Getting your very first cat – it’s an exciting experience, whether you’re choosing a family pet or a companion for your bachelor pad; whether you’re adopting in a mature feline or getting a playful kitten to liven up your life.
One big decision you’ll be making is which breed to get: laid-back or vivacious? Convivial or cheeky? Cuddly or independent?
Bengal cats or British Shorthair – both are gorgeous pedigree breeds with their own very special characters, distinctly different and both fantastic in their unique ways. In this article, we’ll explore these two wonderful cat breeds to help you decide which one is right for your home.
- What do you need to know about both breeds?
- What is the Price difference?
- Are there any health problems you should know?
- What about living with kids and dogs?
I will answer these and more questions below:
What you need to know about Bengal cats
If you’ve ever wanted a pet leopard, a Bengal cat is about the closest thing you can get. They’re the offspring of domestic cats and the Asian Leopard Cat, an exotic wildcat with dramatic spotted markings. It took over a century for cat breeders to obtain a hybrid that could actually produce kittens since most cross-breeding efforts ended in sterility. The first viable breeding programme began in the 1960s, with Bengal kittens becoming available in the 1980s. The result is a stunning cat with markings that are somewhere between a tabby and a leopard, a graceful silhouette and a wild, exotic appearance.
This breed is gorgeous, elegant and vivacious. The Bengal cat is vibrantly energetic and loves to play. They enjoy climbing (tall cat trees and kitty habitats are their favourite things) and are surprisingly fond of water. They’re flighty and energetic but very affectionate, revelling in cuddles and attention before rushing off to enjoy the next adventure. If you have the time and energy to devote to a real live wire of a cat, this could be the breed for you. A Bengal cat is a lively, thrill-a-minute companion who will never stop surprising you. You just have to keep up!
What you need to know about British Shorthair cats
The British Shorthair is the descendant of native British cats and domestic cats brought over by the Romans to keep down vermin. They are stocky, cobby felines with round faces, large eyes and a fairly relaxed temperament. The name “teddy-bear cats” has been applied to this breed, with good reason: their dense fur, blunt ears and amiable features really do make them look just like a bunch of cuddly teddy-bears. The best-known colour for British Shorthairs is blue (a rich solid blue-grey) with arresting coppery eyes; they come in many other colours too, including bicolours and calico.
It takes about three years before these slow-growing cats reach their full adult size; once they do, they’re on the large side with males reaching as much as 17 pounds (7.7 kilos). Although they’re not really lap-cats, British Shorthairs readily attach themselves to their human friends and are terrifically loyal. The British Shorthair is a solid character, not given to hi-jinx or rambunctiousness. Although British Shorthair kittens are as lively and mischievous as you’d expect, they slow down a lot in adulthood. The British Shorthair is a wonderful cat if you’re out during the day and don’t have the resources to dance attendance on your pet 24/7.
The cost of a Bengal kitten depends on how close it is to its original Asian Leopard cat ancestors, how distinct and attractive the cat’s markings are and how well-formed the cat is physical. Prices also vary depending on where you’re buying your kitten. A top-rated Bengal kitten may cost £400-£1000 in the UK, $450-$1200 in Australia $450-$2000 in the US. Less highly ranked kittens may only cost a few hundred pounds or the equivalent in USD/AUD. Male kittens are generally less expensive than females. If you’re happy to adopt an older cat, you may be able to find one from a Bengal rescue organisation for under £150 ($200 USD or $300 AUD). Note that some male Bengal kittens are naturally sterile and these are less expensive; in any case, the kitten will be supplied spayed or neutered. Reputable breeders will not offer a fertile animal to a first-time owner.
The cost of a British Shorthair cat can vary dramatically depending on age, sex, whether you’re buying a young kitten or an adult cat. A location has a big impact on price. The configuration and colouration of the cat will make a difference to the price. Recently, cinnamon and fawn coloured British Shorthairs have arrived on the scene and are proving very popular. Currently, cinnamon Shorthairs are very much coveted and the price reflects that. Kittens in more common, less sought-after colours are still gorgeous and much cheaper. A kitten bought from a properly registered breeder may set you back £1200 in the UK. They cost more in the US ($1500-2000 is not uncommon), rather less in Australia, still, don’t expect to get much change out of $1000 AUD. Older British Shorthairs are much cheaper: you may get a rescue for under £75 ($100 in the US, far less in Australia – $50 AUD is possible.) There’s not a great deal of difference in price between male and female kittens.
