Now ranking as one of the most popular breeds in the world, the Bengal is actually a relatively newcomer on the cat scene, and has an unusual ancestry. It was the first breed created through hybridisation, as the result of cross-breeding between domestic cats and the Asian leopard Asian leopard cat Felis bengalensiscat (Felis bengalensis),

Its development began as the result of a genetic experiment to investigate feline leukaemia, back in the 1950s. The first serious attempt to transfer the attractive and very distinctive spotted patterning of the Asian leopard cat and create a new domestic breed then followed in 1963.


A geneticist called Jean Sugden used a female leopard cat which she mated with an ordinary domestic cat, acquired from a rescue shelter. They produced one kitten, who was called Kin-kin, and fostered to a litter of domestic cats. When mated back to her father in due course, there were both spotted and plain-colored kittens in her litter. This confirmed the coat patterning had been transferred successively.

It was not until the 1970s that the breeding programme really expanded, using a group of eight hybrid cats from the University of California. The breed, whose name now commemorates the scientific name of its wild cat ancestor, was exhibited for the first time in the US during the 1980s, and started to be seen in Europe by the end of the decade.

Mating of two similar species together can give rise to hybrid offspring, but often, as was shown in this case, litter sizes are initially often much smaller than normal. In addition, the early Bengal males proved to be infertile, which meant that to develop the strain, it was necessary to use domestic tom cats, to mate with the hybrid females. These problems have now been overcome, and Bengals are now simply paired together.


After the initial cross was made, so all subsequent pairings have involved only hybrids or domestic cats. Apart from non-pedigrees, Abyssinians and Burmese also contributed to the Bengal’s early ancestry. Breeders have since concentrated on shaping the personality of Bengal.

In the early days, the hybrids displayed obvious patterns of wild cat behaviour, particularly in terms of being shy and less friendly than ordinary cats. Since then though, great emphasis has been placed on ensuring that the Bengal has developing into an outgoing, friendly cat.

Did you know?

Bengals are cats which often display a fascination with water. It is thought that this interest is inherited from their wild ancestor, which is usually found close to water, and may even hunt in streams and pools.

The appeal of the Bengal

Beautiful coat patterning
Available in an increasing range of colors
Agrees well with other cats and dogs
Lively and inquisitive by nature
Very playful

Particular points to consider

Active and need plenty of space
Larger than most other breeds
Not especially cuddly as companions
Can be vulnerable to kidney disease


Their coats are usually slightly longer on average than those of adults, with their spotting and stripes being less apparent as a result, until they are about four months old. The coat will not feel as soft either, at this early age.

It can take up to a year for the full depth of the Bengal’s coloration to emerge. Regular handling from kittenhood onwards is very important to ensure these cats will be fearful when being judged.

Read more about taming Bengal kittens here.


Basic type: Shorthaired, with a very dense coat. Solidly-built and muscular, being a powerful cat.

Size: Large.

Colours: A increasing range is being developed. More traditional varieties now include sorrel, which typically has an orange ground color with darker brown spotting, and mink, with black on a mahogany background. Crosses involving Siamese have creating striking snow varieties, with lighter-colored coats. Both spotted and striped patterning is recognised in the breed, for show purposes.

Coat: Decidedly smooth, with a soft, silky texture.

Body: Long and creates an impression of strength, with the legs being well-boned and having large, round paws. The front legs are shorter than the hindlegs.

Tail: Medium in length, sturdy and with a rounded tip, which must always be dark in colour.

Head: Relatively small, compared with the body, and wedge-shaped, with its length exceeding its width. The whisker pads on each side of the nose should be very evident. The nose is broad and long, with a slight stop evident between the eyes.

Eyes: Vary slightly from almond-shaped to round, and are large in size.

Life expectancy: 12-16 years.