What Breeds Make a Bengal Cat? The Prettiest Little Jungle Cat You Can Come Home To
If you’ve caught a glimpse of a little mini leopard at a friends house, you’ve no doubt wondered what in the world it was – and more importantly, where you can get one. The good news is, we’re spilling all the beans today:
The history of Bengal cats.
What breeds make a Bengal cat.
How the Bengal cat breed is continuing to evolve.
At Buckaroo Bengals we keep you up to date on the new, and the old, news about Bengal cats. Let’s jump right into what a Bengal cat is.
An Asian Leopard Cat Hybrid in Your Home
To understand what a Bengal cat is, you have to understand the term hybrid – “relating to or produced from parents of different species, varieties, or breeds”.1 In the case of the Bengal cat, ‘hybrid’ refers to a deliberate breeding between an Asian Leopard Cat (ALC) and a domestic shorthair cat.
But why did people decide to mix a wild cat with a domestic cat? While some people may criticize the Bengal cat breed creation, the breed came about for a very strategic reason. Let’s look back on why Bengals were created and what their initial purpose was.
The Asian Leopard Cat as an Ancestor
Asian Leopard Cats (ALC) are small wild cats found throughout a vast part of the world, they have the largest geographical distribution of all wild felines, including Asia, Korea, India, Pakistan, and Eastern Russia.2
Because of major habitat differences, their size and coloring can vary greatly based on location. They range from golden brown to cool brown, can be either spotted or rosetted, have small heads, large round eyes, small forward cupping ears, and short thick tails.
But what brought Asian Leopard Cats to America?
People. Because of their small size and beautiful coloring, people thought it would be a good idea to import them as pets. Between 1960-1962 the ALC was being imported to the United States a lot.
People wanted a cool looking wild cat as a pet but it became a problem. ALCs have wild temperaments. They are not your typical DSH cat and they aren’t suited to joining your family life. This led to them being abandoned, dropped off at zoos or even sold for their fur.
At this time several hobby breeders decided to try and hybridize them to create a breed that would appeal to people wanting a “wild cat” without the wild temperament.
Many of the domestic cats that were used for breeding with the ALC at this time were chosen for convenience. Other breeds that these breeders were working with or chosen for temperament.
But these were just hobby breeders. They weren’t working to create a whole new breed. Just mess around with cat genetics. So what caused the Bengal breed to progress?
Wild Cat Immunity to Feline Leukemia
From 1970–1973 there was a huge outbreak of feline leukemia in America. But not in wild cat populations. This is because lots of wild cats, including Asian Leopard Cats, have natural immunity to feline leukemia.3
This was when Asian Leopard Cats began being studied a lot more. And part of the studies included breeding them to determine whether the immunity could be bred into a domestic cat. Dr. Willard Centerwall, of Loyola University, spearheaded this research project. He was hoping there would be crossover to his pediatric patients with genetic links.
While this is would have been amazing for you and I and our furry family members, the immunity did not pass down to the hybrid cats. The research project eventually ended. However, several of the hybrids that came out of that research project are what founded the breed today.
Most of the Bengals in our houses run all the way back to the Bengal cats of the Centerwall project. Mostly as a result of one influential person.
How We Got From Research Project to Furry Family Member
Hobby breeders and research projects were not the only people looking into breeding Asian Leopard Cat hybrids. While Dr. Centerwall was in the midst of studying genetics another interested party was getting started on the road to breeding.
Jean Mills started out as a hobby breeder in 1963. However, she quickly took it a step further. Jean Mills was the first person to successfully cross an ALC with a DSH. But wound up taking a hiatus from breeding until after the research project finished up.
Jean was motivated to breed Bengal cats to eliminate the fur market of ALCs. “I hoped that by putting a leopard coat on a domestic cat, the pet trade could be safely satisfied. If fashionable women could be dissuaded from wearing furs that looked like friends’ pets, the diminished demand would result in less poaching of the wild species.”4
Jean got a lot of her female Bengal cats from Dr. Centerwall when his research project ended. If you have ever looked at Bengal pedigrees, there are several names that crop up a lot:
- Millwood Rorshcack
- Millwood Praline
- Millwood Pennybank
Bengals as a Pedigree Cat Breed
Breeding hybrids as a hobby is one thing, but when did they become recognized by the cat associations? Jean’s hard work both in breeding and in promoting Bengal cats paid off in 1983 when TICA (The International Cat Association) finally accepted the Bengal hybrid as a breed. To be considered a Bengal today, a cat must be four generations away from the Asian Leopard cat (F1, G2, G3, G4).
Between 1980-1982 The CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) allowed Bengals to be registered, however, they retracted this in 1985 after an F1 (first generation) had a bad incident. It was many years later in 2016 that CFA accepted them again and not till 2018 that they achieved championship status with this registry. This is why most Bengal breeders today are primarily registered with TICA.
What Breeds Make a Bengal Cat?
When Jean Mills started her breeding program for the second time, Bengals finally started being bred with more purpose. The goal was to mix wild looks with a friendly personality. But what exactly did this look like in Jean’s breeding program?
