For all the talk you hear about the amazing beauty of the Bengal cat,
you could be forgiven for assuming that a Bengal possesses normal
domestic cat behaviour, just with wonderful markings as well. However,
ask a Bengal owner why they bought their second Bengal (as so
often happens...) and you’ll find out the real reason why a
Bengal cat is such a wonderful addition to many homes: It is that many
Bengal cats are delightful characters who light up your life with
entertainment, interest and affection. Read on to find out more.....
Before we go into too much
detail, it is as well to note that all cats’ personalities are formed by
many factors, including their genetic heritage, their socialisation and
living conditions when growing up, and good old random individuality! As
a result there is always much more variation between individual
cats than there is commonality within a given breed. That said, many
breeds of cat do have commonly found characteristics which typify
the breed. Siamese, Burmese and Persians in particular are all renowned
for certain types of behaviour. The Bengal’s unique genetic heritage,
and rigorous breeding programmes have produced many cats with very
pronounced personalities and unusual behaviour patterns, which are as
much a reason to want to own the cats as their visual appearance. I
merely would like to note that this article is most definitely a
personal view, based on the Bengal cats I have known, and could
never describe the way every Bengal will behave!
The general personality
At the simplest level, most
Bengals, have a lot of personality! In a manner similar to the
oriental cat breeds, they are intelligent, lively, interactive cats,
with whom you have a very genuine two-way relationship. They are
typically neither an ‘aloof’ cat who ignores you haughtily, nor a dull
quiet cat. They are very much a dynamic and active part of the family
group. Bengals however are not the same as Orientals, nor any
other breed, but have various key characteristics which make very
special and different.
The amazing athlete!
For 40% of the time at least,
Bengals are astounding athletes. They can rush around with great
glee, climb doors and cupboards, and leap to huge heights. My Bengal
will land on my shoulder in a single leap from a couple of metres away,
in order to assist me in any interesting activity such as answering the
door, or looking in a cupboard. They will bounce about, roll around,
switch lights on and off (!) and even do full somersaults whilst in high
spirits. Kittens in particular can be all over the place, in a
veritable stampede of spotty fluff.
When excited, they often
tremble and twitch their tails, or fluff them up into a massive
‘racoon-tail’. The character displayed during these antics is often
rather similar to that of ‘Tigger’ in the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ books -
inquisitive, hyper-active, over-the-top, but very loveable with a heart
The big softy
But fear not - there is some
peace to be had! Perhaps fortunately, the flip side of Bengal behaviour
is that for much of the time, Bengals go to the other extreme, and
become total softies. They flop over and roll on their backs in ecstasy,
come up to you and nuzzle your face, purring wildly, then finally curl
up into happy little balls and fall fast asleep. They genuinely crave
affection and will spend many happy hours resting piled up on top of you
purring. They will wake you in the night, rubbing their head against you
and paddling happily on the covers with their paws, then sleep silently
with you till morning. They have ridiculous stretchy moods when they
roll and writhe around on their backs in a most uninhibited manner. This
makes a lovely complement to the Bengal’s energetic moments.
Bengals and water
One of the most popular pieces
of Bengal ‘folklore’ involves their liking for water. Bengals have
sometimes been reported to play happily in quite deep water and, even to
like swimming! Well some Bengals may well do this, but if you’re
after a swimming cat, you’d be better off with a Turkish Van. Though
they aren’t all swimmers, most Bengals are definitely fond of water.
When I bought my Bengal, the breeders commented on how he had a
‘swishing’ action he used across his drinking water with his paw before
drinking, which appeared to be a development of the action used by the
Asian Leopard Cats in nature to clear the surface of ponds before
drinking. However, once my cat discovered the mugs of water on my
bedside table, this ‘swishing’ became a game of totally different
proportions! He gleefully splashed about in the mug with his paw,
sprinkling water all around the room. A gentle rain became a fairly
common feature of my nights, until he grew out of this phase!
Now he is rather more
taken with the bath. If ever we go near the bathroom, he gallops into
the bath and howls heartily until we turn the tap on for him, which is
his cue to splash about and play in the bath water for several minutes.
He also occasionally gets in the shower whilst it is running! As a
cautionary note, it is important never to leave the toilet seat up in
case your Bengal gets bleach poisoning, and you should never leave the
bath unattended whilst running hot water in case your Bengal scalds
The Bengal’s voice
So what does a Bengal sound
like? Well in truth, they can sound like all sorts of thinks. Perhaps
the most obvious noise they make is a melodic but very insistent "YOWWWLLL!!!!"
when they want to draw your attention to something. Shades of YOWWWLLL
will mean "open that door!", "Hello again", "FOOOD!", "turn the tap on
please", and particularly loudly "LET ME OUT OF THIS CAGE!!!!". This
noise varies in volume from loud to unbelievable, but is easily stopped
by either giving them what they want, or making them realise it won’t do
them any good.
At the other end of the
spectrum, Bengal purrs are laced with all manner of trills and chirrups.
And they have much wider vocabulary including "I’ve just seen something
to chase" chatters, and even a lovely frustrated short "nya!" grumble
when they can’t reach something they are jumping for. I don’t know how
widespread this is, but my Bengal always makes a very peculiar "yoolalooolaloooowahhh"
call whenever he is going to be sick, which is phenomenally useful,
since it allows me to carry him to somewhere easy to clean, and to be
there to soothe him if he is distressed! We call this the sofa saving
call. Bengals aren’t especially noisy cats. They don’t constantly
commentate on your life like some Siamese, but they do have a varied
range of outspoken calls which they use when they feel the need.
Food glorious food!
Oh yes Bengals like their food.
They have to be first to get to it! The main trouble with feeding
Bengals can be that they tend to climb inside the food bag before you
can pour it out, and treats such as chicken pieces are carried off and
guarded proudly with a low growl!
Are Bengals ‘fierce’?
Some people have assumed that
‘wild animals are fierce’, so any pet with wild blood must be more
likely to be ‘fierce’. It is true that one of the differences between a
domesticated animal and a wild one is its ability to interact happily
with humans, though more often than not small wild cats are more likely
to be scared of humans than to attack them.
However, a Bengal is
not a wild animal. It is most definitely a domestic animal which has
been selectively bred over several generations for character as well as
appearance, and Bengals today should be no more aggressive (or
defensive) than any other cat. There are reports of some difficulties
with temperament very early in the Bengal’s development but for many
years breeders have been working very hard on Bengal character, and
these reports are no longer heard. You should, of course, always get to
meet kittens and their parents to evaluate their character before making
a purchase, as you would any other cat.
I would have no hesitation in
recommending the character of Bengals today. My only note of warning is
that, being so energetic, they are able to totally accidentally scratch
people whilst galloping over them or jumping from them, so though this
will be no problem for most cat lovers, it might be a concern if you
have small children or find the occasional scratch a problem. In my
experience, Bengals can be quite easily trained not to do things you
don’t like, simply by hissing at them to say ‘stop’. This seems a lot
more effective than shouting "NO!" etc. since it is ‘cat language’ for
‘stop’ and shows them who is boss. Any hissing must, of course, be
balanced by lots of affection, so they know you still love them!
In summary, Bengals have very
engaging, energetic, loving characters and this is one of the main
reasons they are wonderful pets. Their character would not make them
ideal pets for someone who wants a quiet, low key companion, but makes
them amazing pets for people who want a more ‘dog-like’ member of the
family, along the same lines as oriental cats, but with many special
features that make them unique and rewarding pets.