If you were to check any Bengal breeder's email inbox or hang out in a Bengal cat chat group and you are bound to find the infamous question attached to a picture - is it a Bengal?
First, we have to consider the purpose of pedigreed pets. Purebred, pedigree cats exist for people to select a cat with a known health history, a breed specific temperament and a desired appearance. The reality is that knowing whether or not your cat is a Bengal is a dependant upon you purchasing it from a registered Bengal breeder who provides its registration papers. If you have decided that a Bengal cat is the perfect match for your family and it is important to you to have the known health history, the Bengal personality, and the Bengal appearance, then to get those traits, it must be purchased through a registered breeder or found through a Bengal rescue.
If a Bengal comes without papers or from a general rescue or shelter, there is no way of identifying if it is a Bengal or if it is part Bengal, but it really should not matter. When I picked out my first dog from the SPCA, it was listed on her pen that she was a German Shepherd mix. I was using my common sense and saying a bit of a prayer that the SPCA got that wrong - and they did. I picked my dog because she was what I was looking for in a dog - small, 25 pounds, Brindle and white, with a curly tail, upright ears, and friendly. That is what I wanted in a dog. The SPCA, however, knowing that German Shepherds are popular, attached that breed to her description. Rescues and shelters often attach a breed name to their pets based off the slightest likenesses; in my case, the only thing my dog shared in common with a German Shepherd was upright ears. But giving the pet a breed helps them find homes faster, and ultimately, that is the goal. If you are going to rescue a cat, you should know what you want out of the cat, and its label - or breed - should not matter. If it does, adopt through a Bengal-specific rescue.
Some people feel they want to know if their cats is a Bengal because they mistakenly believe that Bengals have different needs than other cats. Bengals have the exact same needs as any other high energy, highly intelligent cat. If you think your cat may be part Bengal, but you do not know, it isn't going to hurt to make the accommodations necessary for high energy cats. There isn't a cat on the earth that can be played with too much or provided too many mental exercises. All cats benefit from using their brain and their muscles, so whether your cat is a Bengal or not, if it has energy, help it exert that energy.
Bengals do not need a vet who knows about Bengals. The veterinarian care for a Bengal is the same as any other cat. Bengals do not have any special needs. They do not get any special diseases. They are just cats; Bengals are not wild. If you happened to rescue a cat that did not have the proper upbringing, it might behave more like a feral than a home-raised cat, but this is not an indicator that it is a Bengal, or part Bengal, or anything else Bengaly. This has to do with the cat's upbringing. Thus, if you have a cat that is shy, reactive, or aggressive, then it needs to see a vet who has experience with ferals - not experienced with Bengals.
Bengals do not need a special diet. Yes, Bengals do thrive on a raw, whole prey diet, but any cat would thrive on a raw, whole prey diet. There is some thought that the Bengal's intestinal tract may be more sensitive to a processed diet, but since unprocessed food is better for all cats, then why not offer your cat an unprocessed diet - whether you know if your cat is Bengal, part Bengal, or no Bengal at all. No matter what your cat is, you want him to live the longest life possible, so feed your cat the best food possible - food that is not processed.
Bengals are not the only cats with spots. Not only are there several other spotted breeds, but a spotted pattern occurs naturally in domestic tabbies. Furthermore, the M on the forehead on most Bengals is absolutely not a Bengal-specific pattern; it is a tabby pattern, and Bengals have a tabby pattern. Ideally, the Bengal will break that M one day and display the Leopard cat tram lines on the forehead instead of the tabby M, but we are a long way off from doing that consistently. Another common misunderstanding is that if there are spots on the belly, the cat must be a Bengal as this is a requirement in the Bengal Standard; however, most domestic tabbies have spots on their bellies, and this trait has been around longer than the Bengal breed has existed.
Another pattern confusion is the white tummy. Some Bengals have a white countershading pattern on their belly with black markings on the white belly - just like a wild Leopard, Tiger, or Leopard cat. This should not be confused with the solid white underside of a tuxedo cat. The white on a tuxedo cat or other white patterned domestic cats is caused by an area of skin which does not produce any pigment. These unpigmented areas can appear anywhere on the body and are not a form of natural camouflage.
Bengals have higher energy levels than cats with low energy demands, but they do not have higher energy demands than what is possible in all sorts of other cats - including mixed breed cats. In other words, if your cat is high energy, you need to address those needs regardless of whether it is part Bengal or not. For people wanting a high energy cat, then shopping for a purebred Bengal will ensure that this desire is satisfied, but for anyone who merely finds they have adopted a cat with high energy needs, this does not make that cat a Bengal. High energy cats need to be played with. Regardless of whether you have a Bengal or not, if your cat has a high energy level, read our article on how to play with your cat.
If you don't have your cat yet, but you've decided that a Bengal is the right cat for you, then get one that is unquestionably a Bengal from a registered breeder or a Bengal-specific rescue. If you have your cat already, then you are already in love. The cat's label doesn't matter as Bengals have no special needs beyond those of any other high energy cat. In other words, if the answer to the question "Is it a Bengal?" really matters, you should not have to ask because you should know for sure. And if you don't know for sure, there is no reason to ask "Is it a Bengal?" because being a Bengal shouldn't change the way you treat or love your cat.