of marble patterning on Bengal coats. Marble is rarer than spotted and therefore can be considered more desirable. Tri-coloured marbling is where three colours are present in the pattern: the marble, the background and the centre. This is a very common marbling pattern. The more desirable, and rarer pattern is known as horizontal marbling, where the marks are not dissimilar to those on a boa constrictor. There are several banded marble patterns that run across the back and shoulder of the cat. A slight variation on the horizontal marbling is called chaos pattern, which is a random swirling of rosettes and marbles that run across the back and shoulders of the cat in a horizontal pattern. Whilst attractive, this is nowhere near as desirable as the horizontal marbling.
As snow Bengals are rarer than brown Bengals, and marbling is rarer than spotting, it is commonly accepted that a high quality snow marbled Bengal is extremely rare and desirable.
There are several other coat colours as well. Silver has been previously mentioned, but the darkest of the snow Bengals is known as seal, or seal sepia. Seal sepia Bengals often have very desirable golden eyes, but can also have brown or green eyes. Seal mink Bengals are not quite as dark as seal sepia, but are born with beige markings instead of the snow’s black or grey. When a snow Bengal has blue eyes, it is known as a seal lynx point. A seal mink Bengal is slightly darker, and will have typically aqua-marine eyes, but not blue. There are also blue spotted and marbled Bengals and melanistic Bengals. Melanistic Bengals are classified as black cats in the UK, but they have unusual spotted patterns that can often only be seen in certain lights. The melanistic form of a silver Bengal is known as a silver smoke Bengal.
A rarer and undesirable colour trait is known as locket, whereby there are present one or many white spots on the coats. It is most commonly found on the throat or under the forelegs.
Bengals can have several different eye colours. Typically, blue eyes are only found in snow Bengals, but there have been exceptions. There are also green eyes, brown eyes, and aqua-marine eyes.
As a relatively young breed, up until recently there has only been one recognised coat type in Bengals. Bengals are typically short-haired, and as mentioned above can come in a range of colours. Recently, however, breeders have begun breeding two parents with a long-haired gene present. This has resulted in a variant of the breed with a long coat, previously unseen in Bengals. This has been classified as a Cashmere Bengal, though in shows they are not yet recognised for Championship status.
Bengal coats should be smooth and shiny, but they do frequently moult, and this can be year-round. Regular grooming can keep this in check, but it will not fully prevent shedding.
In the UK, it is desirable to only have snow or brown Bengals. Whilst silver is now TICA recognised, this has only very recently come about. The breed is still very much developing, and it is likely that in the next decade or so, blue Bengals will also be recognised in the UK as they have been shown to more frequently carry the gene responsible for the glittering effect. Bengals are a beautiful breed of cat and are gaining popularity in the UK and worldwide due to their good temperament and exotic appearance. As the breed improves it is likely their popularity will increase as well.