As one of the most popular cat breeds in the world, Bengal cats bring many questions to mind. One of those questions is, are Bengal cats hypoallergenic? The answer is more complicated than you might think. You must learn what hypoallergenic means and what causes cat allergies to find out. Considering several other factors is also important if you’re thinking about getting a Bengal cat. Let’s dive into Bengal cats, cat allergies, and the meaning of hypoallergenic!
What Is a Bengal Cat?
The Bengal cat is a purebred cat breed that began in the United States. Highly athletic and active, they impress their owners with amazing jumps and playful natures. When people think of the Bengal cat, the first thing that comes to mind is their wild look. People all around the world marvel when they see these house cats. They look like tiny leopards who just stepped out of the jungle!
Where Did Bengal Cats Come From?
No one set out trying to make a cat breed that is hypoallergenic. Jean Mill (Millwood Bengals) bred the first Bengal cat in 1963. She was the first to cross an Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat. Her goal centered on hybrid kittens with spotted coats like their wild ancestors and a more house-cat-like attitude. Mill abandoned her goal for some time after the first breeding, but this was only the beginning.
Who Really Created Bengal Cats?
Many people say that Mill created the breed, but Dr. Willard Centerwall played a bigger role in their beginning. Dr. Centerwall began breeding these hybrids because he wanted a nice, sweet house cat that looked like a wild cat. As a doctor and lover of genetics, he also had a secret mission.
Asian leopard cats are immune to Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). This condition affects 2-3% of all domestic cats in the United States. That’s about one to two million cats with this disease. That number grows easily. FeLV passes from cat to cat through bites, grooming, and casual contact. It also passes from mother to kittens in the womb. Dr. Centerwall hoped his Asian Leopard Cats’ immunity would transfer to the kittens. Unfortunately, this transfer did not work. Despite this, his experiment was not a total failure. He was successful in creating a new breed, the Bengal cat. The name comes from the scientific name for the Asian leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis.
Dr. Centerwall and his family spent many years breeding and raising the cats. In 1980, Jean Mill met the Centerwall family. Dr. Centerwall decided to retire shortly thereafter from breeding. He sought out Mill as a home for the cats. These foundation cats are the ancestors of the Bengal cat breed we know and love. Seeing Millwood in the Bengal cat pedigrees (or family trees) of today means they are descended from these lines. Other people have started their own lines with other Asian leopard cats. As of 2021, there were already 500,000-1,200,000 Bengal cats in the world!
What Does Hypoallergenic Mean?
Many people become excited about the idea of getting a hypoallergenic cat. They wonder if Bengal cats are hypoallergenic. Most of them don’t realize what hypoallergenic actually means. In order to understand this term, you must break down the word.
The prefix, “hypo,” means less, low, or under. This prefix is used in words like hypodermic, as in a hypodermic needle. It means that the needle goes under the skin. Another example is hypothermia, which refers to a condition in which the body temperature is lower than it should be.
An allergen is something that produces an allergic reaction. This can be sneezing and watery eyes, like with most cat allergies. They can also be more severe, such as hives (itchy red lumps on the skin) or anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction that causes difficulty breathing.
The suffix “-ic” turns the word into the adjective “allergenic,” which changes the meaning slightly. That means something has the effect of an allergen.
All Together Now: Hypoallergenic
When you put the meanings of the words together, you get ‘less,’ plus ‘has the effect of an allergen.’ In simpler terms, hypoallergenic means less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Many people tend to think this term means that hypoallergenic items, foods, etc., will not cause any allergic reaction. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true. All people with allergies are different. They can have very mild to extremely severe allergic reactions to things in their environment. If something is hypoallergenic, it is less likely to cause an allergic reaction in those who are allergic to it. There is no guarantee that someone will never react to it.
Bengal Cats and Allergies
So, are Bengal cats hypoallergenic? We still need to understand more about cat allergies to find out.
What Causes Cat Allergies?
Fel d 1 is a protein found in the saliva or other body fluids of cats. When they clean themselves by licking, the protein gets onto the fur. Then, when you pet the cat, you get it on your hands. It is also spread around when the cat scratches itself, rubs on you or your furniture, or shakes their body. This is because the saliva dries and turns into dander. It is also secreted onto the skin by sebaceous glands (or the glands that provide the natural oils to nourish the fur). It also comes from the anal glands, which express fluid onto the cat’s feces. Fel d 1 is the number one cause of reactions in humans, but there are actually seven proteins that cause these reactions.
Why Do People Think of Bengals as a Hypoallergenic Cat Breed?
The common belief is that Bengal cats do not produce or produce less Fel d 1. This is simply not true. Bengals produce the same amount of this protein as other cats. So, how can they be hypoallergenic? Many people with cat allergies express that they do not react to Bengals. Why is this?