Bengal cats are high-energy and high-maintenance. They’re very intelligent and extremely physically active, constantly climbing, playing and running around. This makes them a great pet for someone who’s at home during the day and has a lot of energy themselves. They have very nimble paws and tend to get into everything so you’ll need to provide them with toys and puzzles to stop them getting bored (I do not recommend allowing this to happen – a bored Bengal is a destructive Bengal).
If you’re looking for a cat who’ll keep you on your toes and provide an endless distraction, these cats are just wonderful. When they do stop running around, it’s often to curl up on your lap or to snuggle with you on the sofa. Bengals need a lot of attention and really love petting and physical affection – although they can be picky about who’s allowed to offer it. They’re really chatty Cathys – talkative and often rather loud.
British Shorthairs are the polar opposite of their exotic cousins. A British Shorthair is not a ball of energy; they’re quiet, amiable and patient. Although they’re just as smart as the Bengal cat, they’re more independent and better at keeping themselves entertained. British Shorthairs readily become attached to their human caregivers but express this in a cordial and restrained way, often by waiting next to the door when you’re due home and following you around the house.
Like Bengal cats they’re often pretty talkative but not very noisy; the British Shorthair has a fairly quiet voice, although they do love to chat. Once they’re fully grown, the British Shorthair does tend to become rather lazy and will need you to provide stimulation to get her moving around. She will need toys and games to stop her from becoming overweight and unfit. These low-maintenance cats are a great choice if you don’t have the time or energy to keep up with a demanding pet.
Bengal cats are generally healthy, free of the worrying problems that can affect certain other pedigree breeds. There are a few conditions that do affect Bengal cats more often, however; some of these will clear up on their own, while others are more serious and require medical attention. These include Flat-chested Kitten Syndrome (a rib deformity that ranges from mild to severe; the kitten should usually outgrow moderate cases); hip dysplasia and patellar luxation, two conditions that can affect their legs; progressive retinal atrophy, an eye disorder that leads to blindness; distal neuropathy, a disorder of the nervous system which often resolves on its own; and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that is passed down in some breeds. In the main, Bengal cats enjoy good health with an expected lifespan of 10 to 16 years. (I have met even older Bengals, irascible old ladies who moved a little more slowly but who still enjoyed their lives to the full.)
British Shorthair cats will give you very little cause to worry. They are prone to the same conditions as any average mixed-breed moggy but otherwise are almost ridiculously healthy. Like Bengal cats they may inherit hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; this is rare, though, and can often be managed for some years without impacting the animal’s welfare. Very, very rarely, one can see a case of Hemophilia B in British Shorthairs. This is detectable by a blood test and reputable breeders look out for it. The main health concern for your British Shorthair is a lack of exercise as they get older – you will need to manage your cat’s diet and find games they like to get them moving around. This breed is supposed to be chunky anyway but they can easily become a bit too hefty to be at their best. Overweight British Shorthairs may look cute but they can experience issues with their hearts, breathing and joints. This is a long-lived breed, with an estimated lifespan of 14–20 years.
Bengal cats are a large breed, significantly bigger than your average house-cat. This means that they will need plenty of space. At a very rough estimate, a female Bengal kitten will weigh roughly 2.23kg or one pound for every month in age, although some weight more. Boys are a bit heavier. Both males and females will grow up into big, athletic cats. Females tend to be smaller than males – around 8 or 10lbs (4-4.5kg) – with boys reaching as much as 15lbs or just under 7 kilos. (I have seen male Bengal cats get even heavier than this but they were clearly overweight and not very healthy. If your Bengal boy goes over the 15lb mark you should check in with the vet as he may need to change his diet.) The Bengal cat is not an especially slow-growing breed and should reach adult size by the age of 2.
British Shorthair cats are even bigger, although they are stockier than the Bengal cat. These boys and girls can easily reach some very heavy weights. Ideally, they should be around 6-9kg (13lb 4oz to 19lb 4oz) for a male cat and 4-6kg (8lb 13oz to 13lb 4oz) for a female. As you can see from those numbers, there’s a high degree of sexual dimorphism in this breed, the females are much littler than the males, although the whole breed is pretty husky. By the time you receive your kitten (registered breeders don’t let them go before 12 weeks), your little British Shorthair girl will already be hefty one-and-quarter kilograms or more (3lbs or so), while her brother would be a bit heavier at 1.8kg (4lb). They should then gain roughly a pound or two per month, with girls growing a little less. This very slow-growing breed doesn’t attain its full majestic adult size until the 3rd year.