One of the first domestic cats that Jean found to breed with her three Millwood sisters, and thus continue to create the breed we know as Bengal today, was a domestic male cat that Jean found in India, wandering around the New Delhi zoo. This cat is known as Tori of Millwood, and he was instrumental in introducing the glitter gene into the Bengal Breed.
Any Bengal today who has the glitter gene can trace their lineage back to Tori as he had a huge impact on creating the breed. It is for this reason that some breeders choose to breed away from the glitter in an effort to maintain more genetic diversity in their breeding program.
Another breed that Jean used heavily in her program was the Egyptian Mau. This was for obvious reasons as the Egyptian Mau is one of the few pedigree cats that also have spots all over their bodies, including their bellies.
The Egyptian Mau brings patterns to the Bengals along with their wild ALC ancestors. They also bring longer back legs, medium-length tails, untarnished silver (to a silver Bengal program), well-muscled bodies, and short close coats.
You can find a lot of Bengal breeders that are involved in outcross programs using Egyptian Maus still to this day.
Outcrossing for Genetic Diversity in the Bengal Breed
Outcrossing has had a huge impact on the Bengal breed. Because such a small gene pool was used for the initial creation of the breed, outcrossing has been so important in order to bring back genetic diversity.
Between 1973-1976, the Asian Leopard Cat was placed on the Endangered species list which put an end to indiscriminate importation of the ALC into the United States. This had a huge impact on the hobby breeders of the first Bengals, as it limited how many bloodlines could be used for the initial breeding of Bengals.
So outcrossing current bloodlines both in the past and in the present, is hugely important to a breed that hasn’t been established for very long.
Outcrossing has also contributed to a whole host of new Bengal colors. While some are still considered experimental, there are quite a few that have been accepted by the cat registries today as legitimate, breed standard colors:
The Silver Bengal – What Breeds Make a Bengal Cat
What breeds make a Bengal cat silver? As mentioned above, one of the breeds used to contribute to the Silver Bengal was the Egyptian Mau. Another breed that has a large contribution is American Short Hair (ASH). The ASH contributes the untarnished silver color, round eyes, rounded ears, strong chin, good muscle tone, a thick tail, amazing personality, and a short close coat.
The Snow Bengal – What Breeds Make a Bengal Cat
What breeds make a Bengal cat snow colored? There are two different outcrosses that were used to create the three different snow varieties: Siamese cats and Burmese cats. The Siamese cat was used to create the seal lynx snow Bengal and contributes to the seal mink snow Bengal as well.
The seal lynx Bengal will be a pale ivory color, rosettes may not be visible at birth but they will continue to darken as they age, creating almost a reverse melanistic pattern, ie white instead of black with ghost markings. Seal Lynx Bengals always have vibrant blue eyes.
The Seal Mink Bengal receives one copy of the Siamese gene and one copy of the Burmese gene. These genes act as codominant when they are paired together. The Seal Mink will be darker than the lynx but will be slightly lighter than the next snow, the Seal Sepia (two copies of the Burmese gene).
The Seal Mink and the Seal Sepia can be hard to tell apart until adulthood. At which point the Seal Mink will generally settle with aqua eyes and the Seal Sepia will either have green, copper, or gold-colored eyes.
The Siamese and the Burmese cat genes also passed down the “pointed” gene to the Bengals, many breeders these days are trying to improve eye color intensity and marking contrast while actively breeding away from “points” as that is not bred standard.
Experimenting With Genetics in Bengal Cat Breeding
Because the Bengal breed is so new, it has been my experience that a lot of breeders working on experimental colors are often a bit secretive about their outcross programs. While Blue, (dilute, a recessive gene) is accepted and becoming more common in Bengal’s genes.
A lot of Bengal breeders are hesitant to share their outcross programs with others as they strive to perfect new color and not have it taken out from underneath them by another color breeder enthusiast. Some breeders choose to breed more along the color and pattern route, while others choose to breed for wildcat type and conformation.
Opinions are often strong on both sides as to what will benefit the breed more and there can be quite a bit of conflict between breeders, leading to even more secrecy. The one thing that I believe all breeders should agree on, is that health and temperament are of the utmost importance when it comes to selecting outcrosses to breed with the ALC.
The Asian Leopard Cat brings the looks to the table, it is our responsibility to further the goals of the initial Bengal Breeders and continue with their purpose: Create a hybrid that is both beautiful and wild in type, and sweet and affectionate in temperament.
In this way, we can further the Bengal Breed in a positive way and continue to grace households with a wonderful family companion. Few things can compare to your Beautiful Bengal cat cuddling up with you by the fire on a cold winter day, or looking to you to go out for an evening stroll on their harness to see the gorgeous sunset.
Ultimately, the Bengal Breed is a miracle, and whether you want a little snow leopard look alike or a mini jaguar in your household, the skies are the limit for what you can find available today when it comes to the Bengal cat breed. What breeds make a Bengal cat? You tell me!
While the breed may have come around by happenstance as a research project, they continue to make thousands of households happy all over the world as beautiful, mischievous, companions!