Bengal Cat Type and Wild Essence

When you start calling around to Bengal breeders, you will often hear them say a cat is very "typey."  What exactly does that mean? This diagram of the Bengal cat explains the body.

In simplistic terms, the more type a cat has, the more structurally similar its appearance is to the wild cat.  Therefore, the more structural attributes a Bengal cat has to the ALC, the more type it has.  The more structural aspects the Bengal cat has to the domestic Tabby, the less type it has.  Each time you look at a Bengal, try to imagine it with a black coat.  Then ask yourself, would this cat still look wild?  If the answer is yes, then you are looking at a typey cat. 

The TICA Bengal standard states that the overall goal of a Bengal breeding program is to create a domestic cat which has physical features distinctive to the small forest-dwelling wildcats.  At times, however, the descriptions of the individual features of the Bengal are not described in accordance with those features on a small forest-dwelling wildcat.  Please note, that we use forest-dwelling wildcats as our model above and beyond the TICA Bengal standard.  At times the standard is vague and does not offer enough guidance.  In other instances, the standard has been purposely altered to make the elements instantly achievable to allow the Bengal to compete against long-established breeds. Therefore, we determine how typey a cat is by how closely its features match that of a small forest-dwelling wildcat.  Because different breeders strive for different wild looks, the definition of type will not be the same from breeder to breeder.  It is important to know what wild look a breeder is trying to achieve when discussing type.

There are many different aspects of the Bengal cat that put together type.  However, for clarity, they are addressed individually.  All domestic breeds descends from the African Wildcat, so we find it very educational to place our Bengals between an African Wildcat and an Asian Leopard cat.  On this page, you will see and African Wildcat of the left, one of our Bengals in the middle, and the Asian Leopard cat Elias of Callista on the right.  While the cat in the diagram above is an early generation cat, all cats used in the pictures below are SBTs apart from the cat used to demonstrate profile who is an F3.

I am very appreciative of Julie Calderon of Callista who granted me permission to use pictures of Elias as I could not create this page without him.  Thank you Julie.


Eyes have always been one of the most important feature on the cat's face in our breeding programs, yet we are still trying to get them nailed down.  There are three important factors in determining the quality of a Bengal's eye:  shape, size, and set.  So what type of eyes make a Bengal cat look typey?  Big eyes set wide on the outer edge of the skull and lower on the face.

Eye Shape

Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Luna; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

Shape is a tough one.  Fully rounded eyes have a huge, positive effect on the look of the Bengal, and they certainly beat the slanted look of the African Wildcat eye shape.  You'll find many cats, including ours, with a very round, open eye.  However, when studying ALCs, one will see a round bottom line, a round outer edge, but a slight flattening to the inner top line of the eye.  Getting an outer rounded corner can be a challenge as it requires the right boning around the eye to prevent the eye from slanting back and pulling into a slight almond shaped tip.  Ideally, the widest part of the eye should be on the outer half of the eye, not the inner half; this is a difficult shape to achieve as it is so unlike most other breeds of cats, so it must be pulled down from the Asian Leopard cat.

Eye Size
Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Domestic Tranquility; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Domestic Tranquility; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

Eye size, when it is correct, has a great impact on the first impression of a Bengal face.  A pair of large eyes will draw you in to look closer regardless of the shape and placement.  Notice how much space the eye takes up on the ALC's face - quite a bit.  If you contrast the proportion of eye to face size of the small forest-dwelling wildcats to the ground dwelling wildcats, you'll conclude that these cats have proportionately very large eyes.  Nocturnal hunters must have a large surface space on their eyes in order to catch the slightest movement in the dark, so size is critical to species survival and critical to creating a distinguished look to the Bengal cat.  

Eye Set

Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Head to the Future; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

Eye setting is one of the harder features to achieve as the battle of what wild look to breed towards has resulted in poor consistency of eye setting within the Bengal breed.  In a study of small forest-dwelling wildcats, one can see the eyes are set lower on the face.  In a face forward position, they appear on the bottom half of the face.  From profile (nose tip to back skull) they appear on the front third of the skull.  The length from nose to eye should be proportionately shorter than from the eye to the ear.  With some breeders breeding for a large wildcat look, you'll often find cats with high set eye more like the lion, tiger, Leopard, Jaguar, etc.  In our breeding program, we work hard to keep our eye low in order to retain the sweetness of the small forest dwelling wildcats.

Furthermore, the front of the eye protrudes from the face rather than being set back into the head.  Wildcats who hunt on the glass lands at dawn and dusk often have deeply set eyes with a strong brow; this is to protect the eyes from the glare of the setting and rising sun.  The nocturnal, forest hunting cats need their eyes set so they can capture the slightest movement from above, below, and side to side.   When the eye is viewed from the side, you can see through the clear, thick lens from angles one would not normally expect to still view the eye. The pair in the picture below demonstrate the desired thickness and the protrusion of the lens - which can't be achieved without the correct setting of the eyes.

