The Bengal is a hybrid breed; that is, it was created by crossing domestic cats with wild cats, in this case the Asian Leopard Cat. Bengals were developed in the USA in the 1970s, using ordinary domestic cats and Egyptian Maus, and trying develop a cat which looked like a wild cat, but with a gentle and friendly nature, so suitable for a pet. But the early Bengals were not really domesticated, and it took a long time for the breed to be accepted and for the cats to start behaving like domestic cats. The fear that these cats are really wild still persists in the public imagination, and despite their ever increasing popularity, many people still do not really trust them. So what are these beautiful cats like? Are they really domesticated, and can they be trusted? And do they make good family pets? Here we take a look at the usual characteristics of the Bengal.
Bengals are an extremely active breed. They are also very intelligent, perhaps due to their ancestors' requirements when living in the wild. Add these two things together, and you may have a recipe for a troublemaker! While some Bengals are well behaved, some owners find that nothing will keep a Bengal contented for very long. They are forever getting bored and running around looking for trouble. Being super-intelligent cats, they can manage to open doors, and some can even switch lights on and off. Bengals kept as indoor only cats may also try to escape just for the fun of it, and companies fitting escape-proof fences for gardens know that they have to be especially careful if the fence is to successfully contain a Bengal; when I had an escape proof fence fitted, I was asked just this question.
Despite the above, most owners claim that Bengals do relax sometimes. Perhaps fortunately for those who own them, the other side of Bengal behaviour is that for a lot of the time they go to completely the other extreme and become total lap cats. They lie down and roll with their feet in the air, they head butt their owners and purr happily, then curl up on a lap and fall asleep. What more could you want from any cat? They are genuinely affectionate, and love to lie next to their owners at night, often sleeping with them until morning. They really are very gentle and loving cats.
One of the most common pieces of cat folklore involves the Bengal's liking for water. Bengals have sometimes been said to like to play in water and even to enjoy going for a swim! Actually, not many Bengals do this, so if you want a swimming cat, perhaps you should get Turkish Van, which is always known as the 'Swimming Cat'. Bengals are rather fond of water, but they want to play with it rather than in it. This means that they will sometimes play with their water before drinking it, which some people say is rather like what wild Asian Leopard Cats will do when they approaching a pond in the wild. They may also play with mugs or bowls of water if they have the opportunity, and many of them love to play with the water in a bath or shower. Indeed, for Bengals, water is just another toy.
Bengals are very vocal cats. They do not yowl in the way of Siamese, but have a voice that is very different from that of the normal domestic cat. It is more akin to a yelp, and can even sometimes sound more like a chirrup. And Bengals are extremely chatty cats. Sometimes they miaow when they want something - food, toys, water, strokes, anything. Other times, however, they just miaow to let you know how their day is going, and to have a conversation with you. At the other end of the spectrum, Bengal purrs include all sorts of different sounds. Indeed, they have a very wide vocabulary, which they assume their owner will understand – and most keen owners eventually do learn to comprehend at least some of the Bengal language!
Perhaps due to their wild heritage, Bengals can be a very territorial breed. For this reason, you will need to be careful if you want to have them as part of a multi-cat household which includes cats other than Bengals. Some people say you will be fine if you have other cats living in the home before you get a Bengal, but later introductions could be difficult. However, a friend of mine found that her new Bengal simply would not tolerate other cats at all, although of course, there are always individual cats for which this is the case. But some breeders say that modern-day Bengals will get on well with all other animals, and this may well be the case. You simply need to take care. Also, bear in mind that Bengals do not generally like big changes in the home, whether due to the addition of a new family member or for some other reason. So you should always have somewhere that they can hide if they feel stressed. a box, a high shelf, or a special cat house,
The above should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from a Bengal. But it is important to remember than all cats are individuals, and not all behave as the experts tell you they will! So your Bengal may be unlike any of this – it could hate water, very rarely talk to you, and have no idea of territorial issues. This is the case with all cats of course, and it is their individuality which is a part of their charm. So if you decide that a Bengal is the cat for you, do bear all of this in mind.