WITH KIDS AND DOGS
Bengal cats get along well with children and dogs provided they get appropriate socialisation early in life. These cats are not very patient and if teased or provoked they are apt to swat the offender. Dogs should be supervised, especially at first – a claw to the nose isn’t fun. Children should be taught to be gentle with Bengal cats and to give them space when they don’t want to play. Provided they’re old enough to understand the cat’s needs, a child can actually be the ideal playmate for a lively Bengal – they’ll both enjoy some of the cat’s more energetic games.
Do not allow younger children to play unsupervised with any cats, especially Bengal cats; even if they don’t mean any harm, children can inadvertently hurt the animal and be hurt in turn. Remember that despite her wild appearance the Bengal is a domestic house-cat at heart – she’s just a bit of a prima-donna and needs plenty of respect. One nice thing about this breed is that they know to keep their claws in while playing; not something you see in many cats.
British Shorthair cats, as a general rule, are fantastic with children. They tend to be very, very patient, tolerating a lot of playful mischief from little hands. All cats have their limits, however, and even one of these gentle giants will swat at a child who is hurting her. Teach young children to be nice to the kitty and especially not to try and hug her too much – British Shorthairs, though loyal and friendly, aren’t big fans of being picked up or cuddled too much.
Dogs, provided they are cat-friendly, will usually get on well with British Shorthairs and vice-versa. These felines do like their personal space so expect some friction if the dog won’t leave the cat alone; providing a suitable cat perch somewhere out of reach of the over-eager canine will relieve the tension. On the whole, though, British Shorthairs seem to rather like dogs and will happily share their home with one.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Bengal cats have a very short coat that doesn’t require much brushing and have no problems with eating or hygiene. Give your Bengal cat a diet of good-quality cat food, preferably wet, and make sure she has plenty of fresh water. Provide a large litter-box, a scratching post and a cat tree so she can enjoy climbing around. Your cat should already have been de-sexed, de-wormed and received her first round of shots; make sure she stays up-to-date with all her vaccinations and gets de-wormed regularly. Provide plenty of physical exercises and mental stimulation.
It’s generally recommended that you don’t let Bengal cats run around outside (they’re a tempting target for thieves); what you can do is arrange an outdoor enclosure she can’t escape from that gives her plenty of space to exercise. Whatever you do, don’t let your Bengal cat get bored. They can become fractious, destructive and even harm themselves if they’re not sufficiently stimulated. You should also take care of the Bengal cat’s teeth by giving them a weekly brush.
The British Shorthair’s thick fur needs a good brushing at least once a week. This breed has a slight tendency to get dental issues so try and brush her teeth weekly too. Older British Shorthairs need to be given lots of encouragement to play and remain active.
British Shorthair cats also need a large litter-box (ideally half-again as long as the cat) and a good-sized scratching post. Cat food should be good quality. In particular, it’s important to keep this breed away from grains and starch – the British Shorthair doesn’t need empty calories because they tend to gain weight. As with the Bengal, this pedigree cat should have had all the appropriate vet treatments before you receive her; you will need to arrange regular checkups to get her the rest of her scheduled vaccinations and make sure she is in good health.
The final analysis
Either of these breeds makes a wonderful pet but for a first cat, I would recommend the British Shorthair. Their easygoing natures and modest needs make them a much more forgiving choice than the more challenging Bengal cat. Once you’ve got used to having a cat in your home and know the basics of what is required, a Bengal cat is a good choice for your second cat. They have very different modes of activity to British Shorthairs and can really bring some additional energy into your life. Either breed is fine with children, dogs and other cats. I would caution against installing a Bengal or British Shorthair cat in a home where smaller animals are present – they both have very well-developed predatory instincts and will pounce on pet rabbits or mice.
The British Shorthair is the proud descendant of centuries of mousers while the water-loving Bengal cat will absolutely attempt to raid your fish-tank if you don’t put a lid on it – they can snatch up fish in their nimble paws before you can say “Finding Nemo”. In general, I would recommend the British Shorthair if you’re at work during the day; Bengal cats need more company.