January 15, 2022
by Robyn Paterson
From the outside, it looks simple, but breeding cats is complex. Unfortunately, the idea of breeding cats - a household pet, not a livestock animal - has a broad spectrum of motivations behind it. Some people do it for the sake of making money, others because kittens are adorable, and others because they love cats. When searching for a pedigreed pet, you must unearth a breeder’s purpose for breeding. Know their WHY. Why do they breed cats? Why do they breed Bengals, specifically? A breeder’s why should come from passion, not profit, and here is how to tell the difference.
First, it is essential to understand that a pedigree is not enough. In and of themselves, pedigrees do not guarantee anything about the quality of the cat or the breeder. While people should never buy a Bengal without registration papers, having them does not make the breeder a good breeder or the cat a good cat.
A responsible Bengal breeder is a steward for the Bengal breed. This means that the breeder prioritizes what is best for the cat and what is best for the Bengal breed above what is best for themselves. A breeder should make educated decisions to place the right cat in the right home; a breeder should make various choices to improve health. A breeder should do this while also improving or maintaining the structure and beauty of the breed. But what exactly does it look like when a breeder does these three things?
Responsible Breeders Work Hard to Place the Right Bengal Cat in the Right Home
Placing the right Bengal cat in the right home is the most significant responsibility of a breeder. The Bengal cat is known for its confident, friendly, outgoing personality with high energy and intelligence levels. This is the disposition Bengal breeders should be striving for in their cats. If a Bengal breeder discovers a cat in their program that consistently produces temperaments that are shy, less intelligent, or low in energy, those cats should be removed from the program because they do not meet the breed goal.
Temperament is the number one controllable factor that determines the longevity of its home. A cat with a less-than-ideal temperament is more likely to be rehomed than one with a good temperament. If you are looking for a Bengal cat, ask the breeder how they make breeding choices that affect temperament. Listen to the answer. The breeder may go off-topic by talking about socialization. If they do, bring the conversation back to breed selection by asking for an example of a breeding choice that has been made based on temperament.
Socialization, however, is a contributing factor that affects temperament. When looking for a well-bred cat, ask what the socialization process is. Part of kitten socialization is learning to live “underfoot” in a home. Does this happen at your breeder’s house? Make sure the kittens will be exposed to stimuli that they will be exposed to in your home. For example, if you have a dog, buy from a breeder who has dogs. But just having dogs isn’t enough. The breeder should provide examples of knowing which kittens will adjust to dogs well. Not every cat is the same. We have dogs, and we know which of our kittens will, based on their genetics, be more likely to integrate easily into a home with dogs and which kittens are not expected to make good dog companions. They won’t be bothered by or bother a dog, but they won’t befriend it either.
When looking for a well-bred kitten, be specific about what you want in a kitten, and then ask the breeder how they know the kitten will be what you want. Good breeders know, so ask!
Placing the right cat in the right home is not only about the cat; it is also about the home. Not every home is the right home for a Bengal. A responsible breeder should ask questions that reveal whether or not a home is not the right environment for a Bengal. With Bengals being high energy and intelligent, this puts more responsibility on the owner. A responsible Bengal breeder will ask questions to determine how a Bengal’s mental and physical needs will be met throughout its life. Part of this is measuring the longevity of enthusiasm. Taking a cat hiking sounds fun, but the harness training to get to that point will require repetition at a less thrilling level than camping in the Sierras with a cat. So, how realistic is the buyer’s plan for mental and physical stimulation? A responsible breeder will never talk a buyer into owning a Bengal. They will sometimes talk a buyer out of owning a Bengal.
Owning Bengals is more demanding than the average cat due to their energy level and intelligence. Bengals are sensitive beings. Some struggle with change more than others. Does your Bengal breeder know which kittens will struggle with the transition? Do they know who will take to harness training and who will be less inclined? But in addition, does the breeder feel you out to determine how you will problem solve? Most inappropriate behaviors that Bengals engage in stem from boredom or insecurity. The responsible breeder will only sell to buyers who will participate in problem-solving rather than solving the problem through rehoming.
Responsible Breeders Make a Variety of Choices that Improve the Health of the Cat
One of the benefits of buying a purebred cat should be a known health history and health testing completed on the parents of the Bengal kitten. Responsible breeders should strive to produce cats with a longer lifespan than cats with unknown health statuses. Many factors contribute to the improvement of the overall health of the Bengal breed: health testing, health education, genetic diversity, and the health of the breeding environment.
Health testing is every breeder’s step to improve the breed’s health. While most buyers know about FeLV and FIV tests and testing for worms and parasites, this should not be the primary focus. Each breed has its predisposed health concerns. Breeds are developed by selecting genes to create a homogenous look. When we choose desirable genes, undesirable genes come along unintentionally. As they are discovered, breeders must weed them out. Bengals should all be genetically tested for PRAb and PK-Def. These are simple genetic tests; there is no excuse not to do them. In addition, Bengals should also be scanned by a cardiologist each 12-18 months to determine heart health. While the scan primarily searches for signs of HCM, the scan can reveal other potential heart problems. Because HCM is not a genetic test, the heart should be scanned multiple times over a cat’s lifespan to watch for changes in the heart. A responsible breeder will know the risk level of HCM developing in their lines, and they should be willing to talk to you about it. Ask a breeder how many cats in the kitten’s pedigree have been scanned for HCM. Ask what ages the cats were scanned to. In addition, Polyneuropathy is a growing concern in the Bengal breed. Don’t be afraid to ask breeders if they have experienced polyneuropathy in their breeding program and what they know about their cat’s lines regarding the likelihood of polyneuropathy.
