4 min.

Bengals and Savannahs: buyer beware

Do you dream of having a tiger in your living room? Then you’ve no doubt already heard about Bengal and Savannah cats—two purebred breeds that most closely resemble wildcats. With their gorgeous spotted coats, they look a lot like leopards (albeit in a much more portable form).

Too popular, too fast

In the last ten years, the demand for these two breeds has skyrocketed in a way never before seen in feline history. There are currently almost as many breeders of these two types of cats as there are for all other breeds combined. Unfortunately, this rise in popularity is causing a host of problems much like those that befell Dalmatians after the Disney film 101 Dalmatians came out in the 1990s.

First off, a lot of people with no previous experience turned to breeding to capitalize on the growing demand. As a result, there are very few qualified and responsible breeders on the market. What’s more, these two breeds have certain particularities that don’t make them right for everybody. Out of all purebred cats, Bengal cats are brought in the most often for behavioural issues. Why? Because breeders don’t provide their clients with enough information or they themselves aren’t aware of the animal’s real needs. It is therefore paramount to get informed and shop around before deciding on a breeder.

Hybrid breeds

Bengal and Savannah cats are hybrid breeds: they’re a cross between a domestic cat and a wildcat (an Asian leopard for Bengals and a serval, commonly found in most zoos, for Savannahs). The result of this cross is called an F1, meaning a first generation cat with 50% wild blood. You can then cross an F1 cat with a domestic cat to get an F2 and so on, right up to fifth or sixth generation cats that bear more similarities to domestic cats. The problem is that the closer you get to first generation cats (F1), the more the cat will retain both the physical features of a wildcat (size and coat) and the behavioural characteristics. These cats are much more territorial, energetic and intense, and they often have difficulty living with another domestic cat. For these reasons, it’s best to opt for an F5 generation or more.

In the industry, a breeder that sells F1 or even F2 Bengal and Savannah cats is considered irresponsible. These magnificent and impressively large cats should only be used for breeding purposes, even if they are often the ones that people most wish to adopt.

A leopard in your living room

It’s important to understand that when you adopt a cat like this, you will feel like you have a leopard in your living room not only because of its looks, but also because of its energy, its intelligence and its intensity. Taking care of cats and entertaining them is important no matter what breed they are, but this is especially true for Bengals and Savannahs. If they don’t have anything to do, they get very creative and will look for ways to release their excess energy. This can lead to several behavioural issues and you could find yourself in the company of a curtain climber, a wood carver, a late-night opera singer, or a hallway ankle hunter.

Know that you need to play with these cats several times a day and create an environment that is adapted to their needs, with a lot more elevated areas and scratching posts, more and larger litter boxes (one more than the number of cats in the house) and, especially, interactive feeders that will force the cats to work for their supper.

Bengals and Savannahs aren’t bad cats—far from it. But if you want to adopt one of these two breeds, you need to have a solid understanding of how cats behave (this shouldn’t be your first cat) and you need a lot of time at your disposal to take care of it. If these two conditions are met, then you can take full advantage of this majestic spotted creature.