Muzzle Unit - Whisker Pads and Chin

Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Let Freedom Ring; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

The whisker pads and the chin on a typey Bengal cat are always strongly defined but not heavy.  A desired muzzle unit has a three-leaf clover effect from the front view with two round circles on each side for the whiskerpads and a half circle below for the chin.  From the side view, the chin and lower jaw balance the rest of the head.  They should not weigh it down.  From a front view, the muzzle should not appear tapered or give the impression of making the face triangular.  When studying small forest-dwelling wildcats from a side view, one will notice the nose leather always puffs out beyond the chin; they are not aligned.  One large challenge is how to create the look of a strong chin in the front view without weighing down the head in profile.  The wildcat achieves this through chin muscle.  At time, one will see Bengals achieve this look through a large lower jaw bone and while it works for the front view, it takes away from the slightness of the head in the profile view.

Left-African Wildcat; Center-SBT BeauxMondes Home of the Brave; Right-ALC Elias

When you look at all species of forest dwelling wildcats, their most prominent common feature is the nose.  All have large noses of a distinct shape with very puffed nose leather.  Nocturnal hunters often have to rely on their nose to catch prey.  It must be large and moist to gather the slightest scents.  The nose of many cats is small, flat, triangular and high set; all the traits must be selected against in order to get the nose of the small forest dwelling wildcats.

To obtain a typey nose, look for the following attributes:  First, the nose width should not narrow or taper from between the eyes to the top of the nose itself.  The top line of the nose should not be flat but rather a slight M or heart-like in shape.  The nose leather should set down between the whisker pads, not on top of them.  The bottom stem of the nose flairs outward; it should not be straight or tapered.  The nose should be as tall as it is wide.  Aligning with or staying lower than the top whisker follicles, the nose sets cradled between the whisker pads.  From a side view (profile) the nose leather should puff out beyond the whisker pads and chin.  From a front view, there should be minimal space between the base of the nose leather and mouth.

The ears on the Bengal are a constant battle.  It is a battle of set and shape.  While size is the aspect of the Bengal ears that seems to receive the most attention, it really doesn't matter as much as it may seem.  If the set and shape are correct, the look is there.  While back skull technically has nothing to do with ears, it is difficult to progress in ear setting without back skull.  The absence of back skull make the ears appear larger than they would on a cat with back skull.

Ear Shape

Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Malulani; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

Bengal ears should be as far from the tall, triangular ear as possible.  The top of the ear shape should be rounded; the base of the ear should be wide.  Ideally, the ears should be fairly uniform in width.  The cupping of the ear should be deep to catch the slightest sounds.

Ear Set
Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT SR Uncia; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

The set of the ears should be low - placed as much on the side of the head as on the top of the head.  Notice the African wildcat's ears angle up and the Asian Leopard cat's ears angle out.  Ideally, the inside line of the ears will align with the center of the pupil of the eye.
Facial Markings and Contrast
Left- African Wildcat; Center- SBT Vividcats Deuces Wild; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

The paint of a Bengal's face - icing on a the cake.  Notice oh the African Wildcat's face is basically tan all over while the Asian Leopard cat has black, white, and brown that give it a distinct look.  Ultimately, we'd like to break that tabby M with thick black tram lines that start at the top of the eye.  these are highlighted by the white goggles - most pronounced at the inner eye line.  The thick black cheek flashing (or mascara) give a distinct look.  But we mustn't forget the dark follicles out of which the whiskers grow.  This facial paint is very typey.
Left- European Wildcat; Center- F3 SR Lucalike; Right- ALC Elias of Callista

The side view of a cat's head is its profile.  For many people the word profile means the nose line.  A bad profile would be a dippy one like the one on the left.  There is so much more to the profile view of a Bengal than simply the nose line.  I use the profile view to check not only the skull shape, but also the proportions.  The skull shape of a Bengal should be egg-like in its shape.  The more smoothly the lines runs, the better the skull shape.  For a typey Bengal, try to avoid any flat planes and any distinct changes of direction.

When looking at a profile view of a Bengal, the most important element to study to determine the quality of type is the proportions.  From front to back, check for the following elements of type:  the nose leather should protrude beyond the whisker pads and chin; the eyes should be placed on the front third of the skull;  the eyes should be closer to the nose than the ears, and they should not be deeply sunken into the skull; the ears should have a considerable amount of skull behind them, and the back skull should flow gracefully into the neck.