When asking questions about health, do NOT have a preconceived answer you want to hear. You are listening to see that the breeder has knowledge of the health history of their cats. Do not expect the health history to be perfect; expect the breeder to clearly understand their cat’s health history and have a rationale for their choices.
Listening to the rationale of a breeder’s choices tells you about their willingness to self-educate. Health information changes fast. Researchers are discovering new information all the time. When you read what a breeder puts on their website or have a conversation with the breeder, do they sound like a person interested in learning the latest advancements in health? Can they advise you on vaccines with science-based reasoning for their choice? A responsible breeder is your cat consultant for the lifespan of the cat. Unfortunately, the veterinary industry grows increasingly more commercialized each year. Is your breeder capable of guiding you through making decisions regarding your cat’s health if you feel you are possibly being sold services that you may not need? Part of buying a pedigree cat should be the lifelong resource of the breeder. This is where the “you get what you pay for” phrase should apply. Purchase from a breeder that can be your cat consultant for your cat's lifetime.
Does the breeder understand how food choices affect health? Can the breeder explain the nutritional needs of an obligate carnivore that evolved from a desert animal? Evolution suggests that a raw diet with few to no plant-based ingredients heavy in moisture provides the most bioavailable nutrients to a cat. If the breeder-selected diet diverges from this, can the breeder tell you why they feed what they do based on how their food choice meets the needs of their cats? Again, hearing a science-based rationale is better than having one preconceived answer. Knowing food choices are made for reasons other than the food company giving the breeders a kickback.
One of the biggest challenges breeders face regarding health is genetic diversity. Genetic diversity has a substantial impact on health. Breeds of animals are less genetically diverse because as we select for physical traits specific to a breed, we inadvertently reduce the genetic diversity. Breeders should be making decisions about genetic diversity either through DNA testing for genetic diversity or through knowledge of their pedigrees and how the cats are related beyond the standard five-generation pedigree. Genetic testing for genetic diversity is a relatively new tool, so every breeder won’t utilize it, yet. This does not make a breeder irresponsible if they make decisions using pedigree knowledge.
Linebreeding in and of itself also does not make a breeder irresponsible. But if a breeder has linebred, ask the breeder why they did the linebreed and why they were comfortable linebreeding on that particular cat. The breeder should have an answer that includes the goal they were hoping to achieve and the known health history of the cat that was linebred upon. Typically, when linebreeding on a particular cat, that cat should be older, so the breeder knows if any heart issues developed over time, if the cat had any structural weaknesses, and if the cat produced other health ailments. When asking questions about linebreeding, listen to see that the breeder clearly understands the breeding’s benefits and risks.
In general, look to understand that your breeder understands that genetic diversity is a factor in producing healthy kittens. Responsible breeders should explain their plan for maintaining, or preferably, increasing genetic diversity in their breeding program.
Finally, a breeder will have more cats than the average person. How do they house these cats, and how do they reduce the stress levels of their cats? Cats become stressed in high-density populations. Stress negatively impacts health. Again, ask the breeder how they house their cats, but do not have a specific answer you want to hear. You should listen to the WHY of their choices.
Responsible Breeders Breed for Correct Breed Structure and Appearance
The first draw to a pedigree cat is its appearance. However, appearance should never overshadow health; it is synergistic with health.
The goal of Bengal breeding programs is to breed a cat that looks like a small forest-dwelling wildcat. Because of this goal, we are not breeding for any structural defects that people may find attractive. Our visual breed goal is a cat that lives in a tree - a structurally correct cat can survive in that habitat.
A breeder should focus on the cat's structural build. Bengals are high-energy animals who need good structure to move pain-free throughout their lives. As the Bengal ages, it should not slow down much. It should still enjoy chasing toys and running the wheel as much at year 17 as it did at month 17.
Like in areas of health and socialization, a breeder should be able to speak to their structural goals beyond the canned answer of “I am breeding to the standard.” Ask a breed what they are working to improve in their cats. If they have been breeding for five or more years, ask what goals have been achieved. Most importantly, look at how their cats move. Are all four legs straight - not towing in or out? You would not buy a jumping horse that doesn’t have straight legs. You should not buy a high-energy cat that doesn’t have straight legs, as this will lead to early-onset joint pain.
The nice thing about appearance goals is that you can see them. With the Bengal, you must look beyond the rosettes and consider how the cat is built. Too many people, breeders, and buyers, only look at the markings of a Bengal cat. While markings may be the initial draw, you have to look beyond that when you purchase. Ask the breeder how they assess the structure of kittens. Have them show you. You don’t want to be a buyer or work with a breeder who only pays attention to the paint.
The Three Goals of Responsible breeders - Health, Temperament, and Appearance
It all boils down to this: Responsible breeders should explain how they are bringing better cats into this world regarding health, temperament, and appearance.
The Bengal breed is in some way disadvantaged by its beautiful coat. For many breeders and many buyers, that is the only focus. The coat is one-half of one-third of the equation. Don't buy a pedigreed pet without getting the health and temperament advantages that it should come with. When looking for the breeder of your next Bengal, make sure you find one who sees more to breeding than a cat’s coat.
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