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Forever fascinated by the idea of wild cats, the Bengal was initially bred to fulfill the desire for a safe, wild-looking domestic cat. A selective breeding program was begun by Jean S. Mill in 1963, although a breed of cat aligning with the modern Bengal is recorded as early as 1889. Besides this, precious little is known about the development of the breed, although it was officially recognised by the International Cat Association in 1991. Demand for bengals is high, and several other varieties such as the Savannah and Toyger are being developed from it.
Very distinctive in appearance, the Bengal is characterised by an athletic build, with long legs, large upright ears, a wedge-shaped head, a broad nose and a moderate length tail. The coat is typically close-fitting and seen in a variety of colours and coat patterning. Seal lynx, seal sepia and seal mink varieties with a cream or white background are known as ‘Snow’ bengals. Otherwise, a Bengal may be gold, brown, orange, rust, ivory, sand or buff, with spots that are usually chocolate brown, black, rust, charcoal or cocoa. The Bengal enjoys being in water and has been known to enter the bath or shower when its owner has been inside.
Despite being a wonderful breed in many respects, the Bengal is not a cat for the first-time owner. It is also not a suitable breed for those that work all day every day, as it needs constant attention and companionship. For this reason, it is usually wise to get two kittens at the same time. Otherwise, the breed is intelligent, energetic and affectionate, not a lap cat, but a cat that is interested in family life and is eager to participate in all that’s going on. The Bengal is also highly inquisitive and can find its way into drawers, cupboards and handbags with great ease. On average, a healthy Bengal will weigh 6-12 pounds depending on its gender, with a typical life expectancy of 12-16 years.
Various genetic health disorders are identified in the breed. These range from mild and treatable conditions, to more serious ones. In recent years, the condition autosomal recessive disorder has been well documented in the breed, a condition that causes blindness in the first year of age. Infectious diseases such as trichimonas foetus and feline infectious peritonitis are prevalent, whilst the genetic condition polycystic kidney disease is common.