Behavior and health issues in Bengal cats as perceived by their owners: a descriptive study.
The Bengal cat is a recently established hybrid cat breed that was created by crossbreeding the domestic shorthair cat (Felis silvestris catus) and the wild Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). In spite of its popularity, research on behavior and health issues in this breed remains limited. A questionnaire was sent to Bengal cat owners in Flanders and Wallonia (Belgium), and the Netherlands to document the suitability of the breed as a pet from the point of view of the owners by exploring the presence of behavioral and health issues that may provoke the cat's relinquishment. It included questions about their decision to own a Bengal cat, the cat demographics and living environment, potential undesirable behaviors, and health issues. The owners of 60.5% (n = 155) of cats chose this breed due to a combination of looks and character. For most cats (99.2% n = 254), the respondents looked for information about the breed before acquiring a cat. Breed-typical health conditions, as described by International Cat Care, were reported in 9.9% (n = 24) of cats, with being overweight as the most common one. The most frequent behaviors were climbing (89.5%, n = 229), vocalizing (88.7%, n = 227), playing with water (79.7%, n = 204), and hunting (78.9%, n = 202). These were, however, rarely considered problematic by the owners. The most frequent behaviors often classified as problematic by the owners were destructive behaviors (33.2%, n = 85), followed by pica (16.4%, n = 42), aggression toward animals (16%, n = 41), and urination outside the litter tray (13.3%, n = 34). There were no significant differences between cats from early and later generations nor between cats with and without outdoor access. The fact that most owners looked for information about the breed before acquiring the cat and that the most frequently displayed behaviors were not considered problematic by their owners could translate into a lower incidence of relinquishments. Nevertheless, some of those behaviors may still be indicative of welfare issues, independently of the owner's perception. Further and more in-depth research is needed to understand the potential issues of keeping Bengal cats as pets.