March 20, 2022
by Robyn Paterson
"Are Bengal cats aggressive?" is one of the most common search phrases placed into Google about Bengal cats. Plug it in, and you will read stories. But stories are just that, stories. A handful of anecdotes should not result in a conclusion regarding the Bengal breed. In 2020 the Journal of Veterinary Behavior published a study that asked Bengal cat owners to share what behaviors they see in their cats.
According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior's study, the most common behaviors exhibited in Bengal were
- Climbing 89.5%
- Vocalizing 88.7%
- Playing with water 79.7%
- Hunting 78.9%
However, these behaviors were not considered to be problematic by their owners. Most of the owners who participated in the study had researched the Bengal breed before getting a Bengal and knew what to expect from a highly active cat.
In the Journal of Veterinary Behavior's study, the most frequent behaviors often classified as problematic by the owners were
- Destructive behaviors 33.2%
- Pica 16.4%
- Aggression toward animals 16%
- Inappropriate elimination 13.3%
How does this measure up to the average cat? Also in 2020, The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science published a similar study that examined the problematic behaviors of all types of cats, not just Bengals. Most of the cats in this study were considered mixed breed cats. This is what that study revealed in categories comparative to the top problematic behaviors in Bengals:
- Inappropriate scratching (destructive behavior) 40.7%
- Pica 30.2%
- Chasing or jumping on small animals (Aggression - ?) 49.9%
- Inappropriate elimination 19%
The study conducted on all cats did not have a category labeled aggression towards other animals, so I used "chasing or jumping on small animals" as the comparative category. These two categories may not be a fair comparison. The two categories of aggression in The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science's study on all cats were aggression towards family 27% and aggression towards unfamiliar people 24.7%. Both of those numbers are higher than the aggression towards animals 16% in Bengals. Furthermore, according to the study on Bengal cats, "Aggression toward people was only described in cats from F1 to F4, but the percentage was low" (Martinez-Caja).
Across the board, the incidence of behaviors considered problematic is higher in the average cat than in the Bengal breed.
Why might this be? Behavior is known to have both genetic and environmental factors. Cats coming from unknown origins have an unknown genetic and environmental history. The genes that make a cat more likely to survive a feral lifestyle may be counterproductive to creating the desired behaviors of pet cats. In regards to the Bengal, some have "debated if the selection for morphological traits brings with it behavioral traits" ("Owner's Opinion"). The comparative evidence from the two studies suggests that breeder selection reduces problematic behavioral traits better than natural selection.
While breeder selection benefits cat behavior, a breeder's responsibility does not stop there. The environment they create for their kittens affects behavior as well. Raising a kitten in a secure and comfortable environment results in more confident, less anxious adult cats. This security involves when kittens wean, how long they are raised around their Mom and other supportive adult cats, how much play they engage in while growing up, and how they are introduced to everyday household activities. Please read our article on why a kitten should stay with its breeder for 12-14 weeks to understand this further.
When buying a purebred cat of any breed, the cat should come with a known genetic history and an upbringing in a safe, comfortable environment. Both of these have a direct effect on behavior. Unfortunately, behavior problems do not tend to surface until a cat is over a year old, so one must be careful. Not every breeder puts equal effort into ensuring their Bengal kittens' behavior is better than average, so buyers must determine how each individual breeder addresses the genetic and environmental factors that affect behavior before buying a Bengal.
Martinez-Caja, AnaMartos, et al. "Behavior and Health Issues in Bengal Cats as Perceived by Their Owners: A
Descriptive Study." Science Direct, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1558787820301428?via%3Dihub.
"Owner's Opinion of Bengal Cat Behavior - Good, Bad or ?" TICA Science Newsletter Vol.15: March 2022, TICA, Mar. 2022, https://tica.org/resources/our-newsroom/science-newsletter.
Yamada, Ryoko, et al. "Prevalence of 17 Feline Behavioral Problems and Relevant Factors of Each Behavior in Japan." National Center for Biotechnology Information Search Database, The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 23 Jan. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7118490/.