December 23, 2019
by Robyn Paterson
Bengal cat life expectancy does not differ from the average indoor cat life expectancy of 12-18 years; however, there are steps both your breeder and you can make to extend the life of your cat. We have heard back from people with our cats who are still doing well at 17 years old, and sadly, we have also known cats of ours to pass before age ten. We can share with you, based on our multiple years of breeding Bengal cats, what we believe we can do to lengthen their life expectancy.
Basic Bengal Cat Health Tests
The first influence to adding to a Bengal cat's life lay in the hands of the breeder. The breeder needs to use all the latest technology to make the best breeding decisions. It is an absolute no-brainer that you buy from a Bengal cat breeder who tests their breeding cats for the genetic tests of PRAb and PK Deficiency and repeatedly scans their breeding cats' hearts to the age of 5 years old minimally or eight years old, ideally. This is the most basic health information any Bengal breeder should have on their cats. If these three things are not being done, please do not support that breeder by buying from them. For more explanation on why testing breeding Bengal cats' hearts to older ages is so important, please read our article on why we test our Bengal cats' hearts for so long.
Bengal Cat Breeder Decisions - Genetic Diversity and Linebreeding in Bengal Cats
When a breeder does not have experience working with multiple generations of a line of cats, their decisions should lean toward genetic diversity. When you do some basic research on cat lifespan, you will often read that mixed breeds live longer lives due to genetic diversity. The Bengal cat has more genetic diversity than many other purebred cats because it started as a hybridization of a Leopard cat and a domestic cat. The Leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis, and the domestic cat, Felis catus, ancestry separated 8-9 million years ago, so those genes have not been mixed for at least 8 million years. Furthermore, some Bengal cat breeders still outcross to leopard cats, and a few, including us at Quality Bengal Kittens, purposefully select new Bengal breeding cats down from separate leopard cat lines. When the leopard cat starting the line is a different subspecies from the other leopard cat lines used in a breeding program, the genetic diversity multiplies even further. Using different leopard cats is not the only way to increase genetic diversity within one's breeding cattery. One can also outcross other domestic breeds not initially used to create the Bengal breed. The further the outcross is from the original cats used in the breed's inception, the more genetic diversity. For more information on domestic outcrossing, please read our article on our domestic outcross. Knowing one's breeding cats' genetic diversity is no longer a guessing game based on averages by calculating the inbreeding coefficient. Optimal Selection offers a test that will tell a breeder how diverse their cat's genetics are and how different they are from their potential mates.
While genetic diversity is the safest breeding choice for people working with unknowns, it is not the only safe, healthy choice. Linebreeding on cats with a known health history is another way to breed a healthy cat. Linebreeding can have positive and negative effects. Breeding a cat back to a close relative will magnify both good and bad traits in the line. It is essential to know the status of any genetic weaknesses in the line, as these are more likely to manifest with close breeding. Thus, if a breeder has kept, bred, and health-tested cats to older ages, that breeder has more knowledge of that cat's health than the breeder who retires cats under age five. Purposefully linebreeding on a cat whose health, including but not limited to heart health, was tested for 7-10 years means you are doubling up the genetics of a cat who has proven itself healthy and not to produce genetic flaws. Remember that we can now test the genetic diversity of those offspring so the most genetically diverse offspring could be selected for further breeding.
If you are out shopping for a Bengal kitten, how do you know if the breeder is making purposeful, healthy decisions based on genetic diversity or linebreeding on known healthy cats? You ask questions. Ask the breeder - how do your breeding choices affect the life expectancy of your kittens. If the breeder's answer consists only of current cats' immediate health tests, they aren't using all the accessible knowledge to make their choices. If their response demonstrates an understanding of how they are either adding genetic diversity by differentiating leopard cat lines, adding domestic outcrosses, or utilizing Optimal Selection's Genetic Diversity test results or the purposeful linebreeding on older, proven-to-be-healthy-over-time cats, then you have the assurance that the breeder is making the best choices they can to increase the longevity of their kittens' lifespan. Knowing that your breeder factors this into their decisions offers peace of mind over picking a breeder who breeds pretty cat to pretty cat just because.
