The Bengal cat is a relatively new domestic breed of cat which was intentionally created in the United States in the 1960s. By selectively breeding Asian leopard cats with domestic breeds, such as the Egyptain Maus or Abyssian, breeders were able to create a new breed which had a domestic temperament while retaining wild physical characteristics. The Bengal cat breed is recognized in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas by The International Cat Association (TICA) and by the Australian Cat Federation (AFC) in Australia.
Asian leopard cats are small, wild cats found in most Asian countries. Measuring about 25–32 inches (63.5–81.3 cm) and weighing 7–15 lbs (3–7 kg), these cats are most notable for their silky leopard-spotted coats. Their scientific name, and the source of the Bengal cat's name, is Felis bengalensis.
Breeding programs begin by crossing an Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat. After the initial wild-domestic cross, the first four generations of cats are considered hybrids and not a new species nor suitable for pets. Usually breeders will cross a female hybrid with a domestic male because male hybrids have extremely low fertility rates. After the fourth generation, the resulting offspring are considered domestic cats and are allowed to be sold commercially.
Bengal cats have retained the distinctive patterning of their wild cat ancestors. Bengals are always shades of brown or white with dark brown or black leopard-like spots or swirling patterns, called marbling. Their silky coats seem to have a metallic sheen, as if the hairs have been sprinkled with gold glitter.
Brown coats, with lighter bellies, are more common than the white-base coats. Color classifications differ slightly in Europe and the US. European color classifications refer to darker shades as "brown" and white shades as "snow." The US, though it also has "brown" and "snow" classifications, also adds "mink" and "sorrel" for more distinction.
As large cats, Bengals weigh between 6 and 20 pounds (2.7–9 kg). Males are usually larger and heavier than females. With well-muscled bodies, Bengal cats are highly athletic and active. They generally live about 15 years.
Playful and friendly, the Bengal cat is a good house pet for adults and children alike. Unlike many cats, Bengals often seem to enjoy water, even being known to join their owners in the shower occasionally. Anecdotal evidence suggest these cats may be hypoallergenic, meaning they have less tendency to cause allergic reactions. Scientific studies have not been conducted on this phenomenon, however.
While the Bengal cat is a healthy breed, requiring no special diet, having no chronic health problems, and requiring only a weekly brushing, it is considered an exotic breed. Therefore, pricing for Bengal cats are usually high. Adult cats usually cost about half as much as kittens, and show-quality cats will likely be at least double the cost of a pet-quality kitten.