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!
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.
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 of gold.
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.
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 himself.
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.
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!
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.