The hypoallergenic quality of the Bengal cat is actually its fur. The short, sleek, close-lying coat requires much less grooming. So, Bengals tend not to clean themselves as much as other cats. They also do not shed as much of their coat as often, so the dander is not spread around as much. No cat breed is 100% allergy-proof, but a Bengal cat may be a fit for some allergy suffers.
How Can Someone Beat Cat Allergies?
There are many ways that someone with cat allergies can try to combat them and live happily with a cat.
- Take allergy medication daily. Always ask your doctor before starting any medication.
- Bathe and brush your cat frequently.
- Keep your home vacuumed of all fur, including carpets and furniture.
- Wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning up any accidents (vomit, urine, or feces) and/or scooping your cat’s litter pan. Wearing a mask may also help during these tasks.
- Consider a low-shedding breed like a Bengal, Siberian, or Sphynx.
- Read over this study about cat food that may reduce the production of Fel d 1. It’s still in the works but may solve many cat allergies.
Other Things to Consider When Choosing a Bengal Cat
Bengal cats are incredible pets. Their energetic play can make them a lot of fun to have around. Some people even take their Bengals on hiking or boating trips! What should you consider when deciding if this breed is right for you?
Where to Get a Bengal Cat?
If you are going to get a Bengal cat, you should carefully consider where it comes from. Just like dogs, cats are subject to poor breeding and mills that produce quantity over quality. The International Cat Association (TICA) and Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) are two registries that specialize in keeping pedigree records. Both registries accept and register Bengal cats. They also both offer listings on their websites of registered breeders. An achievement you want to look for is Breeder of Distinction. These catteries have met or surpassed strict requirements for breeding, housing, and veterinary care, among others, to win this title. Consider visiting several breeders at their homes or at a cat show. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, do not buy! A quality Bengal cat is worth the wait.
If you have cat allergies, spend some time around Bengals you may know. Ask a breeder if you can spend time with them and their cats if no one you know has a Bengal. This way, you can determine if this breed is hypoallergenic for you!
Perhaps you would rather rescue a Bengal? Or maybe you’d rather skip the mischievous kitten stage? Consider checking with respected, breed-specific rescues like Bengal Rescue Network. They take in Bengals in the United States that have lost their homes for one reason or another. Unlike a shelter, they will provide you with more specific information about the cat you are choosing.
How Much Does a Bengal Cat Cost?
Generally, a pet Bengal cat will cost anywhere from $800 to $4000 USD. Prices outside this range should make you wary of the breeder. Factors that determine cost include color, conformation to the Bengal standard, pattern, generation, and age. Just like waiting for the right Bengal, paying the cost to own one from a respectable breeder is well worth the money.
What Health Problems Do Bengal Cats Have?
The most prominent health concern associated with Bengal cats is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is a condition that causes thickening of the walls of the heart. It often leads to sudden death before the cat reaches a year old. This is a genetic condition. There is no test available as of 2023 that gives a 100% guarantee the cat will not be affected. Breeders must test their breeding stock yearly by an echocardiogram (or an ultrasound of the heart). This scan must be read by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. Other breeds also have this condition, such as Maine Coon and Ragdoll. Both of those breeds have a genetic test available. A genetic test for Bengals has been in development for many years.
Other Bengal health issues include Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK def), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), and Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC). Each of these diseases, including HCM, has no cure. Some of them are life-threatening. Breeders can perform a genetic test on their cats to ensure they do not carry PK Def or PRA. If a breeder cannot or will not provide you with these results, do not buy!
High-Energy Cat, What Does It Mean?
Bengal cats are very athletic and have a lot of energy they need to burn. They are also extremely intelligent. This means you will need to actively play with and provide enrichment for them. Failure to do this can result in destructive behavior. They tend to do best when paired with another Bengal to play with. This is because they can match each other’s energy and exercise together. Some Bengals make friends with dogs, other cats, and even ferrets and horses!
The most important thing is to keep them engaged with play and activities. Many people train their Bengals to do tricks. Some Bengals enjoy agility courses or walk on a leash like a dog. These cats crave human attention. So, any activity you have the patience to teach them can be enjoyable for you both!
A Quick Recap
Bengal cats may not be hypoallergenic to everyone, but they may be tolerable for some people’s allergies. This is due to their coats rather than a lack of the protein that causes allergies in most people.
Bengals are wonderful companions who enjoy an active lifestyle and love from their families. They are also incredible-looking cats, adored for their leopard-like appearance. They shed very little.
These beautiful cats are prone to several health problems, some of them life-threatening. Consider purchasing a Bengal from a good quality breeder to ensure you get the best possible cat.
If you haven’t met a Bengal yet, go to your local cat show and see one in person!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexander_Evgenyevich/Shutterstock.com
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