How Nutrition Affects Bengal Cat Life Expectancy
The breeder and the owner of a Bengal cat can influence its life expectancy based on its feed. The information on pet food varies considerably based on what you read. It is essential to understand that large pet food conglomerates fund much of the research done within the industry. These companies have poured millions of dollars into learning how to make biologically inappropriate ingredients digestible for cats and dogs to expand profits using cheaper ingredients in pet foods. Because meat protein is expensive, pet food companies are doing all they can to try to make foods with non-meat-based ingredients appear suitable for cats. For a more in-depth look at how pet food companies do this, please read "The Solid Science Pet Food Makers Want You to Ignore."
An independent study by Dr. Kollath of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, discovered that "when young animals were fed cooked and processed food they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw whole meat not only aged less quickly but were free of degenerative diseases" (Appel).
Regarding research funding, cats often take the back seat to dogs. The same pet food companies that make dog food also make cat food, and dogs can digest non-animal-based food better than cats. In a Belgium-based study completed in 2003, it was found that dogs "fed a homemade diet, consisting of high-quality foods used from their owners’ meals versus dogs fed an industrial, commercial pet food diet had a life expectancy of 32 months longer – that’s almost 3 years!" (Stone).
In addition to all nutrients being bioavailable to cats when fed a raw diet, one of its most critical ingredients is its water content. Most geriatric cat problems connect to dehydration. Cats evolved to get most of their water through their food. When their food is dry, they live in a constant state of low-grade dehydration. This taxes all the organs and causes many illnesses that middle-aged and elderly cats face. Since we have bred cats for so long, we have experienced - on more than one cat - the consequences of long-term, low-grade dehydration in cats fed kibble diets throughout their lifetime. Cats do not tell you when they are hurting; their instinct is never to show weakness. When you see something is wrong, it can be too late to undo the damage.
If you understand the logic of being an obligate carnivore, it makes sense that a balanced raw diet is best for a cat. That said, an unbalanced raw diet is possibly the most dangerous diet for your cat. What does this mean for you? First, if the breeder you are talking to says they feed a raw diet, ask how they know their diet is balanced. Get the breeder to explain precisely how they ensure the cat eats 80% muscle meat, 10% organ, and 10% bone. You are in good shape if you get a detailed explanation of how that balance is determined. If you get an incomplete answer such as boneless chicken thigh meat plus a supplement, then check the supplement out yourself to see if the supplement is meant to balance boneless, organless meat.
There is a widespread fallacy that chewing hard kibble food cleans cats' teeth. We hate to break it to you, but cats don't chew; they rip, shred, and swallow. Like with all other pain, cats are hard-wired to hide dental pain, so you need to be on top of watching your cat's dental health. Cats' teeth have not evolved to eat how most cats are fed in homes. They were formulated to catch small prey, chomp through the bone, and rip through the meat. If your cat eats most of its meals in any other method, it will need dental care. For more information on our recommendations for dental care, please read our article on preventing periodontal disease.
Pollutants and Toxins
Having bred for a long time, we hear back from time to time when our cats cross the rainbow bridge. We know there are 17-year-olds still out there kicking it up each day. The most frequent cause of death we hear from people is cancer. Like in humans, we do not know all the causes of disease. You can take three steps to reduce your pets' and your exposure to carcinogens. One, be informed about the environmental concerns where you live and the chemical concerns of the products you use in your home. Two, make better decisions - pull weeds instead of using weed killer, and clean with safe products for pets and humans. Three, follow safety protocol for the storage and disposal of chemical materials.
Furthermore, if you are both a plant lover and a cat owner, be aware of the list of toxic plants to cats. Some common ones you want to avoid are all lily family members and the holiday favorite - poinsettia.
When you are buying a purebred cat, reap the benefits of working with a responsible breeder by purchasing from a Bengal cat breeder who understands the breeder's role in creating healthy cats who have the odds stacked in their favor that they will make it to the upper end of a cat's life expectancy and beyond. Then, please do your part in helping the cat make it to those geriatric years.
Appel, Athena. "What You Can’t See Won’t Hurt Your Pet?" Cats and Dogs Naturally. 4 March 2013. http://catsndogsnaturally.com
Stone, Roxanne. "Kibble: Why It’s Not A Good Option For Your Dog." Dogs Naturally. 2019. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com
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